Doctors are the people we count on for all our health-related needs, and they see a lot of stuff. From the good, the bad and the ugly, doctors provide care in the worst and craziest of circumstances. In this piece, doctors share their "I can't believe this happened" moments while on the job. Keep in mind, stories may be gross to some readers and all stories were edited for clarity.
That Poor Kitten
“I just recently caught up with an old friend who is now an OR nurse, and she told me this gem:
She was preparing a morbidly obese woman for surgery, scrubbing her down and cleaning the areas up underneath rolls that haven’t seen the light of day in God knows how many years. When she picked up one particularly hefty roll around the side of this lady, near the lower back, she stopped suddenly.
Is that… a bone? She mustered her courage and continued to investigate. A moment later she uncovered the skeleton of a small kitten. The bones were fused with the still-rotting flesh of the sad little creature.
Holding back tears and vomit, she walked around to face the large woman. ‘Ma’am, I don’t want to alarm you, but I’ve just found the remains of a small cat in one of your rolls.’
The lady’s response, seemingly unfazed: ‘Oh! I’ve been looking for him!’
Apparently people this huge develop rather thick callouses in their rolls from all the friction. This cat could have been clawing for life in there, and she might not have felt a thing. Poor little guy died trying to claw his way out of his worst nightmare.”
Highlight In The ER
“A couple of years ago, a patient came in complaining of lower abdominal pain. I was looking at a CT of their belly. While looking through the stomach, I saw something that caught my eye. There was an unusually shaped foreign object in the stomach. I measured it, reformatted it in multiple planes, and finally came to the conclusion that it was a hi-lighter marker. I could clearly see the end of the marker where you store the cap.
I made my report and was called at least three times by doctors doubting my report.
Other doctor: ‘But the patient denies swallowing anything.’
Me: ‘I don’t care, it’s there.’
Doctor: ‘Could it be a remnant feeding tube?’
Me: ‘No. It’s a hi-lighter.’
Doctor: ‘Are you sure?’
Me: ‘I’ll bet my salary on it. In retrospect, it’s been there for two years, but was missed on their previous CT. ‘
Doctor: ‘But they’re having lower abdominal pain.’
Me: ‘Yes, this is probably unrelated. Doesn’t change my mind though.’
The next day, I was called. Surgeons did upper endoscopy on the patient. They removed a blue hi-lighter from their stomach.”
The Size Of A Cantaloupe
“My dad is an ER doctor and my mom is an ER nurse. One night, my dad is working and some older (probably mid 50s gentleman) comes WADDLING into the ER on his own. Fills out the forms and sits down. Didn’t seem to be in pain so my dad and the other people working weren’t in a hurry to get to him. Once they do my dad sees him off in a side room and asks him what’s wrong.
‘Well Doc, I’ve got a cantaloupe stuck in my behind.’
‘Sorry, did you say a cantaloupe?’
The guy pauses, looks at my dad right in the eye, and to his credit is one hundred percent honest…
‘Yea Doc, I’m a pervert.’
A. Freaking. Cantaloupe.”
Talk About A Family Get Together
“I was on my OB/GYN rotation and I had a 300-400 lb woman come in. We get to talking about her recent delivery, and she’s talking about how it was really hard to conceive, but that eventually she was able to using the ‘two by four’ method. I had no idea what she was talking about, so I asked her to elaborate.
Because she was so large and her pannus (a dense layer of fatty tissue, consisting of excess subcutaneous fat within the lower abdominal region) was so big, her husband was unable to physically enter her. So what they did, was had her father and her brother take a 2×4 plank and hold her pannus back so that her husband could physically make love to her.
It apparently worked as I heard she had a healthy kid. No idea how many times they all had to get together to get pregnant. Didn’t ask, didn’t want to know.”
Clippings Go Flying
“I interned in a city that gets very cold in the winter. Homeless people who were having a tough time surviving outdoors would come to the ED to get admitted, even if just overnight. They’d get a warm bed, A few hot meals and a cleanup.
