Doctors are used to seeing the unimaginable, so it's hard to shock them. But there are some things that you just can't unsee. Doctors share the moments, patients, and foreign objects they've seen that are seared into their memory forever.
Obese Farmer, Rubber Boots
“Not a doctor but an assisting nurse at the time. There are many memories from just 12 months working in a hospital. Top two:
1. Explosive diarrhea from a patient with an iron problem in his blood – he sprinkled the whole bathroom with his dark and bizarrely smelly feces as he tried turning around to the toilet in time (poor dude, was in for and just got a new hip joint, was so so so sorry and embarrassed).
2. Obese farmer, rubber boots he couldn’t get off for like 2 months, severe diabetes. I was assisting as the boots were cut off, both feet awfully swollen … aaaand the left foot’s toes all dead and partly rotten. No wonder he felt ‘some weird pain down there.'”
I Wouldn’t Have Been Surprised If He Straight Up Exploded”
“I do remember this guy with his renal function in every way but the right one. He had collapsed in the out patients department while waiting for his heart clinic appointment. After he’s resuscitated and everything, I’m asking him how much he drinks (He reeked of jack) and he says around 2-3 bottles. Now that’s a fair bit for a week, but people always underestimate so I go to clarify:
‘So two or three bottles a week, any brewski with that?’
‘No, two or three a day. And sometimes some brews, yeah.’
‘How much would you say-‘
He then starts seizing on me and his vitals drop through the floor. Yeah, he was drinking so much apparently the 2-3 hour wait for his appointment resulted in him going into withdrawal and seizing. You ever try to correct someone’s electrolyte levels when their BAC is through the roof? It’s a bad time. He arrested multiple times and it took us a solid three weeks to get his blood work anywhere near normal. This dude would be stable for a few seconds and then immediately swing into horribly unstable. Can’t believe he was walking around like that for months beforehand. His BAC was high enough, you could’ve run a car off it. If someone had lit a match around him I wouldn’t have been surprised if he straight up exploded.”
Electrocution In Room 7
“I work in the emergency department of a Level 1 Trauma center. Here are a few of the worst things I’ve seen:
I remember getting called to the ambulance bay, pregnant lady didn’t make it inside and gave birth on the grassy patch outside.
Another guy had abdominal surgery and ‘kinda forgot’ his post-op appointment to get the staples out. He comes in 5 weeks later because ‘his belly itches.’ That’s because he has a raging infection and horribly overgrown staples. And the smell …….
Another time, an ambulance arrives with a female who was a passenger on a motorcycle. She was wearing leather gear above the waist only. Blood was dripping from the stretcher when she was brought in on. No one really thought her injuries were survivable, but she surprised us all and made a relatively quick recovery.
Yet another time, I remember walking through the emergency department and smelling BBQ smell, asking a coworker if the cafeteria is having ribs or brisket today. ‘Nope, Electrocution in Room 7.'”
His Balls Were as Big as a Melon
“During one of my intern years, a man walked in because he had ‘swelling down below’. I did not know what to expect other than the routine complaints, being some benign swelling or some inflammation.
I don’t even know how to describe what it looked down below when he lowered his pants. His balls were as big as a melon, with open wounds oozing all kind of colored liquids. I’ve seen and smelled some – literal – feces, but the smell almost made me gag.
I referred him immediately to some urology oncologist for a medical checkup. He had a rare groin carcinoma with metastases spread all over his body. The man was in severe pain and was so ashamed to go to a doctor with his symptoms until it was too late. He didn’t live for long anymore, I think he didn’t live for another 2 months.”
I, Even Nowadays, Feel Sick Talking About It
“I worked at a hospital in some small European town in the middle of nowhere, farmers’ land really. It had very hot summers and very cold winters and because of that, old people shower 2 times a year, Easter and Christmas, and whenever they visit their doctor. So they basically make their pajamas their second skin over the winter, dressing up for work over them.
Anyway, a wife accompanied her man to the ER as he felt unwell and goes to use the bathroom. The wife slips on a mix of urine and water and fractures her femur, needs to go into surgery.
