There's only so much that medical school can prepare you for. These surgeons faced their most epic cases yet, with some of the most disgusting and bizarre ailments they had ever seen. Seriously, who knew that the human body could do these things? Were these surgeons sucessful? Only one way to find out, by reading these stories! Content has been edited for clarity.
"I was doing this C-Section for this poor mother who had been in labor for hours. The baby would not come out of the hole that we made, so we applied more pressure to the fundus, which was the top of the uterus. Suddenly, the baby whooshes out like a torpedo, covered in a lubricating vernix. The baby zips over the surgical sheeting, which now has the texture of a slip and slide, and almost rockets straight off of the table. The baby's foot was caught by another surgeon, who whipped her up in the air upside down like in an old cartoon. But the baby was almost dropped again due the surgeon's cloves and the vernix. Thankfully, the midwife was ready with the towel, and she caught the baby to wrap her up. The mother and the father didn't notice that anything was out of the ordinary, but my colleague and I just stared at each other with a look of absolute horror on our faces. It still makes me shudder to think how close that baby was to hitting the floor head first. This sort of thing has never happened before or since!
So for context, it can be really hard to convey how stressful an emergency C-Section is, and how every second truly counts. For a category one C-Section, which is the most urgent, you have ten minutes from deciding to proceed to getting the baby out. That includes moving the patient to the Operating Room, doing the anesthesia, and getting to the baby inside. Things move super fast, and you just have to do what you have to do. The procedure is far easier to repair than something like hypoxic brain damage. Obstetricians get very skilled very quickly, and fortunately it is quite rare to get a negative outcome. We aren't sure why this sort of thing happened during this C-Section. The senior consultant who reviewed the incident guessed that it was most likely due to an area of amniotic fluid that hadn't fully drained yet, and then suddenly gained way. The baby was 100% fine. Babies can be born in all manner of weird and wonderful ways, and nature has prepared them quite well for this. Believe it or not, I actually ran into the mother and the baby a few years later! The baby had grown into a very healthy, exceptionally energetic little toddler. She carried on as she started! Good luck to all of the expectant families out there, you will be great, I'm sure!"
"I was doing a corneal transplant when the worst thing that could have gone wrong did go wrong. During surgery, I cut off the patient's cornea and replaced it with a new donor cornea. There was a moment when the host cornea was off, but it was before I could attach a new one. There was literally nothing on the front of the eye except for a tear film and aqueous humor. So the patient took that exact moment to start vomiting profusely. Now the reason that we tell all of our patients to skip eating and drinking before the surgery is so they don't aspirate after throwing up. The patient had apparently lied about eating breakfast, and they started to throw up literally everything, while also convulsing on the table. Those really in the know will understand just how terrible this situation quickly became.
So I had to grab the new cornea and start stitching as fast as I could on the patient, who was actively throwing up. I used these specific nylon sutures which are thinner than an eyelash. Everything turned out to be fine, but man was it terrifying. Never lie about eating breakfast before surgery, folks. The patient did okay. Normally, I would rotate all sixteen stitches to bury the knots, so the patient wouldn't feel any sort of pain afterward. In this case, I didn't have time. We had to get the patient up and awake before she aspirated and died. So she had sixteen exposed suture knots on her eye. It would feel like there were sixteen hairs stuck in the eye. But honestly, she is so lucky to still have an eye at this point!"
"I work in the OR, and what I've witnessed goes way beyond strange. On my first day of the job, one of the other surgeons was doing a lap sleeve gastrectomy. During this procedure, a medical device is used to cut and staple the stomach simultaneously. However, in this particular case, the medical device failed. The stomach was cut open, but the staples never really engaged, which left the patient with an enormous gash in their stomach. The surgeon ended up having to finish this section by hand.
During another time, I was called into a room to ensure that the laparoscopic camera was working and able to record. This was a six hour cardiac procedure, and it was nearing the end. I knew that I was about to see something good. And by good, I mean especially nasty. The surgeon pulled out some sort of growth from inside of this dude's heart. This thing was the size of a chicken wing. It had been growing through his valve, and I am honestly so astonished that they are alive. Supposedly, the only symptom this patient displayed was a shortness of breath. This growth was most likely sent to pathology to get tested for cancer. Witnessing this was enough to make anyone swear off of meat for good."
