Every day, doctors see and deal with more than we can possibly imagine. Get a glimpse into a doctor's world with stories from those who have witnessed and helped patients live through some of the deadliest incidences ever.
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"This guy came in about 10 minutes away from death. He had been run over by a car. By the time we prepped him, he had passed. But per the doctor's moral code, we tried to save him anyway. After hours of constant work, we gave up. We declared him dead and were packing up when he woke up like some horror movie type stuff. He just sat up straight and inhaled loudly, my assistant and I just looked at each other - it's been a couple of months, and he's still in ICU, but this memory will always give me goosebumps."
"It was 3 AM on a Saturday and I was working in the emergency room of a level 1 trauma center. We had 3 people come in after a gun battle. We only had 2 beds designated for severe trauma, so there was the typical discussions of 'which 2 people should we try to stabilize and which person to delegate to the trauma bay?' and 'Do we focus on the most severely injured or the 2 most likely to survive?' After what seemed to be a nearly comically drawn-out wait, the first 2 victims arrived and the stillness flipped to chaos. The first person wheeled in just didn't seem to have a head. There was this mass at the top of his neck but it didn't look human. I remember being so confused that we were using one of the bays for this person/body who just could not still be alive. I was looking him over and I noticed his left thumb was calmly and repeatedly cracking the knuckles on his left hand. It would squeeze one finger and rhythmically work down the other 4 and start over. He didn't have any anatomy left that we could easily intubate and yet he was cracking his knuckles. I still can't make sense of it. He didn't stay alive much longer, maybe a couple of hours, but that knuckle cracking seemed like such a human thing to do for someone that had no reason to still be alive."
"Medical school student here. Our professor, who is a urologist, told us about this man who had a history of sticking things in his urethra for intimate purposes. Apparently, this guy ended up coming into the hospital with a weird lump in his lower abdomen and had problems urinating. Turns out, he tried to please himself by sticking a garden snake in his urethra. Yes, the snake was still alive. He lost his grip on it and the snake had nowhere else to go but forward. It ended up in his abdomen and died there. The doctors were trying to figure out what the weirdly shaped opaque mass on his x-ray - it was the skeleton of the dead snake."
"I was in my fourth year of medical school and it was my the first day as an intern in a trauma hospital in Brazil. There was a bus crash right before, so all the staff was occupied when a woman came in screaming: 'I AM GOING TO DIE! I GOT SHOT IN THE HEAD!' I look up I see a really thin woman with deep eyes, white as snow skin, and a bullet hole in the center of her forehead. She told us she owed money to a dealer and he put a gun against her head, shot and ran. Let's keep in mind that I am a student and there were no available doctors at the moment. I ran to my professor that was with another patient and told him the woman's story, claiming that she was lucid with normal life signs. I got an order to do a CT scan and it showed that the bullet entered the forehead through the first layer of the frontal bone, but not the second, and headed down through the structure in the brain involved in the regulation of voluntary movement then stopped at a vertebra. Somehow, there was no brain damage at all. She still needed emergency reconstructive surgery, and 3 hours later, after she had been stable, we leave the third floor to go down to see other patients. The emergency then gets a call: 'Hello, we are from the X hospital (12 miles away from ours) and we found a patient of yours in our emergency.' Then the nurses on the floor realized the patient was missing. She had jumped from a 3rd storage floor, broke her ankle and got in buses going to the other hospitals. Why? She said, 'I saw him in here, he came to finish the job.'"
"I work at a trauma center as an anesthesiologist, so I see a lot of crazy things. I've seen people surviving stabbings, gunshot wounds to the head, and even a freeway collapsing on someone during construction, but one case will forever stick in my mind. I got called down to the ER to help manage an airway. The call said there was a woman who had difficulty breathing due to trauma as there was a splintered piece of wood in the way. I walk down, ask what the story is. This little old lady lost control of her car, ran off the road into the side of a house. She ran into a wooden porch that was positioned almost exactly at the level of her nose. I approached the lady to see what we were working with for and she had a chunk of wood that had smashed her nose sitting right between her eyes. The thing must have been three inches wide, god knows how long, and about 1 inch from top to bottom. About four inches of board was sticking out of her face. My immediate instinct was to freak out. It turned out the woman was conscious at that moment. I removed the breathing tube from her mouth. She went off to the scanner and then to the operating room. Last I heard, after a series of reconstructive surgeries, she was doing pretty well. I occasionally think back to that moment and just wonder how that woman was alive."
