People working at hospitals must deal with a wide array of different conditions and maladies every single day. However, every now and then, they’ll be taken back by an extremely rare diagnosis, a truly unfortunate set of circumstances, or just an off the charts horrifying experience. After reading this list, you’ll come away with a newfound appreciation for all those wacky plotlines on Grey’s Anatomy, House, and your other favorite primetime medical dramas.
I had a 30s male take a small caliber bullet to the lower back come in completely paralyzed (quadriplegia). It didn't make sense given the location of the wound meant only the legs should be paralyzed (paraplegia). On imaging, the bullet entered the spinal canal through a small opening, deflected and traveled up to the cervical spine, causing complete paralysis. All from some jerk that shot up a BBQ.
I had a guy bouncing around clinics for probably years, if not decades, with nonspecific back pain. It affects millions of patients so the typical thing is, rest, stretch, ice, maybe over the counter meds, and go about your life. Well when he got to us, he mentioned he never had any imaging. So we do just a regular x-ray of his back.
Sure enough, there's a small caliber bullet lodged near where the rib meets his spinal column. Apparently, he had been near a drive-by shooting decades ago and was shot, but thought he just cut his back while jumping over something to get cover and never had it checked out.
Never had expected an incident bullet, probably never see one again.
A woman managed to mistake fake fingernail glue for her eye drops on her bed stand. She glued her eye shut. We eventually eased it open using petroleum jelly and some simple tools (cotton swabs, etc.). Once open, her vision was unaffected (thank God!) and her kids berated her for being “such an idiot.”
And yet, I somehow saw it again. The second time was with a little kid with even more glue, so it was a scarier event. The eye wasn’t totally shut, so we knew tears could get through which means no chance for blockage. In that case, we were unable to open so we provided an eye patch and joked “you’re a pirate now.” In reality, they just had to wait the few days until the glue wore away and the body generated new skin below, kicking off the old skin with the glue. The child was okay in the end as well.
I used to be an ER registrar and had a lady come in because her heart monitor was going off. The thing is, she was covered in blood and had some small lacerations on her head and scalp. She wouldn't tell anyone why she was covered in blood, just insisted she needed her heart checked out. It was the weirdest thing!
I had a family of three that came in with progressive proximal muscle weakness and diplopia. I found out they tried home canning and subsequently, they all got botulism. It isn’t every day you get to tell someone “I called the CDC and they’re flying in the antitoxin.” I intubated them in the ED, they stayed in the ICU for about a month, and then went to a long-term acute care facility.
About seven months ago, a young dude came into the emergency room with severe chest pain and shortness of breath. He was kind of skinny and lanky, so after thorough questioning and clinical examination (including an ECG) we sent him to get a chest x-ray to rule out a pneumothorax, which is when air gets trapped between the pleura and lung tissue. Anyways, after looking at the chest x-ray, we didn't see a pneumothorax, but we did see slivers of air trapped in the mediastinum, the part between the lungs.
I asked him if he had vomited before the chest pains started and lo and behold, he did. He got sent to the university hospital in an ambulance ASAP with the suspected diagnosis being Boerhaave syndrome—when one vomits so hard the esophagus ruptures. The university hospital confirmed the diagnosis to be Boerhaave and the patient underwent emergency surgery. Actually still have his x-ray on a CD because I thought it was such an interesting case.
I had a patient who came in with a toothache on his front tooth. He had used a power drill and attempted to perform a root canal on himself. Suffice to say, it had failed to achieve the desired result.
Med student here. Last week there was a man that came into the emergency room theater and had 14 kg or over 30 lbs of feces removed from his bowel. No one in the theater had seen anything close to that before.
This is a story from my mom, who was a nurse in the ER for 20 years. She helped care for a patient that had massive gangrene that began as diabetic ulcers. They went untreated and she had already gone through a double amputation at the mid-thigh, but the gangrene continued to spread, leading to her ER visit. My mom distinctly described seeing this woman’s stump of a femur moving amidst a mass of rotting tissue, its end wiggling like a trapped pencil when they changed her bandages.
One nurse had the task of standing in the corner with a bottle of air freshener. My mom said the smell was something straight out of hell. Unfortunately, this woman’s gangrene spread to her abdomen and there was no saving her. Now I realize why my mom, after being diagnosed with diabetes herself years later, was so damn protective of her feet!
Elderly lady came into my practice asking if there was anything she could be given to help her sleep as the Irish terrorists in the apartment below were keeping her awake at night. She was reassured that terrorists were not planning to blow her up, or Cannock (a small inconsequential town in the West Midlands) for that matter. On the second visit, she insisted that they were going to blow something up soon and expressed paranoid thoughts. A full mental health review was conducted by the GP and the community psychiatrist. She came up clean. That's when we contacted the police, a couple of days later the apartment below our patient was raided and found to be full of bomb-making equipment and actual IRA members.
When I was an intern, we had a 22-year-old man with persistent abdominal pain. His symptoms were unexplained as all studies turned up negative. His mother was constantly at his bedside and detailed her son’s medical history, which included multiple hospital stays with no definitive diagnosis. I noticed that he would frequently take ill after meals, which his mother brought from outside the hospital. It eventually became clear that he was a victim of Munchausen by proxy. His mother was purposely making him ill. I had a patient with Munchausen's when I was in medical school (she was injecting her own feces into her IV), so I was particularly tuned in. Both cases were very sad.
We had a dude who worked with gunpowder (legitimately, I hasten to add). He decided to cut a few corners in his preparation and the mixture literally exploded as he worked on it.
He went from ten fingers to four in that split second and instead of forearms he had two raw gaping holes of mashed tendon and bone. Taking those bandages off was…interesting.