"I work in cardiovascular surgery, and I can think of a few close calls. In my eight-year career, I have had three patients start to move their arms in the middle of open-heart surgery. One patient even tried to sit up. I was literally pushing the patients' shoulders down and yelling to give the patient a stronger anesthetic. Believe it or not, there is usually no need to restrain the patient. The patients' arms are usually under some drapes, and on the rare occasion that they can move, they are extremely weak. Adding straps would cause problems with the IV and sterility of the area for the patient. Most importantly, it would slow down the procedure considerably, as it would take longer to prepare the patients. Research shows that the more quickly;y the patient is in and out of the operating room, the better results they will have. Also, the less time spent, the fewer costs can accumulate.
Another time, I was working on a simple pericardial window. For different reasons, sometimes patients could have extra fluid build up in the pericardial sack that surrounds the heart. My colleague made a small hole and stuck the sucker in to suck the fluid out and make room for the heart. He stuck the sucker in too far, and it went through a ventricle. Blood shot out of the small hole, just below the sternum. I had to open up the patient more under the ribs, so the other surgeon could stick his hand in to plug the hole with his finger. We had to call in another surgeon to help utilize the lung machines for this patient. It was absolutely nuts."
"When I was a surgery intern, I was pulled from doing menial tasks to help with a case that had gone massively wrong. Our professor emeritus in surgery was doing a simple liver biopsy on a patient, and he accidentally nicked her hepatic artery. Basically, the patient had a hole in a major artery, and her tissue had the consistency of toilet paper. Every time someone tried to suture the hole, the tissue would just break apart, leaving a larger hole that was more prone to leaks. It was all hands on deck for this operation. The chief residents were hard at work, people were literally squeezing blood into the patient's veins, and we interns were runners. We would go back and forth from the operating room to the blood bank to transport more blood and plasma. We ended up transfusing over forty units, or twelve liters, of blood. The patient lost over two times her total blood volume during that surgery. A vascular surgeon eventually swooped in and made some pretty slick patchwork that fixed the problem.
Now this was no ordinary patient. She was like a daughter to the surgeon. He had literally saved this patient's life several times already, and the two of them had gotten really close over the years. She even named one of her kids after the surgeon. This poor guy had broken down a few times during the surgery, and he was convinced that he had just killed his surrogate daughter. The chief residents had to take over a few times when the surgeon was not mentally there. That would be his final surgery. He retired the next day. What a way to end a surgical career! This guy was actually one of the most respected surgeons in the department. He was really good, but getting old. I'm sure retirement was already in the works, but that case had just accelerated the process."
"I was a fourth year resident, and I was on call that day, around 5 p.m. I went to do my rounds, and as I got to the first room, I came in to find the first year resident on top of the very recently neck-operated patient, who had a tumour removed from his parapharyngeal space. The resident was kneeling next to the guy's head with his hands and clothes completely covered in blood. There was blood on the roof on the sheets, on the bed, dripping onto the floor, you name it. I was instantly petrified.
I had never ever repaired someone's carothid artery. I am completely unqualified to help this guy! Someone please HELP US! I was the senior resident, so I was the only one on call at the time. Unfortunately, no one could get there in time to help me help this guy. He was still bleeding out, so it was up to only me to save him. I took this guy to the OR as fast as I could and I opened him up. The entire time, I was praying and telling myself that it would be okay, I can do this, I can do this! I was pooping my pants while everyone was looking at me to fix him. I open him up and I see the facial artery loose, spraying blood all over. So I clamped it, put a knot around it, and that was it. We closed him up, bandaged and transfused the poor guy, and I went to collapse on a stool."
"Gastroenterologist here. I was removing a large polyp during a colonoscopy. I put the snare around then polyp, kind of like a cowboy throwing a lasso. It took an unusually long time to sever the base of the polyp, until all of a sudden, blood started squirting from where the polyp was removed. The screen quickly turned red with blood. I couldn’t see anything. The patient's blood pressure started to drop. The patient turned pale white on the stretcher in front of me. That's when I felt like I was going to faint and empty my own bowels. The only thing I could think was 'Oh no.'