As an intern I’m asked to do a pre-op ECG. Some of the leads need to go on the chest, 2 on either side of the breastbone and the remaining 4 towards the left. She clearly wasn’t expecting to become a patient that day. I, even nowadays feel sick talking about it. As I lift her bossom, there is a significant amount of curd-like stuff under there, probably some ongoing yeast infection linked to bad hygiene and the smell. I nearly passed out. Took a deep breath as if about to beat my breath holding underwater record as a kid at the pool and got on with it. After it was done I literally ran out of the room and out the ER to catch some fresh air.”
Wrong Room, Doc
“I’d been a doctor for about 2 weeks, get called on my nights to certify a death, told me patient was in a side room. I get to the ward and nobody is around so I wait outside the room waiting for a nurse to turn up, thinking, ‘yeah, this guy looks dead.’
The patient then wakes up and I nearly have a heart attack! Turns the dead patient was in the room next door. I still remember having my heart pound so hard I had to sit down.”
A Game of Cat and Mouse
“My mom once said, I kid you not, that this young couple came in and the girlfriend said she had intestinal pains. They do a scan and find a computer mouse with the cable cut off just shoved up there. She just shrugged and said she wanted some action, but her boyfriend was playing games on the computer, so she shoved the mouse inside her.”
What’s In The Cooler?
“One year, a young man was driving in icy conditions, wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. He slid off the road and crashed into a telephone pole. He was ejected and flew into a barbwire fence. When the individual arrived at the ER, the doctor was given a cooler. Inside was the guy’s face that was sliced clean off from the fence. His job was to quickly pick out all the debris from the face and rush it into surgery to reattach it.”
No Words Needed
“I have a friend who is a radiographer and the one story he always tells me about is a male patient he once did an X-ray for. Apparently the guy wasn’t feeling great and had some intestinal pains. Turns out he had a ginormous adult toy fully lodged into him, which obviously presented itself quite clearly on the X-ray. My friend simply looked at the guy and all he did was nod, to which my friend replied with a nod. No words needed to exchanged.”
Still Haunts Me To This Day
“To this day I really can’t explain what I experienced, but I’ll do my best.
I’m from the UK, but practiced medicine in small town in Italy for a while. The town’s name was Vernazza, nice little town on the coast. Everyone in town knows me, it’s a small town, so I was called in quite frequently to do house calls and what not. I specialized in cardiology, but you know, small town.
Anyway I get a call one morning about a youngest daughter in this family a few blocks down from my flat. Reporting symptoms in line with pneumonia. I didn’t carry much on me at the time but I had basic antibiotics that were not easily accessed in the village proper.
Anyway I get there and already I can tell the mood is very off. I can speak conversational Italian and I asked the mother the run down, symptoms, when did it start, who has she been in contact with and all that. She’s very frazzled, answers me in a smattering of Italian and the village dialect. Nothing the mother is saying is making sense so I assume she’s just worried about her child so I go up to her room to check her vitals and see if she needs to go see a specialist a few towns over.
I open the door to her room and immediately this putrid foul smell struck me. Sweat, feces, urine and blood all mixed together to create a sickly sour smell that permeated everything in the room. The child was on the bed when I approached her, she clearly had a high fever from the drenched sheets on the bed and her soaked hair. Her breathing was very laborious, and he skin very palid and pale.
She appears to be asleep as I was taking her vitals, check her heart rate, temperature, blood pressure. What was an immediately alarming was her blood pressure however, it was 195/178. This gave me great cause for concern, as that high of blood pressure can cause a patient to go into cardiac arrest, have a stroke, or start seizing. I flip her eyelids to check her pupils and notice her eyes are rolled to the back of her head, indicating she’s already seizing. With the very little instruments I had, there’s not much I can do to help the child, I make a phone call to the next towns hospital and reported a child with symptoms in line with server pneumonia needed an ambulance, and I report the address.
As soon as I hang up the phone I turn back toward the child, who is now calmly looking right at me. I start speaking to her in Italian, with no response. I go closer to her to inspect her again, and with lightning quick reflexes, impossible for a girl in her status, she grips my forearm harder than anyone I’ve ever met, hard enough to leave a bruise. She then starts speaking to me in a language I’ve never heard, but what I later found out was Latin. As she’s speaking black flecks are flying from mouth covering her blanket. I can only sit there and listen to her as she continues on this diatribe. After about a minute of speaking incessantly to me, she lets go and immediately starts seizing again.
I was frozen for what felt like minutes. I packed up my things and went downstairs to the family, who are all now praying with crosses and rosaries in their hands. I told them calmly that I called them an ambulance and that it will take her to the next town over for treatment. I then left the house and drank myself into oblivion same night.
