Normally, when people end up in the emergency room, it's never a good thing. These medical professionals reveal their most tragic patient stories ever. Content has been edited for clarity purposes.
"I work in Oncology, so our patients are known to us for a long time. I had a lovely man, very well-spoken; he and his wife used to run environmental rallies and peaceful protests, and he was overall a very mellow and gracious guy. He used to write me a lot of cards when I cared for him with nice notes about how nice of a smile I have (even though we wear masks on my unit) or how I brightened his day.
One night, I was the charge nurse and a new grad RN (registered nurse) asked for my assistance in the room. I went in and it was the lovely man, but he was completely incoherent and garbling his words with his eyes bulging from his head. I tried to reorient him, but it wasn’t happening. The day shift RN had apparently just given the report that he was alert and oriented. I immediately called the MD (medical doctor) and paged for a one-to-one sitter as he was restless and had an IJ catheter, NG (nasogastric) tube, PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter tube), and Foley (urinary catheter). When the sitter came, I showed her all of his lines and told her to pay close attention.
Five minutes later, his wife walked out to the nurses’ station and calmly said, 'It’s out.'
I overheard from the back as she was trying to talk to his nurse. We went running in, and, sure enough, he yanked the IJ catheter from his neck and the NG tube at the same time. The poor new nurse was panic stricken; she was white as a ghost.
There was blood everywhere. I applied pressure to his neck while the other nurses went to get help. In the meantime, he lunged and tried to bite me. I saw the blood in his teeth and he was now growling like a dog. His eyes were jaundiced and bulging out of his head as he shouted nonsensically.
Then the MD finally came in. As he stopped to ask me what was happening, the patient shouted at the doctor in the clearest speech, 'Get lost, bozo!'
He then went back to his garbled incoherent speech. Something this gentleman never would have said in his life, let alone in this moment. He went to ICU (intensive care unit) and died the next week due to a CNS (central nervous system) disease relapse.
While this isn’t as wild as maggots and lost limbs, it’s an image in my mind I could never forget. With Oncology, transplant, and CNS involvement, I’ve had many patients turn on me and become aggressive in an instant. I’ve been choked, punched, and etc. But the image of this wonderful man with blood-soaked teeth trying to bite me and growling is one that haunts me every once in a while. It’s been many years but I could paint it from memory."
"There was a 32-year-old male who had a bad motorcycle accident and was in our trauma ICU (intensive care unit) for over a month. He barely made it and was somewhat miraculous. He ended up with a tracheostomy but was on his way to being able to discharge to rehab.
I had taken care of him three days in a row and the last day, late in the shift, he stood up and coughed really hard (we were getting him back to bed from the chair), and all of a sudden blood starting spurting out of his trach. We got him in bed quickly and within a minute or so he started coding (cardiac arrest). We called for trauma and ENT (ear, nose, and throat) surgeons. They started mass transfusing blood while coding him. His family was screaming and was then being guided out.
We were slipping on blood on the floor while we were trying to keep coding, holding pressure on his neck because we didn’t know what else to do. One nurse said she thought he stopped bleeding. He did, because he fully exsanguinated or in other words, bled out. We finally called it after about 45 minutes.
He had a tracheoarterial fistula that burst (artery around the trach that was worn down by the pressure inside the trach cuff) from a combination of persistent hypertension and strong cough and bad luck. This happens in 0.7 percent of all trachs.
Nurses were sitting on the floor crying and the same with the doctors. It was a terrible night and a couple of weeks following."
"My mom was the charge nurse in the ER (emergency room) when they got a call that the paramedics were bringing in a 450-pound woman who hadn't left her couch in years. Oh, and they were bringing the couch too. The woman had spent so long on the couch that her skin had grown into it, and was also cemented with body waste. They had to cut the couch small enough to fit through the sliding doors, put two by fours under the couch to carry her out, and then load the couch and her on a trailer (from Home Depot) to drive her to the hospital.