I gave myself a moment to breath and control my emotions. Once I cleared my head, I let my instincts kick in. We gave him a bolus of fluids to bring up his blood pressure and put him a trendelenbug position (head down, feet up) to maintain blood flow of his brain, lungs and heart. This also was done to try to reduce blood flow to his gut, where the bleeding was. As It turned out, the patient's blood pressure dropped just enough to stop the bleeding automatically. This gave me just enough visualization to identify the vessel and clip it. The man lost a third of his blood volume in less than sixty seconds. He was admitted, transfused, and discharged the next day. The polyp turned out to be cancerous, however the margins were clear, so we saved him from a hemicolectomy. These days, if I anticipate a similar situation, I just refer them for surgery. I am not interested in being a hero."
"I woke up at two in the morning for a general surgery call. It was really vague, but at the time, I lived in a town with large populations of young military guys and addicts. Late night emergencies were fairly common for me. I got to the hospital, where the rest of the details awaited me. I was needed for a Perirectal abscess. For the uninitiated, this means that somewhere in the immediate vicinity of the butt hole, there was a pocket of pus that needed draining. Needless to say, our entire crew was less than thrilled to be working on this. I went down to the Emergency Room to transport the patient, and the only thing that the ER nurse told me was, 'Have fun with this one.' Amongst healthcare professionals, vague statements like that are always a bad sign.
My patient was a woman who barely fit on the stretcher that I was transporting her on. She was rolling frantically side to side, moaning in pain, pulling at her clothing and praying. I could barely get her name out of her after a few minutes of questioning, so after I confirmed her identity and what we were working on, I figured that it was best just to get her to the anesthesiologist, so we could knock her out and get this circus started. This woman continued her theatrics during the entire ten-minute ride to the OR, nearly falling off of the surgical table as we were trying to put her under anesthetic. We saw patients like this a lot, but usually they were addicts who don't handle pain well. We finally got the lady off the sleep, put her into the stirrups, and I began washing off the rectal area. It all seemed pretty standard. Her chart had noted that she had been injecting IV substances through her perineum, so this was obviously an infection from dirty needles or bad substances. Still, it did not seem to warrant her repeated cries of, 'Oh Jesus, kill me now!' I stepped up with a scalpel, sink just the tip in, and the patient had a slight muscle twitch at that same moment. Just like that, the horror show really began.
Unbeknownst to us, the infection had actually tunneled nearly a foot into her abdomen, creating a vast cavern full of pus, rotten tissue, and fecal matter that had seeped outside of her colon. This unholy mixture came rocketing out of that little incision. The bed she was on was located in the middle of the room, about seven feet from the nearest wall, but by the time we were all finished, I was still finding bits of rotten flesh pasted against the back wall. As I continued to advance my blade, the torrent just continued. The patient kept seizing against the ventilator, and with every muscle contraction, she shot more of this brackish gray-brown fluid out onto the floor. Within minutes, this substance was seeping into everyone's shoes. The smell hit all of us first. One nurse tore off her mask and sprinted out of the room, her shoulders still heaving, about to vomit. I couldn't breathe, my lungs simply refused to pull any more of this odor inside me. The anesthesiologist went down next. His 6' 2" frame was shaking as he threw open the door to the OR suite, desperately trying to get more air inside. Another geyser of pus splashed across the front of my shirt. Was this real life?!
The only thing we could find to mask the smell was a vial of Mastisol, which is an adhesive rub that we sometimes use for bandaging. We were out of any other options. I rubbed as much of that stuff as I could into my mask. The anesthesiologist grabbed the vial next, dowsing the front of his mask in the stuff so he could stand next to the machines long enough to make sure that this woman didn't die on the table. It wasn't until later that we realized that Mastisol can give you a mild high from huffing it like this. In retrospect, that is probably what got us through everything. By now, the smell had permeated out of our OR suite, down the forty-foot hallway to the front desk, where the other nurse still sat, eyes bloodshot and watery, desperately clenching her stomach. Without another word, I scraped the inside of the abscess until all of the dead tissue was out. The front of my gown was a gruesome mixture of brown and red. The nurse finished the required paperwork as quickly as she could, then helped me to stuff the opening full of gauze. We taped this woman's buttocks closed to hold the dressing for as long as possible, woke her up, and immediately shipped her off to the recovery ward. It took four or five bottles of 70% isopropyl on my skin to really get clean, but it was worth it. The next morning, the entire floor still smelled. The housekeepers told me later that it took them nearly an hour to suction up all of the fluid and debris left behind. That OR suite itself was closed off and quarantined for two more days, just to let the smell finally clear out."