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"This guy falls down a flight of stairs after partying and wakes the next morning and goes to the ER. They do everything they should: head and neck radiographic studies and a physical exam. Everything seems fine except for the deep gash on his forehead. They have him lean back in the stretcher and inject anesthetic so they can stitch his wound. He starts having trouble breathing, which they thought was an allergic reaction. Before long, they have to insert a breathing tube into his mouth so that he can breathe and they send him over to our trauma center, but not before mistakenly intubating into the esophagus (not where it belongs). Since didn't work to keep his oxygen up, they cut the front of his neck to put a tube in there. We get him at this point, repeat the X-rays, find air in his abdomen (which suggests that there is a hole in the bowel or some other trauma) and head into surgery. He's in a neck brace this whole time which is good because we get the new X-ray images back and it turns out he has a broken neck - it was missed before. Regardless of the broken neck, we have to find out where that air in his belly came from. And it was a lot - we thought this guy was just fat when he came in but it was all air.
It turns out when they accidentally intubated his esophagus, they used so much pressure in trying to get the tube in that they punctured the esophagus with a bunch of little holes. The holes were too small to stitch so all we could do was feed him directly into his stomach while he was with us and let the neurosurgeons fix his neck as best they could. When they open up the neck, they find the real reason for the difficulty breathing was the huge collection of blood in front of the break that was compressing his airway. Once it was out, the swelling was gone and with the plates in place on his neck, all we could do was hope that he wasn't paralyzed from the broken neck and that the punctures in his esophagus hadn't infected the part of the chest with a bunch of your vital structures in it. It was important this wouldn't happen because trying to treat those with antibiotics is a beast and has a high mortality. He wakes up, not paralyzed. A few days later, not dead of infection. Very lucky guy."
"I had a patient once who I use as an inspiration to others. In his late 40s, he was diagnosed with alcoholic cardiomyopathy, which meant his heart was only pumping 15% of the blood out per stroke (normal is 60%+), a fast and irregular heart, diabetes, and abnormally high blood pressure in the same day. He weighed 308 pounds, smoked heavily, ate nothing but junk food, and spent every night in the pub. The cardiologist told him he was basically about to die and he was put on five different medications. He stopped drinking altogether, started exercising, quit smoking, and ate nothing but salad. He lost 100 pounds and his diabetes reversed. When he stopped some medications, his heart went back to 55% stroke volume (normal) and most of his heart failure meds were stopped, his blood pressure dropped to normal. He was 'the happiest he'd ever been, and not just to be alive.' After a couple of false starts, he found himself a decent girlfriend. He still went to the pub for the social aspects but drank soda-water. He was a really decent bloke too, and was quite the inspiration to many people in the small country town where we were living at the time to improve their lives."
"I saw a guy for a follow-up after a gunshot wound. He was hanging out with his buddy, when they had the brilliant idea to play with a gun, just, you know, horsing around with guns like people normally do. He had put it in his mouth and had pulled the trigger. To his surprise, there was a bullet in the gun, which promptly shot through the roof of his mouth. He apparently saw smoke coming out of his eyes, had smelled something burning, and came around to quickly realizing that he had shot himself. He was rushed to the hospital, but was able to walk out the same day because the bullet had traveled in such a direction that it didn't go through his brain or any vital organs. I still have a hard time believing this story, and wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see the evidence, but that's one lucky dumb man."
"I had a 25-year-old male patient come in for a suicide attempt. He put a 20-gauge shotgun under his chin and pulled the trigger. He must have flinched because he blew the entire front part of his face off but his brain was completely intact and he was fully alert and oriented. His vital signs were stable after a ton of blood products and he was transported to a specialist plastic surgeon for a new face a couple days later. It was creepy walking into his room and just seeing a someone in bed with clear dressing over their head with no face and fully competent. It was some unforgettable nightmarish stuff right there.
I also had a 72-year-old male patient using a circular saw on a ladder cutting a 2x4 above his head. He slipped and the circular saw went right into his face diagonally from his right cheekbone through his right eye to the left part of his forehead. He was able to turn off the saw, detach the blade from the saw so just the blade was in his face, call his wife that he had an accident, and then DROVE TO THE HOSPITAL with the circular saw blade sticking out of his face. He lost his right eye and was in surgery for over 7 hours to repair his sinuses and face. I forget the number of stitches he had but it was an extremely high number, around 500 or so."