Apparently, it took about four hours to get her to the ER; they got the first call to get prepared at 8:30 pm and she didn't arrive until some time after two in the morning. The EMTs requested a water hose, bottles of saline, and full scrubs/booties. They couldn't bring her into the ER without causing a biohazard so they had to try to stabilize and treat her in the parking lot, after donning full protective gear and respirators. She started having respiratory issues while on the couch/truck still and had to be intubated. My mom had to break the couch to get her into a somewhat prone position, and the woman soon went into cardiac arrest. They couldn't use a defibrillator because the woman, the couch, and the entire truck were covered in water. The woman died while still on the truck.
The doctors said she had 15 pounds of feces under and between her legs, bottle caps stuck under her, etc. Her skin looked thick as an elephant's skin with huge cracks in it from being so dried out. They literally had to hose her down before getting her off the truck so they didn't contaminate the entire ER parking lot area.
After she died it became a crime scene, and they covered her (while still on the truck) in a tarp and drove her to the medical examiner's office. They later found out that someone (probably her family) was coming to her house to cash her welfare/disability checks. All that time she was left there while her family was aware of her condition. My mom said she wasn't sure how the investigation turned out. It was also the last night she was a charge nurse at the ER, she didn't want to deal with anything like that ever again.
Being morbidly obese and suffering from emphysema asthma and probably a host of other illnesses, the poor woman died in the parking lot. I guess the stress of being driven through town on a trailer in the middle of the night didn't help either."
"A man was discharged from a mental health facility a few days prior. When he got home, his wife called the ambulance because he shot himself. He was talking when he came into the ED. He asked for water because he was thirsty. This is usually the first sign someone isn't going to make it. The CT scan showed there was a bullet in the heart. He was rushed into my OR (operating room).
The trauma surgeon split the ribs and was feeling around for where the bullet went. Meanwhile, the front desk was trying to get ahold of the cardiovascular surgeon on call. He was out of town and said to call one of his partners. The first partner was also out of town, the second and third were both an hour away at other hospitals.
In the meantime, the trauma surgeon found a hole in the left ventricle. I was able to get ahold of another surgeon who wasn't on call but was 20 minutes away. He said the patient needed to get on bypass if there was any chance, but he would probably end up dying anyway.
Anesthesia was on a massive transfusion protocol, but his vitals were not improving. The surgeon opened the pericardium and it sounded like a water balloon hitting the pavement. In an instant, a liter of crimson-colored blood pours out of the drapes and onto the floor.
The anesthesiologist called out, 'There's no pulse.'
Another liter and a half poured from the drapes. We now knew where all the blood went.
The next two hours included filling out paperwork and calling the medical examiner. I had to speak to the widow and his mother about signing the forms. His death had to be investigated by the county. Meanwhile, I had to get the meat wagon from the morgue and put him on ice. My shift ended three hours prior, but he was my death in my OR (operating room) so my responsibility."
"We had this poor lady who was constantly coming in with sepsis (blood infection). She had abdominal surgery and developed a fistula, which is basically a hole where there shouldn’t be one. Basically, the first one that happened was because her intestines stuck together and a hole formed through the walls of them. Every time the doctors tried to fix them, she developed more. She had holes throughout her intestines, so she had a colostomy bag. She also had developed numerous fistulas all over her abdomen from where her intestines had stuck to the inside wall of her abdomen and formed holes all the way through her skin. So she basically had a bunch of holes all over her abdomen that just leaked stool everywhere. We had an extensive abdominal dressing regimen, where we actually put colostomy bags over a lot of the holes. The whole deal took two nurses about an hour to an hour and a half, and no one wanted her twice because she was really needy, whiny, and mean, plus she was on MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) precautions, so you had to gown up every time you went into her room.
We changed her dressing two to three times per shift because no matter how well you did it, the stool would leak onto her fragile skin and erode it further. It was awful, and even though she was a really difficult patient, we obviously felt bad for her."
"So one night they brought in this dude who was on something, they don't know what exactly but he was going buckwild. They left him restrained and alone in one area of the hospital to get whatever was in his system out and hopefully be manageable by dawn. Eventually, my mom went on a break to eat because it'd been a slow night and she was hungry. She got her food out of the break room and into the area of the hospital that the previously mentioned guy was in and ate in there.