This one fellow was in really rough shape, ‘couldn’t walk.’ The poor nurses did most of the cleanup. Delousing, sponge bath, dressing the open sores. My job was to do the physical exam including the mandatory rectal. Literally had to lift that scrawny flap of a butt cheek and pick the encrusted dirt/feces/matted hair away from the rectum to expose the butt. Thankfully I only had to turn 180 degrees to reach the sink that I dry heaved into. But before this fellow can be discharged he needs a podiatry consult. His black gnarled feet have thick yellow big toe nails that have grown in a circle and are now piercing the bottom of the toe (the reason he can’t walk). Podiatrist intern comes in, starts a foot soak, and proceeds to tackle those nails with something that can only be described as modified tin snips. Now you know how some people have that habit of opening their mouth when concentrating really hard? Yup, he clipped that nasty nail and it flipped right into his mouth. We shared the sink.”
It Would Be Tough To Pull That Out
“Well I’m not a doctor yet – but here is a story from one of my professors:
This was in rural Alabama. This middle-aged married couple had presented to the ER after they had been drinking for almost the entirety of the evening and got into a heated argument. Things got heated and the woman eventually fell off the porch of their trailer into the shrubs a few feet below.
The husband in his belligerent state suddenly dropped the argument and came to his wife’s aid. She didn’t suffer anything too serious just a couple of scratches here and there.
Except for what the man said looked like a piece of glass or pipe or something that became lodged in the woman’s arm when she hit the ground.
He decided to not come to the hospital because he could remove this object himself. He got his largest pair of pliers and gripped on to this glass/pipe looking thing lodged in his helpless wife’s arm. He clamped down and pulled and pulled. Cranked and cranked. Trying to remove this object and it wouldn’t budge.
After his masculinity defeated and the buzz wearing off on both of them they decided it sensible to finally come to the ER.
Upon arriving to the ER the doctor immediately realized this poor woman had a compound fracture of her humerus, and this ‘pipe or piece of glass thing’ was her bone sticking through her skin that her husband was trying to pry out with a pair of pliers.”
Putting The Class Ring To Use
“EMT and former scribe. I used to work nights in Vegas in the ER and would see all kinds of weirdness.
One day I’m working in the trauma area and a nurse practitioner from the triage area walks up in a huff. She’s a friend of mine, so I ask her what’s up. She tells me very exasperatedly that she needs to ask the doctor a question. Long story short, a man (about 26 if memory serves) she was seeing had decided to pleasure himself using his class ring, which was easy to put on and not to pull off. He then asked his parents to help him. When they had no avail, they decided to go to the ER.
At this point I’m laughing so hard that I’m crying because, like who wouldn’t? She then tells me that because it’s a class ring, it’s too thick for the ring cutter and actually broke the blade. So I walk out and see a nurse and a scribe trying to reassemble this broken ring cutter and try so hard to contain my laughter as the family is in a nearby room.
Eventually they got a blade from another floor and cut the thing off, but not before the mother filed a complaint and chastised the nurse practitioner for laughing at her son to which the nurse practitioner replies something to the effect of, ‘What would you do if this situation happened at your job?’ Great night.”
Lack Of Care
“I recently had a patient that had an operation on the lower back. It was a rather easy procedure, and it should’ve been a pretty routine healing process, changing dressings every day.
Except this person was in the care of a nursing home, and bad things happened.
The nursing staff allowed the back wound, plus two other wounds, become infected and necrotic. My partner and I were livid, and the nurses couldn’t figure out why it made us so angry to find out that they only changed the dressings once a week.
Here’s the kicker though, we didn’t know about all three wounds, just one on his back, and another on his ankle. We didn’t find out about the 3rd until we brought the man to the ER (Doctor’s orders upon revelation of the wounds)
We had transferred care, and I was cleaning the stretcher. My partner was out talking to the hospital nurses. I’m just scrubbing away when I glance back into my pt’s room, and I see him leaning over the side of the railing and not moving. I panic for a second, like holy moly this guy just killed over. I ran back in and ask him what he’s doing. ‘Oh I’m just trying to get comfy. My rash is burning’
Rash? This is the first we had heard of it. So I investigate.
I swear to god. The smell was worse than a GI bleed. This wasn’t a rash. It was a hole in this man’s hip, literally the size of a softball, I guarantee I could fit both my fists in, and it was necrotic and stuffed with week old gauze.”
