It is easy to forget the fact that medical professions are imperfect humans who make mistakes just like anyone else. Reading stories of these medical blunders, some humorous and some deadly, will give you a new perspective on not only the industry but human nature too.
Pharmacy Technician: Almost Deadly Mistake
“Pharmacy technician here. I once was much too stressed and I was rushing. Instead of Prednisone 5mg (a type of steroid), I used prednisone 50mg. The pharmacist checked it and didn’t catch it, but I realized when I was putting my stock bottles away. Luckily it hadn’t gone out yet so I fixed the mistake and vowed to be 100% dedicated to one task at a time. A few months later somebody made the exact same mistake but did not catch it, and the patient ended up in the hospital for a few months” (source)
“Registered Nurse here: I was taking care of a man with liver failure who was not a candidate for a transplant. He ‘waxed and waned’ meaning he vacillated between complete brain function and confusion. I brought him his pills and made some small talk. We chatted a little bit before I handed him a cup to drink from on his bedside table. He tossed the pills in his mouth and took a gulp from the cup. He looked at me and said ‘that’s piss’ in a really matter of fact way. I check the cup. Indeed it was. While he was confused he must have gone in the cup instead of his urinal and then forgotten about it. Now I always check before handing people cups from their bedside tables” (source).
The Worst False Alarm
“I do HIV testing and once I showed up to work super tired because I couldn’t sleep the night before. This guy comes in for a test, we go through the pre-counseling and then I tell him to step out for a few minutes while the results come up. Once he comes back to get his results, I tell him to take a sit and the first thing that came out of my mouth was ‘Your results are positive’ and then I saw the look on his face and that’s when I realized I fucked up. I then said ‘Oh no no no, I meant to say negative.’ I almost gave the guy a heart attack” (source)
“I am a nuclear medicine technologist working in a PET department. I deal mostly with cancer patients. Prior to exams, I’ll ask the patients why they are having the test done and for any other vital information. One day, a female patient told me she found a lump, had a mammogram, a biopsy, and it turned out to be stage four invasive ductal breast cancer. Having confirmed the information I had on my sheet with the patient, I made the mistake of saying, ‘Sounds good.’ To which she replied, ‘No, it’s actually pretty f**king terrible,’ and she broke down in tears. I will never say sounds good again when a patient tells me his or her diagnosis” (source)
Procedure Gone Wrong
“Med student here. A few years ago, when I was working as a medical assistant in an interventional pain management clinic, I was asked by the doctor to place a grounding pad (a sticky pad like they use for EKGs) on the patient’s leg during a radiofrequency (RF) nerve ablation procedure. The patient had some lotion or something on her leg that was keeping the pad from sticking properly, but it seemed to be mostly well attached and I didn’t want to hold up the procedure to get another pad or clean off the patient’s leg. The pad ended up partially coming off right as the high-voltage RF was being applied, causing a small burn on her leg. There was no lasting damage done and the patient was very understanding, but I still felt horrible. It was the first time I had caused harm to a patient, and it could easily have been avoided had I just spoken up. Now I never hesitate to say something if I have even a slight feeling that something is off. Nothing is more important than a patient’s well-being” (source)
Complacency Is Your Enemy
“I worked as an OR porter for a number of years to help me through school. I was cleaning up after an operation on an inmate who was Hep C & HIV+ and I was working quickly and recklessly. I stuffed the blue matting and used aprons into the garbage and as I pulled up from the garbage, blood was pouring from my hand. Unseen and unknown to me, a doc or nurse had left a scalpel in the blue matting. It is/was so sharp that when it cut me, I didn’t even feel it but I was bleeding profusely. The nurses and docs jumped on it right away, cleaned and prepped my cut and got me on special meds right away. I had to get shots and check ups regularly for the next year. Luckily, I was okay. What I learned: work slowly and/or carefully especially in high risk situations. Complacency is your enemy” (source).