Eventually, she smelled something burning, so she went outside to check on what it was and it turned out that prick had a lighter he wiggled out of his pocket and began to burn off the restraints. She knew she couldn't stop him at this point so she ran to the doors to alert security. In some twisted horror movie series of events, the doors were locked up but she saw someone at a desk on the other side. Too late, the man now freed himself and was going to start chasing my mom.
She outran him and managed to bang on the door once she made a lap around the area. Not enough time to get helped this lap, she ran off again still being pursued by the cokehead maniac she was locked up with. The third time the charm, she was far enough ahead of him and the doors are unlocked and ready for her. By this point, the cops have already arrived and two officers went through the doors to restrain him and took him in, the third office talked to her and comforted her."
"Bone marrow transplant is no walk in the park. This patient who needed it was a young man from near the Arctic Circle. He was hardy, stubborn, and kind of a pain in the behind. His wife spent months sleeping beside his bed in one of our uncomfortable cots. The new, unrelated immune system we gave him waged an all-out war on his body. Every body system was affected by GVHD (Graft versus host disease).
His liver scarred and liquefied in places, his guts sloughed off their lining in liters, and his skin became patched with strange pigmentation and scaly to the touch. He was on our unit for months and I was never his nurse, but one day I ran into his room when he set off the bed alarm. I opened the door and froze. I hardly recognized him. My brain had a difficult time identifying that I was seeing a human because, with his multicolored scaly skin, distended belly, and blank jaundiced eyes, he was more of a creature than anything else. My fellow nurses rushed past me and I just stood there in complete horror. I backed away, went back to the nurse's station, and I found myself shaking with anger. What the actual heck was that? I cried hot, angry tears. I felt sick.
We kept him alive for another two weeks.
I was second to affirm that his heart had stopped on the day that he died. His wife, in her own way, began emptying their suitcase and throwing away his clothing as his body cooled nearby.
She threw away his wallet, 'He doesn’t need this anymore.'
I retrieved the wallet from the trash and I focused on his driver’s license picture; it looked nothing like him. I placed the wallet on the nightstand as his wife continued to throw his belongings in the trash. The entire scene was heartbreaking."
"We had a patient who was a helicopter pilot in the army. He was shot down and captured by the Taliban and held for a few days before getting released.
Fast forward a few years and he was admitted to my unit for a GBM (Glioblastoma or in other words, the worst-case brain tumor) on top of having PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder). He was very active in getting out of bed, running around the unit, and pulling out IVs. Hence why he ended up having a companion in his room at all times.
Well, one day, his nurse I'll call her, 'C,' asked me to hang out while she passed medications out. This guy was 5'7 but built like a brick house. C is maybe 5'1 and very meek. After she scanned his wrist badge, she told me I could go since he was sleeping.
I was barely out of the room when the patient shot out of bed, grabbed a chair, and tried to hit C. He claimed she kidnapped him. It took six of us to get him back in bed and restrained for the rest of the night. Well, a few days later, this patient heard one of our life flights land on the helipad outside his window and immediately had a flashback to his copter being shot down. He threw a chair out the window and tried to jump out. My unit was on the sixth floor."
"I had a patient with an open fasciotomy wound that ran from hip to knee that had a wound vac connected to the wound. This is basically a wound dressing that creates a seal with a small tube running to a small vacuum device. Wound vacs apply negative pressure to the wound and also drain anything coming out of the wound. This wound had developed MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) which is one of the worst bacterial infections you can develop.
Well, Mr. Wound Vac patient kept having issues with his wound vac and it would lose its seal. I came into the room one evening to discover the patient had disconnected the tubing of the wound vac and was sucking on the end of the tubing that ran out of the wound. The line had pinkish-yellow MRSA drainage that was coming out of the tube.
I was so shocked.
I didn’t even know what to say other than, 'Ummm, don’t do that.'
I then had to explain to him why. I passed this along to the next shift that the patient disconnected the wound vac tubing and was sucking the MRSA wound drainage from the tube.
The nurse exclaimed, 'I saw him do that too! I tried telling him not to mess with it.'"
"I had a nice older gentleman patient who was Tachycardia, but all his labs were normal. He seemed like he took fairly good care of himself, just was a little disheveled but he dressed nice and had nice shoes. We initially couldn't find anything wrong with him, but he had a peculiar odor to him that seasoned nurses would get suspicious of.