To this day I don’t know what I witnessed. I’m not a religious man, but from what I saw and researched later, what the child was displaying fell in line with reported cases of possession. I checked the following week to check on her status at the hospital, and all they would tell me was that she unfortunately had passed with complications due to pneumonia.
Still haunts me to this day. All my friends in medicine give me guff for being so quick to scare, but I saw what I saw.”
Not His Brightest Idea
“Had a patient who ‘was sore below’. We were taking bets that it was something inserted in his back passage. We were wrong. He had something inserted inside his foreskin – a car headlight bulb, which had smashed with him yanking away and was bleeding heavily. Packed the area and doctors in the ER removed glass, filament and metal. Then his groin started spurting while the poor guy screamed. Heard someone cracking jokes about it ‘not being his brightest idea’ as we left.
Had another genius involve a small rodent and his boyfriend’s rear end another time. Said rodent objected and bit into guys bowel area before (mercyfully) dying, resulting in surgery for hamster man.”
Worst of All Was The Smell
“I worked in a hospital where rescue called in a code sepsis for a guy they were bringing in and requested we put him in an isolated room and that we all get on full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). We asked why he needed to be isolated, and all they could tell us over the transmission was that he needed to be by himself (sometimes its very hard to hear rescue and if they are busy with the patient they don’t have a lot of time to talk on the radio). So we all waited with anticipation for what this could be. We set up one of our biggest rooms and waited for rescue to show up.
When they finally did show up we saw a man in his 30s-40s with half of his face completely taken over by a severely infected tumor. It was huge, brown, and spongy. You couldn’t see his left eye or ear, and it had gotten so bad that there were big empty holes in the tumor which maggots had eaten through. The maggots were still living in him and we could see them crawling around in his face. The man was alive and had been living that way for years living like this. We found out he had some mental defect and he was not properly taking care of himself.
Worst of all was the smell. I’ve smelt dead person before, but this was so much worse. It’s like it was pulsating death and infection into the air. The tumor was bleeding and crusting out little pieces onto the floor and all over the bed.
The doctor had been waiting in the room for this guy. As soon as rescue put him on our bed, they darted out of the room and the doctor ran after them.”
“Not a Doctor but a radiographer. I once X-rayed a patients pelvis looking for a buzz light year toy. They’d put it inside them and then the wings had deployed so it got stuck.”
It Was Like Getting Hit With a Water Hose
“I saw a guy with an umbilical hernia rupture and had ascites fluid steaming out like a water hose. He walked in with a towel over his belly that was soaked. He said something popped. Being a skeptical and jaded medical worker, I said let me see. He brought his hand down for just a second and it was like getting hit with a water hose. I still don’t believe it.”
It Could Be Seen Just By Turning Her Over
“The patient was being admitted for ‘difficulties walking.’ When asked further, she has had leg pain for months and had trouble getting out of bed. She was found by the ambulance covered in her own excrements at home, mind you.
On physical exam, it turns out she has a gaping, infected wound (like, 6x4in) that went down to the bone with exposed muscle and tissue, most of which was black, grey-ish, and foul-smelling.
When the nurses went to clean her, they notified me regarding some thing on her bottom. Turned out to be a large-growing, unchecked rectal cancer that was growing out of the canal so much it could be seen when just turning her over. It was noted months ago, but then she was lost to follow-up.
When I tell her about her admission, she asks how long she will need to be in the hospital, as she has a child that she is taking care of at home. Luckily there was a neighbor caring for him while she went to the hospital.
Finally, when discussing her likely amputation, she refused to have it removed.
I left the rotation before her care was completed (where she was on my service for almost a week). She still had her leg at the time.”
The Fear In Her Voice
“This happened when I was a med student. During my anesthesia rotation, I was observing what was supposed to be a pretty quick procedure, without many foreseeable issues. MAYBE the only hint that this was going to go south was the fact the lady had ankylosing spondylitis but it looked like the resident and attending didn’t think it was going to be a big issue. But just in case they had extra tools around.
So they start giving her the meds and obviously she stops breathing. They try to intubate her and the resident says she can’t see the chords. It’s all good, they try to ventilate. For some reason they can’t get good airflow and ventilate her adequately. Attending takes over, also can’t see chords. She starts grabbing the extra tools (not going into detail) and yay they can see the chords. They try to intubate but realize due to the position of her chords, the tube can’t make the turn. As this is happening, patient’s oxygen levels are starting to drop.