Sometimes A Little Assistance Is Needed
“A fourth year med student here. On my ER rotation a couple months back, I walked in to the ER and was immediately asked to help a nurse and resident put a catheter in a patient. Now a catheter placement is usually a one person job, so I was pretty confused as to why they needed my help. I walk into the patient room, and I’m immediately greeted by a disgusting rotting flesh smell. The worst thing I’ve smelled in my life. The patient has to be pushing 400 lbs and has the worst edema (soft tissue swelling) from congestive heart failure I’ve ever seen. His balls and foreskin are about the size of a small watermelon, and the foreskin had swollen completely over the tip of his junk. The nurse had a speculum (tool OBGYN’s used to look inside female genitalia) inserted into the man’s foreskin while the resident took the catheter in a hemostat (pliers type thing) and jammed it into the man’s pee hole for 20 minutes. They finally got the catheter in and took the speculum out. It was covered in a thick brown discharge that looked like fermented nasty pee. I still don’t know how he let his balls and ‘johnson’ swell that much.”
Popped The Lock Right Off
“Paramedic here while working in the ER one night we had a guy come in complaining of groin pain. So we bring him back and it turns out he has a master lock(the kind with the spinning dial that you used to secure your locker at school) locked around his junk. Essentially blood could flow in but could not flow back out so this thing was hugely swollen.
He had panicked after he realized he could not remember the code(dealing with a real genius here) and he took a screwdriver to the dial and snapped it off. So we consulted with urology and the urologist wanted to take him to surgery, cut his ween length wise, slide the top out then the bottom, and then suture it back. Needless to say the patient wasn’t thrilled with option A. So option B was for this big nurse we’ll call him Tom to go in with bolt cutters and cut it off.
Option B selected, curtain closes Tom gives a 1. 2. 3. A loud scream at three a pop noise, Tom exits with a broken lock and the man was sent to the floor to recover. That’s just one of so many but I always tell that one.”
Making Contacts Permanent
“Optometrist here. Had a patient who over-wore her soft contact lenses for over seven months straight without removing them. The contact lenses deprived the cornea of oxygen and tiny blood vessels started to grow from her eye into the contact lens. By the time I saw her, the contact lenses had been fused onto the front surface of her eyes. Her eyes were blood shot, and she was in a great deal of pain. The contact lenses could not be removed. Our corneal specialist had to bring her into the operating room and sever all the blood vessels to peel off each of the contact lenses.”
Extraction Of The Eyeball
“I work for an ophthalmologist. We had a 16-year-old kid high on an illegal substance think there was a ‘government tracking chip’ behind his eye, so he decided to cut out his eye with razor blades. He only manages to lacerate his eyelids. Once he came down he freaked out went to the ER they cleaned him up and referred him to our office. This kid leaves the ER, gets high again, and just started jabbing his eye out with his finger. He stays high for three days comes down and then goes back to the ER.
This time the ER send him directly into our office. He comes into our office he has it covered with a Dixie cup and tape. He said he kept it covered like that for the last 3 days. Before I even got him into my office I could smell the infection. I took off the Dixie cup and I thought it was covered in Vaseline. It was covered with infection and his vitreous (back part of the eye it’s like a jelly substance) was mixed in with it. It was so bad we instantly canceled the day and had to take him to the OR to remove his eye completely and start him on iv antibiotics before he had brain damage from the infection.
After all this he still took the substances for years. I saw him around 3 years after this, and he was finally clean out on a lot of healthy weight and said he goes to schools now and talks about the dangers of substance abuse. I’m glad he’s finally better.”
It Doesn’t Work Like That
“As a medical student in an urology office, we had a young healthy male come in with problems urinating. He said he had hesitancy and a decreased stream, pretty odd for a young male. So the doctor went through all the standard questions and it was a benign physical exam. Did a prostate exam and nothing was out of the ordinary there either so after a couple visits a cystoscopy was done (a little black tube with a camera on the end is shoved up your pee hole to look at your bladder). Well this guy had strictures all over the place, extremely odd. So more questions like have you ever had a catheter? Nonchalantly ‘oh yeah, hundreds of times.’ For what?
Well…. When my partner and I host parties I take a catheter and drain my bladder. We both thought that was strange and thought maybe he doesn’t want to miss any of the party by having to pee? We were clueless. So then he states, and then I fill my bladder up with special grape juice. Ok, it doesn’t work like that, butt-chugging sure but not the bladder. So here comes the kicker, this guy would go around and pee in people’s mouths to give them a drink! It was a big gay get together come to find out!”