"I was working the ICU at a large teaching hospital. I came into work one morning to find a patient who was intubated, sedated, and hooked up with a Foley catheter. Long story short, he was extubated, which means they took out his breathing tube, and was completely alert and oriented during that same shift. He was an end stage renal patient, meaning his kidneys didn't work and needed dialysis, but he was only in his late thirties. He said that he was never able to produce urine anymore and didn't need the Foley catheter. He wanted it out because it was hurting. Now the catheter bag had been empty my whole shift, which was normal because he didn't produce urine anymore. There was no other order from a doctor to keep the catheter in, so I went to remove it. As soon as the catheter was taken out, blood started pouring out in a heavy stream. It turns out that the nurse who had placed in on admission hadn't advanced it far enough, so there was no urine production to indicate the correct placement. She had inflated the balloon while it was still in his urethra, causing trauma. It would not stop bleeding. I had to hold this man's privates 'shut' to put pressure on it while my coworker paged the resident who came and looked at me with pit. He told me just to keep holding this dude's privates in my hands to staunch the blood flow until someone from urology could get over there and assess. The thing just kept gushing blood ever time I eased up to check. For over an hour total, I held this dude's privates and tried to make polite conversation until the urologist finally arrived. Thankfully, the urologist who finally arrived was able to slip the coudé in for tamponade without any extra tools. This new catheter wasn't hurting the patient, since it was finally inserted correctly.
The patient was surprisingly really chill during this entire event. I was able to remain calm, and he was actually used to being in the hospital. End stage renal patients can live for years on dialysis, so he would definitely be okay. The urologist basically placed a larger catheter to put pressure on the damaged area to stop the bleeding. The patient was transferred out of the ICU by the next day."
"Former medical student here. Rotating through General Surgery was mainly an enjoyable time. I remember one young patient, twenty-two years old, was re-visiting the ER, where he'd been seen six weeks prior for sustaining some abrasions and bruises after falling hard off a skateboard. He was all scraped up everywhere but had healed up alright. But now he's in the ER again, feeling awfully sick, vomiting and with a huge fever. As the third year med student, I was dispatched to the bedside and hung up the CT films on the lightbox, too much finger pointing and grunting among the surgeons. I had no idea how to read a CT at the time, and I wasn't even really sure what part of the body had been scanned. So when the surgical resident barked 'prep him for surgery', I was nonplussed. I decided to disguise my ignorance and just go for it, as was the approved way for students at this busy public hospital way back when. We got him gassed and prepped, and I scrubbed in. Surgeon said 'Open,' and I raised the #15 blade. He'd been prepped for a midline laparotomy, but I guess I exposed my ignorance when I spoke up to confirm the same. Everyone around me laughed.
I opened and it went uneventfully, reflected the momentum with its lovely arcades and exposed the viscera. 'You remember how to perform the Kocher maneuver?' the attending barked. 'Yes sir.' 'Well do it!' I slid my gloved hand up into the splenic flexor, getting well ready to grab the entire sack of intestines and move it up and over, which was the opening salvo of the Kocher maneuver, but I met unexpected resistance. I peered up, seeing in my confusion that everyone was edging away from the table. 'What's the trouble young man, get your hand up there and complete the maneuver! Push harder!'
A spongy sort of barrier gave way and with a sickening stench, immediately recognizable as the locker-room aroma of Staphylococcus aureus, a gushing cascade of two liters of grey-brown, bloody pus roared out of the incision, soaking my gown, scrub pants, and shoes before splattering on the OR floor and walls. The splenic abscess, doubtless caused by the transient bacteremia from his skateboard accident, had been lysed, ruptured, evacuated, and mostly cured. The attending finished up with the splenectomy, and after some abdominal lavage, the patient was good as new. I had to throw out my shoes."