Even Doctors Have Plenty To Learn
“Once as a tired medical resident I was called to the ER to admit someone at like 3am. This bonehead had gall bladder removal a week ago and now had a surgical-site wound infection. I asked if they’d taken their post-op antibiotics they were prescribed, and they weren’t sure. I was getting more and more frustrated with this dumbass preventing my sleep when I decided to use a ‘pregnant pause’ interview technique, and just shut up. This usually results in either awkward silence and the patient saying ‘uhh WTF doc’ or awkward silence followed by some useful deep revelation. In this case the guy hung his head low, looked at his feet through unfocused eyes, started to sniffle while his halting voice cracked ‘I can’t read. Never could. Didn’t know the instructions they wrote down for me and didn’t know I had medicine to buy. I didn’t ask them because I was embarrassed.’ Illiteracy haunts rural and urban places in most countries. Those folks aren’t reading this, and they depend on our patience and understanding, and acceptance, to detect and bridge that vast communication gap. That’s what stuck with me” (source)
“Pharmacist here. I was working alone on a Saturday. Just before closing, a woman brought in 19 prescriptions for her husband who was just discharged from the hospital. Then a swarm of people came in after her and I kept getting interrupted by people who refused to wait until the next day for their Xanax. One of the prescriptions was isosorbide mononitrate, a heart/blood pressure pill. It was written for half a tab daily, and I filled it with instructions for one and a half. It was a normal dose that I saw often and was well within the dosing guidelines, but it was too much for him. Several days later he was re-admitted for low blood pressure and the prescribing physician caught my error. I called his wife to apologize from my personal number as soon as I found out. She was so understanding. She saw how crazy things were for me and understood how stressful the situation was. I offered to pay for the out of pocket costs of the additional hospitalization, but she would not accept. Unfortunately he was a very sick man and died two weeks later of issues not related to my error. It could have been much worse, but it really made me realize that I hated retail pharmacy and the lack of help that puts so much strain on pharmacists. I quit as soon as I found another type of pharmacist job and I am so much happier. It haunted me for a while, but I was able to get over it”(source).
Fifty Shades of Blush
“Kind of humorous: I’m a nurse assistant (formerly worked in hospital with chemo patients). One day I was in with a client/patient getting the room back in order after his morning bed bath. I had already put all my supplies away and had an armload of soiled linen about to leave the room when I asked if he needed anything else. He said no, he was fine. Well.. not skipping a beat, I say ‘I’ll just get out of your hair then…’ FIFTY SHADES OF BLUSH. Let’s just say… we were both shocked at what I had said, but he made a joke of it along the lines of ‘I don’t have any to hold you back’ and I made sure I caught myself before it happened again” (source).
“I’m an EMT and I work in a college town, I was very new and in training when this happened. We were called to a leg injury on the side of a hill and when we got there the woman had an obvious deformity and swelling. We splinted her leg, treated some cuts, and moved her on the stretcher to the ambulance. We started the trip to the hospital (about 15 minutes) and on our way my proctor asked the patient if she wanted her leg elevated. Our stretcher had a lever that you could pull to lift the patient’s legs in case of shock. The patient said yes and my proctor told me to lift them up. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how the stretcher worked at the time, so lifted up the end of the stretcher, thought I secured it, and when I let go, the patient’s injured leg slammed down and she screamed in pain. I felt so guilty after that happened. I immediately fixed the end so that it was now secure and elevating the patient’s legs, and we continued our journey to the hospital. About 5 minutes later we hit a pothole and low and behold the mechanism unlocked and the patient’s legs came down again causing very obvious pain. Needless to say I was read the riot act after that call and I learned to always do things right the first time, double check your work, and to use a pillow to elevate leg injuries” (source)
“I was removing sutures on this patient. Which i literally did every 30 minutes for years. Anyways I had distinct difficulty removing them which struck me as odd. The surgeon used a stitch I had never seen before. So I got them all out but I had a sneaking suspicion there was some left. However since i couldn’t see anything and figured id waste the surgeons time if I bothered them. I patched him up and sent him home. Usually, left over suture gets pushed out of a healing wound. 2 weeks later, guy comes back the incision site is healed up but it looks swollen as hell and the skin looked like its breaking down. It was all textbook infection. Poor guy had to undergo an Incision and Drainage to clear out the infection and months of antibiotics. I told the doctor what happened and she said it happens like 1 in 100. That she also tried something different that surgery and that might be it as well. This was like 8 years ago. I check beyond thoroughly now and when in doubt get a second set of eyes. It’s not worth putting someone through pain or discomfort because of your pride” (source)
A Rough Estimation
“I was working as a pre-registration pharmacist in a community pharmacy based in a supermarket. A boy and a girl come in, nervous as hell, and step up to the counter. They’re teenagers, probably 17-18 or so (in the UK age of consent is 16).The boy asks ‘Can I have some condoms, please?’ I’m serving, and we keep the condoms at the counter. They come in packs of threes, tens, twenties. So I smile, try to be reassuring, but I need to know what they want.’Sure,’ I say. ‘What size?’ The boy turns bright red, but his girlfriend nudges him. He starts estimating with his hands. ‘Uh… about…this long?'” (source)
The Elf Scene
“True but not too serious. I was a medical student looking after a boy of about 8 years who had broken his arm. He needed an IV but was terrified of needles. I was trying to calm him when he asked ‘Will it be like what they did in the movie Elf?’ I had not seen Elf and I figured it must have been a pretty benign scene with that title. I said ‘Yes’ and the kid went into hysterics. I saw the movie later and understood why the poor kid got so upset. I became an expert in Barney, Dora, Bob and Blue to try and prevent future misunderstandings. I watched some Teletubbies too, but it kind of freaked me out” (source)
Birth Control for Men?