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"I'm an emergency doctor and while I had my fair share of patients who were lucky to be alive after serious accidents/injuries, one incident stands out: I was called during the night to a train vs. person accident. This was a common occurrence where I was working at that time because the train line went right next to a psychiatric ward and there were a lot of suicide attempts via jumping before a train. Everyone who works in the field knows that these attempts are very often successful and there is usually not a lot for us doctors to do other than to declare time of death. This being said, I was not really eager to arrive at the (presumably) grisly scene. But lo and behold, after arriving at the now standing freight train, we hear a faint cry for help. This guy is still alive! We rush to where the sounds come from and there he is under the train between the axles. Since it was nighttime, I couldn't quite see all parts of the patient (especially if all limbs were still attached to the body, I fully expected to see several severed appendages), but after I managed to pull him out with the help of my EMTs and the police he seemed almost perfectly fine. It turns out that after a long night of partying, he knew a 'shortcut' to go home right across the train lines where he was hit by a passing freight train going full speed. He was dragged for several hundred meters under the train and was tumbling between the axles without getting under the actual wheels. All he had to show was a broken arm and a lot of bruises but nothing major. After I gave him some morphine for the pain the first thing he asked was what time it is to know whether the local pub had still open for another round 'to calm his nerves.'"
"This one was a domestic abuse case: the patient had multiple stab wounds to the chest, including a few long gashes to the neck overlying the jugular. Those were meant to kill but she's definitely a survivor.
Another patient from a while back was pregnant and had multiple gunshot wounds to the arms, legs and abdomen. It was a dealing gone wrong; she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The car was shot up like none other. The bullets grazed her uterus, but both baby and mother were fine! It's always a wonder how some can die from seemingly innocent accidents and something so bad can miraculously be okay."
"My sister works as a radiation oncologist. About four years ago, she had a patient who had a 74-pound tumor in the lining of his stomach. It didn't hurt badly or anything; he presented with back pain and digestive issues (both probably related to the boulder in his gut). After scanning him, they removed the tumor in what my sister described as a 'shockingly fast surgery' that was basically a C-section. I think they had to take a small part of his pancreas too as it was adhering to the wall of the tumor. But it was benign, and he walked out of the hospital a week later with nothing worse than a scar."
"I was working late in the ER when we got a trauma patient. He came in with the title 'vehicle vs man' in a foil ambulance blanket. He was totally alert, answering to his name and didn't seem to be in pain. We took the foil off and the guy is completely cut in half with one leg missing and the other barely hanging on. In examination, the rectum was nowhere to be found but instead we found a mass there that turned out to be his member. No bleeding whatsoever. Apparently, the guy was pinned to the wall by a cement mixer while working construction. He made it out alive with a wheelchair and colostomy bag."
"This happened to me when I was 16. I was playing rugby with my friends on the playground at lunch and one of them stamped on my ribs. It hurt very badly but I thought I was winded so just I tried to walk it off. About 30 minutes later, my abdomen still hurts so I ask if I can go to see the school nurse. She told me I have a bit of swelling and that I should go to ER. I arrived at the ER about 3 hours after being stamped on and I'm still in a lot of pain. I had been waiting for about 15 minutes when I just pass out. Next thing I know, I'm on a trolley bed, hooked up to gas and air and surrounded by doctors and a guy doing an ultrasound. The ultrasound shows nothing but blood everywhere from just below my lungs to the top of my hips. I get rushed through a few scans and it turns out that I ruptured a blood vessel in my abdomen. I was fast-tracked to surgery and luckily they fixed me up but not before doing some kind of resuscitation first though. The doctors said I'd lost about 6 pints of blood inside my own body and that if I'd arrived at the ER a few hours later, I would have died."