I asked him if he had any infections on his body that he knew of, and he said, 'No.'
I wanted to do a thorough check, so we took off all his clothes. He was fine until I got down to his feet. He was wearing an old pair of socks, and as I peeled them down, literally the skin around his foot came off with the sock. I was essentially degloving his foot. It was so vile, I couldn't even get down more than a couple of inches. It was raw flesh under those socks. The wound odor was so strong, I knew then that his feet were the source. He probably hadn't changed his socks in several months. He ended up being admitted and given lots of antibiotics and wound care.
The memory of pulling down his socks will haunt me forever."
"This patient would get a blood transfusion about once a month. The wound smelled like week-old roadkill and you could smell it all the way down the hallway. While reinforcing her wound dressings one night, we unwrapped an ace bandage that was holding an abdominal pad in place to catch the drainage that was soaking through the primary wound dressing.
When we pulled the ace bandage and abdominal pad off, a fly came flying out of the wound dressing. Both myself and the nurse saw it and the nurse let out an 'EEEKK!'
The patient asked, 'What happened?'
The fellow nurse was barely holding it together.
I told the patient, 'Umm, a fly came out of the dressing.'
The patient replied, 'Oh yeah that happens sometimes.'
Medical maggots are used to clean wounds, but medical maggots cannot become actual flies. They try to pupate from larva to fly but have been modified to prevent them from being able to. This was definitely not a medical maggot because we never used them on her wound as it was not a candidate for maggot therapy. The lady was not homeless and would be considered middle class."
"There was a diabetic chap at 64 years old who had already lost one leg and had been putting off amputation of the other. He came in profoundly unwell with a white cold dead foot. I spent 10 hours overnight trying to stabilize him for transfer to a hospital where they could amputate it. I couldn’t, he was too unwell. I asked him multiple times to let me call a friend (he had no family) for him, but he declined. Then the intensive care unit (ICU) declined to take him.
In the morning, we told him we weren’t going to be able to do anything for him, and he kept saying, 'So then what next?'
The conversation was excruciating. He wasn’t getting it.
Eventually, the consultant said, You’re going to slip away.'
The patient said, 'I’m going to die?!'
And the fear in his eyes made me want to vomit. He then quietly asked me to call his friend. He died five hours later."
"There was a 20-year-old patient in for a motorcycle accident. The kid 'survived' but was never going to be not a vegetable living off of 15 different tubes ever again. He literally lost too much brain tissue. That kinda stuff is par for the course in a level one trauma center. What was hard was watching his parents stay in his room in shifts, documenting every little twitch and spasm and reporting it to us as a sign that he was 'waking up,' only to have to be gently told (after assessing of course) that it was just spasms with no conscious thought.
They would also happily keep telling us about the welcome home party they had planned for him and making jokes that they're never letting him buy a bike again. One day they started visiting less and less, and eventually stopped coming at all. Finally, they made him a DNR (a do-not-resuscitate order). He was their only child."
"I was pulled to the ER one night to help with a patient being brought in by ambulance. We’re a small hospital with only one ER nurse. Anyway, we knew this patient was going to be a mess after hearing from the medics that she had been on her floor for weeks.
Her husband (who didn’t live with her) had been bringing her food but otherwise left her lying there. The medics had to literally scrape her off the floor with the help of a shovel. She was a rather large lady, and you couldn't imagine the sores on her backside from laying there in her own filth for a month. We of course started cleaning her up right away, and it shocked me all the trash I pulled out of her folds. She even had a pop bottle lid in one fold that had carved a wound in her skin."
"I was doing wound care on a diabetic man who took zero care of himself. It was a foot ulcer with necrotic tissue and gangrene. As I was pulling the old dressing off, I felt a subtle crunch. I looked and saw that the dressing pulled one of the man's necrotic toes completely off with it.
I said, 'What the heck?'
He just sighed and said, 'Not again.'
Turns out just a few months ago, his other foot was at that level of ulceration, and one of those toes came off when he went to put shoes on. Although he was morbidly obese and couldn't even see his feet, how he failed to notice the smell and severity is a mystery."