Self Surgery Never Goes Well
“I was working in an urgent care clinic in south Atlanta and had a patient come in complaining of itchiness on his chest and back. I examined him, did a scraping and diagnosed him with tinea (fungal infection). As I am discussing treatment options he casually mentions that he has some itching in the groin area as well. After consulting with the supervising physician, it was decided that it should be examined I gave the patient a gown and asked him to change.
Upon returning to the room I see him sitting on the exam table in only a pair of mesh underwear (the disposable kind you get after childbirth) stuffed with gauze. I inquire about his use of this particular type of undergarment, and he proceeds to tell me that he (in his 50s) and four friends of similar age had been circumcised seven days prior. The diaper rash (for lack of a better term) was visible on the inside of his thighs and I informed him that we would need to examine him further.
Removal of the underwear and gauze revealed a swollen mess with stitches on the underside barely holding together a non-healing, split apart incision. There was pus oozing from the unhealed incision and a yeast infection covering his entire groin. He repeatedly said he was not worried about the surgery he just wanted to stop the itching. We started him on anti-fungals and antibiotics and tried to reach his surgeon. After several hours he decided to leave and promised to see his surgeon the next day.”
Rubber Band Did Not Solve The Issue
“This was during residency. Had a husband bring his wife in for an ingrown nail. Every nurse avoiding that room due to the smell was my first clue. I looked at her and pondered what to do with this foot that was wrapped in a big black garbage bag. Underneath said bag were layers and layers of newspapers.
Unwrapping their homemade dressing invoked the worst odor I’ve ever experienced. I got to the point of gagging (and I have a very strong stomach) and had to leave the room, put a surgical mask on, chew gum, and breath through my mouth.
Finally, got the ‘dressing’ unwrapped and this toe had wet gangrene and is auto amputating due to the layers of rubber bands the woman had wrapped on the base of it.
The couple lived in an RV, driving from place to place/state to state. The lady thought by wrapping the toe with rubber bands she’d prevent the ingrown nail from ‘spreading’. The odor started, and she wrapped newspapers and finally garbage bags.
The husband admitted that he brought her to the clinic because he couldn’t stand the smell anymore.
She ended up getting a trans-metatarsal amputation. It was interesting for me since I got to perform it and it was my first one.”
Worst Findings Ever
“Doctor here. When I was working in the ER one evening I had my worst experience so far.
I was called to a one of the examination rooms that are designated for infectious patients. This is already a bad sign as it usually involves some sort of abscess that needs to be drained. However, this time it was far worse.
I was told by the nurse that it involved a man who had bilateral venous ulcers on his legs and that they were now infected. I looked through his journal and saw that he last saw a doctor about 10 months earlier and no note of any check-ups after, not by a nurse or a GP. Therefore, I asked my nurse when someone last took a look at his legs. ‘Not since his last journal entry.’ Then I asked when was the last time he changed his dressings on the legs. ‘He hasn’t…’
Some background info on the patient. Old man who lived by himself in his trailer that was parked in the middle of the forest. He had no running water. He was a bit of a drinker and a general ‘I don’t care’ – mentality.
Awesome. Suited up and went into the room. The room smelled like an odd combination of stale inebriate, mold and disease. Certain infections smell different and this one was very pungent, almost sulfuric.
I introduced myself to the patient who didn’t understand what he was doing there. All he wanted was some antibiotics for a flu, and then he was sent here. ‘What do you want to look at my legs for? They were already taken care of last year.’ Hmmmm, great.
So we started unfolding the dressing. They were crusty and crackled as we unwrapped the first leg. As we got deeper it changed color to some sickly yellow and the stench became worse and worse.
One of my nurses left the room to throw up. Then I saw it. Very small but inside a fold there was a little maggot who squirmed. When we finally got to the wound, we saw all the little maggots feasting on this man. There must have been 50 of them. The stench was absurd, I was focusing a lot to breathe through my mouth but then it felt like I could taste which made it even worse. My nurse came back and promptly went out again.
I unwrapped his other leg and same story there but the infection was much deeper and I could see a few tendons on the base of the ulcer. Absolutely delicious. We had to clean of the maggots and placed them in a bowl, but they were squirming and went on the floor and crawled all over the place. I had to watch my feet, so I didn’t step on them.
After that, we took the patient to hose him down to at least try to get rid of some smell. Then booked to the OR for debridement and a fresh vacuum dressing. Discharged a few days later with strict instructions and booked him in to return for re-dressings and check-ups. Then we never heard from him again.”