The doctors moved so fast to push the reversal meds, but it still takes a few seconds for it to kick in so patient can breathe on her own. At the same time the attending calls a stat (basically asking any other anesthesiologist in the hospital to come help). And for the first time, I actually hear fear in her voice as she says this patient is about to die.
LUCKILY the reversal kicks in last minute and she starts breathing again. It takes another hour and a half and a group of doctors to craft something that they can actually intubate her with. This whole ordeal realistically was only a few minutes, but when she was desatting and the time it took for reversal to work was the longest few seconds of my life.
During debriefing, the attending comes in and basically tells us that if the reversal meds didn’t kick in within the next 5 seconds she would have coded.
And while seeing how incredible these doctors were at handling this made me go into anesthesia, I’m forever going to have trust issues about ‘simple cases, should be fine’. Cause it’s always fine, until it’s not.”
Perverse Medical Humor
“This one is funny, in a perverse medical humor way. One night in the ICU, we have a large man that had been shot in the head, wrapped up in large bandages like a turban. About 5:30 in the morning, he codes. Our resident and the team tried to save this man for close to an hour, but he sadly passed. This was the first patient our resident ever had to pronounce dead. The resident’s shift was over so he left right afterward.
About 6:30 each morning, the attending rotates through with all the residents on duty, this happens every day, and they stop by each bed to discuss the patient. So later that day, we get an admission, another large man with a head injury from a car wreck. Wrapped up like a turban, in the same bed slot as the guy who had been shot.
The resident had a day off, but when he comes back, we all say to him, ‘Wasn’t that amazing about guy who had been shot?’
‘What?’, he says.
‘Well, after you left, when your attending came by his bed, he noticed a small sign of life, and we went back to work on him, and he’s doing so well, now!’ He looks over, and sure enough large black turbaned man, doing well!!”
Can’t Unsee This
“At morning handover we had been told one of the patients during the night had been delirious and ripped out his catheter (tube placed up the urethra into the bladder). This issue with this was that you don’t just slide a tube in, once it’s in you inflate a small balloon to prevent it from slipping out and when you remove it you need to deflate it in order to get it out.
Obviously the patient had not known/been able to deflate the balloon so it tore up the inside of his member on the way out. Initially, the nurses/doctor on the nightshift had been able to replace the catheter and there seemed to be no further issues.
Around midday the patient started to become delirious again and the on call doctor said we needed to remove the catheter. I will never be able to get the image of bright red blood literally pouring out of this man’s limp johnson any time it was held in a position other than vertical.”
It Was Completely Surreal
“Resident on pediatrics, got a page from the ED for a possible admission. Normally when you page back you talk to the paging doctor/resident who explains who the patient is, why they are there, why they are consulting you, etc. This time when I called the nurse just told me the room number and to come right away, and hung up.
I went down and saw a crowd in the room with the ED resident in the middle doing chest compressions on a toddler. Mom was out in the hall bawling. I didn’t know what to do other than stand there and watch (there was already a full code team in the room and I would not be contributing anything by intervening.)
By that point two pediatrics attendings had also come down. Around that point the kid stabilized. One of the attendings said to the other something like, ‘It looks like they have this under control’ and they both quickly ran out of there. The last I heard, they were planning on airlifting to a higher level hospital.
It was completely surreal.”
You Better Not Mess This Up
“Pediatric Resident here. During my time in the NICU I had several, ‘Oh my God’ moments, I think every one of us does. In one of my first night shifts a 500g preterm newborn on non-invasive ventilation stopped breathing. I immediately started to bag her, which usually works nicely to stabilize the patient. Didn’t work this time. I had the nurses call my attending to get here ASAP but he was about 20 minutes away, which was way too long for the patient. I had to intubate an extreme preterm baby on my own for the first time. The patient became bradycardic very quickly, the nurse started chest compressions, while another nurse handed me the laryngoscope. For some reason I stayed relatively calm and just thought, ‘you better not mess this up.’ I successfully intubated on my second try, her heart rate shot back up, O2 saturation followed shortly after. We put her on a ventilator and when we were all done my legs just gave out. I had to go back to the doctors room, my whole body was shaking. The baby was fine in the end.”