“That first story reminds me of my favorite story from back when I was a pharmacy technician at the end of high school/beginning of college. A young lady (20-25) walks in to refill her birth control. The tech working drop off pulls her file up and says, ‘Oh, it looks like you are a couple weeks early. Insurance won’t pay for it for at least two weeks, since you just picked up the last one two weeks ago.’ She gets irritated, and huffs, ‘yeah, this happens last time. Apparently they only pay for half a month’s supply. I don’t know why they won’t just cover a full month.’ Well this intrigued the tech. Two weeks ago she picked up a month supply, but is only calling it a half month supply. So she goes to the pharmacist, and he decides to discuss how to take the medication. For those who don’t know, birth control typically comes in four-week packs grid style, so it’s quite easy to take. He begins to question her on how she’s taking the medication and she gets frustrated. ‘I believe I know how to take my medicine! It’s just birth control!’ Pharmacist: ‘Well how do you take it?’ By now she’s attracted the attention of everyone working in the pharmacy, and a few patients. Woman: “I take one in the morning and give one to my boyfriend every morning!” For 6 weeks the boyfriend was taking female hormones for birth control. Everything turned out fine, but how stupid do those two people have to be. Thank God they are using contraception, because we don’t want that reproducing” (source)
“We sent a patient to Hospice center and the patient made a full miraculous recovery. She had Esophageal cancer late stage that went into full remission. I was there when the Doctor told her that she no longer fit the Hospice criteria. She was actually kind of pissed because she had sold her home and split up her estate believing that she was going to die. She ended up staying with her son whose grandchildren always came and visited her. I remember her asking the Doctor, ‘So, when am I going to die?’ And he just looked at her and said, ‘For all I know you may just be immortal'”(source)
Bad Blood Situation
“Before medical school I was working as a phlebotomist during undergrad to gain exposure to hospital. When I worked night shift, our daily list of blood draws would print off around 1 am and I would start getting blood on the floor around 4am. I got really good and i could sneak in, lights off, tell the patient what I was doing, quickly draw blood, and get out and they would barely wake up for it. Well one morning I went into a room, the patient had had a wash cloth over his eyes, and I told him who I was and what I was doing before tying the tourniquet around his arm and palpating a vein. About that time, his wife walked in and said ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING!’ I said ‘I’m so and so and here to draw his blood.’ She said ‘HE DIED OVER AN HOUR AGO!!!’ Could you imagine the look on my face as I rip the tourniquet off and apologize I was running out of the room. Even after med school and residency, this is still my most embarrassing moment in healthcare” (source)
Doctor or Human?
“I was on my first clinical rotation in a rural Emergency Room, and a woman came in with a miscarriage, her second one. While we were talking she mentioned she was new to town, didn’t know anyone, and her husband was away for the weekend. When we told her the diagnosis, her eyes became teary, and then we left to make arrangements. The doc didn’t say he was sorry for her loss or comfort her in anyway, which I instinctively wanted to do. When I went back in her room to give her appointment time, she was in pieces. It really gets me. The five seconds it would have taken me to say those words, put a hand on her shoulder, call someone, or just offer some tissues, ugh anything but I didn’t do it. Instead I let my fear of not knowing if I would be showing too much emotion or slowing down the doc, stop me from being human. The silver lining is now I do what my gut tells me. I’ve soothed babies from exhausted parents, picked up crying family members off the floor, and even discussed comic book heroes with kids getting stitches because that’s the kind of person I am, and doctor I want to become” (source).