"This is still the craziest thing I've seen in 10 years as an anesthesiologist. We got called to a Level 1 trauma where a man had fallen out of his hang glider from 200 feet. His wife saw the whole accident happen as he fell into a grove of trees. Screaming, she ran over to him, where multiple tree branches had broken his fall in such a way that aside from a couple of scratches on his body and face, he seemed to be okay, except for one thing. In the trauma bay, he was conscious and talking but there was a troublesome 'pain in his face' that turned out to be a two-inch thick tree branch protruding out of his left eye socket. We inserted a tube into his mouth and took him to the CT scanner, where it turned out that the branch was not just a couple of inches long, but EIGHT INCHES LONG. It had gone through his eye socket, across to the other eye, through both frontal sinuses and stopped just short of entering the cranial cavity and injuring his brain. After a 14 hour operation involving neurosurgeons, ophthalmologists, and plastic reconstructive surgeons, the guy came out with partial vision in the eye that was injured, full vision in the other eye, and walked out of the hospital a couple weeks later."
"I saw a 23-year-old female patient who came to the Out-Patient Department with fatigue and dizziness. She was pale as a sheet and painfully thin. Her blood was drawn for testing and it looked translucent like red wine. When her hemoglobin was tested, it turned out to be 1.1! Higher hemoglobin means more oxygen is carried to the cells, however, too much is bad because it means that there is something wrong that's causing the body to overproduce hemoglobin to compensate, which can cause blood clots. For reference, normal range is 11 to 16. Below 4 is very severe anemia. Hemoglobin less than 2 is not compatible with life (mortality 100%). She even said she had the symptoms she was having for two years. We thought there was some technical error in the test so we sent 2 different samples to different labs while blood cross-matching was going on. The results came back as 1.0 and 1.1. She got her bottles of blood and was diagnosed with 2 different types of anemia together and got treated. She went through what would have killed almost anyone and looked much less sick than most patients with a hemoglobin of 6."
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"This was a male in his 50s. He worked hard labor jobs his whole life. During his career, he has buried alive on a job site, electrocuted, blown up by a 55-gallon drum of paint thinner and run over by his own 3/4 ton truck while working on it. He's had multiple other fractures, lacerations and trauma to the body over the years. I have no idea how he survived it all. He was operating a bulldozer when the dirt walls he was surrounded by collapsed. His bulldozer was buried but the cab provided him protection. The guys on the site thought he was dead for sure, but he survived."
"Five years ago on Christmas morning, I get a call from a colorectal surgeon. I had my Santa hat on and was watching the kids play, ready to enjoy the day. I didn't expect anything good when he called since I'm an anesthesiologist. Apparently, a patient who had been in the hospital for a bowel surgery a week ago had a leak in that connection. Basically, feces was leaking out of her gut and causing a nasty infection everywhere it touched. I get to the ICU and her vitals showed she was about to die.
I told the family as we left that there was a very real chance she wouldn't survive surgery which was met as you'd expect. The surgery was relatively simple and took about 30 minutes, but the problem was that every few minutes, her blood pressure would go unreadable. I ended up using 5 times the recommended dosage of blood pressure medications and eventually had to do compressions on her chest. Meanwhile, I recall thinking that I would absolutely not let this woman die on Christmas. After going through five rounds of CPR, I finally get her stable. I bring her back to the ICU with a breathing tube and all sorts of IV's on all sorts of medications. She got the tube out in a month and left the hospital in three months. Somehow, she didn't lose any mental function."
"I had full spinal fusion (surgery to connect two or more vertebrae in your spine) to correct my 88% curved hunchback. The surgery was a success and 10 days later, I was home. My mother was washing the blood draining from the wound when she noticed a mound forming under my shoulder blades. She called my doctor and they gave us the choice to come in the next day, Thursday, or waiting until Monday. I decided to get it over with, thinking it was nothing. I arrive Thursday to find out that I had a full-blown staph infection with 50,000 cultures invading my bone grafts. For those of you who do not know, at any moment that staph infection could have turned my blood septic. Sepsis, a life-threatening complication of an infection, kills more unsuspecting children than cancer every day. I would have died in my sleep had I slept in my own bed that Thursday night without treatment. I could have chosen to go Monday. I was only 15."
"I'm in PA school and had a patient during my ER rotation in his 50s come in from an overdose of a highly addictive illegal substance. A significant amount of the substance he did had been laced with fentanyl, which is used as part of anesthesia to help prevent pain after a medical procedure. According to the patient's chart, this was his fourth overdose this week. I ended up having to tell him that the substance he had at home wasn't what he thought it was and he looked very hurt that his 'friend' gave him something severely dangerous."