I had an old guy come in from taking a chainsaw to the face. Apparently, he was cutting a log and it kicked back. He had a big cut from his left eyebrow down to his right cheek. He got stitched up, was released and went home. I'm guessing he took a break from getting firewood for a while.
My mom used to work as an ER nurse in a major trauma center in Stockholm. There is one patient story she told me that has stuck with me. It was a boy no older than five who had tipped a pan of boiling cooking oil down from the stove. He had third degree burns all over his arms and upper body.
Poor kid had his mother rush him to the hospital covered in towels that stuck to him. My mom said that he was in intensive care for a few weeks before being taken to dermatology. She said that his screams still haunt her.
The patient I saw visited the OR because of a follow-up due to a viral illness. While talking to him he was completely normal, said the only reason he showed up was because the company was covering it. Anyways, I wasn't sure what to do with such a case; normally we have to present to the attending with a diagnosis after taking an examination but this patient was fine and I didn't really want to do it.
What I did do however was just check his pulse and though I wasn't really good at detecting abnormal stuff just yet, it was obvious something was off about it. So I asked my friend to check it, who told the resident, who told the attendant, who made the patient get an ECG on the spot. Lo and behold the patient had atrial fibrillation.
About two years ago we treated patients during a fungal meningitis outbreak. Our acute care floor has a census of 20. During this time at least 10-15 were meningitis patients, ages ranging from 20s to 90s. There are no shared rooms and all the patients were in isolation, no contact with one another. Many of them had the same hallucinations, children in the corners of their rooms and auditory hallucinations of religious music.
Surgeon here. I once saw hardened trauma nurses leaving an operating room looking grim and a bit green. Went in to see what the fuss was about. A homeless man was attacked by Rottweilers. He was left incapacitated and the dogs proceeded to eat all the flesh from both legs and one arm as he lay there helpless. Don't ask me how he lived, but he survived that and ultimately lived long enough to leave the hospital. I will be haunted by the look of just his leg bones, intact, with no flesh on them. He still had the interosseus tendon holding the tibia to the fibula (hard to bite off, I guess) but otherwise just intact leg bones completely free of flesh. His feet were gone of course.
When I was a paramedic, I transported a patient to the ER who put a shotgun under his jaw and pulled the trigger, blew the right side of his face off. Gray matter was showing, you could see the remains of his eye socket. Heck of a thing, he was still conscious. We got him to the ER and a couple of the trauma nurses vomited at the sight. Usually, people injured that severely die on the scene and never make it to the ER. Seeing this poor guy was more than a couple of them could handle.
I'd say one of my worst experiences was an elderly woman who got horrible burns over most of her body after her oxygen tank exploded. She made the grave mistake of lighting a cigarette while hooked up to the tank. Never thought I'd know what cooked person smelled like.
The emergency department referred a man who had a platelet count of 2. The guy looked bloody sick. He had abdominal pain and a petechial rash. He was feverish, diaphoretic, a bit confused, and drowsy too. Talked to my boss who said to give him prednisolone and he'd see him tomorrow, but I was convinced this guy had a really rare condition called TTP (Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura), so I called the major hospital in my area and sent him to their ICU for a procedure called plasma exchange. I ordered a test to see if he had an enzyme known as ADAMTS13 to prove my hunch. It turns out he had a deficiency, which is a clear indicator of TTP. I still have a paper copy of the result, because it's the best diagnosis I've ever made, as it helped me save his life!
When I was on pediatric infectious disease, we had a young girl come in with a rash on the bottom of her feet. She was also having headaches and joint pains. We spent close to an hour interviewing the girl and the mother. Her history didn’t reveal much. Finally, as a last ditch effort, I pulled out the weird questions you ask in med school. I asked if they had any unusual pets, as we had already ruled out normal pets. They said actually they did just return a pet rat for biting her. They thought that this wasn't really relevant. Bam! It was rat bite fever!
My first rotation as a medical student was psychiatry. I was really nervous and made a flashcard for each psych condition and a list of diagnoses to consider. One of the patients being discussed on rounds was psychotic (think: KGB is after me!) but was otherwise put together. He was really into doing art and was very, very religious. I looked at my flash card for psychosis and casually mentioned that we should consider temporal lobe epilepsy, which presents with religiosity and exaggerated artistic ability. An EEG showed that he had it.
I diagnosed a little girl at birth who had ectopia cordis. It's a birth defect where the heart is located outside of the chest or thorax (yet it's still underneath the skin). It only happens to about 5-7 per one million live births.
I had a young girl come into pediatric ER complaining of back pain after months of physiotherapy, sports medicine, massage etc. She was a competitive dancer so nobody thought much of her not yet having a period (she was 15). Totally by luck, I asked about this and the timeline worked out. Every four weeks her back pain got worse. I did an ultrasound and found a big uterus. It turned out she had an imperforate hymen and had been having her period every month without knowing it, which was the cause of her back pain.
There was a young man who had several bouts of pneumonia and episodes of sinusitis by the time he hit his early 20s, which was odd. He was HIV negative, which would've been the first thing to rule out. I ordered an immunoglobulin panel on him and lo and behold, he had agammaglobulinemia. He essentially had no antibodies to fight infections. He has to go get regular serum infusions for that now. Thankfully, he’s doing better.
We had a patient come in for chest pain, which in our hospital is pretty routine. A few hours pass and she starts complaining of abdominal pain. We thought we had it under control, so we sent her from the ER to ICU. In transit, something ruptured and I saw a fountain of blood and fecal matter erupt from this poor woman. We rush her into a room to prep her for emergency surgery, and in a matter of minutes, she had filled the bed with a vile soup of blood, stool, and tissue. She gets rushed to surgery and that's the last I know.
My shift ends, and I return the next day to find that she had been stabilized and was doing okay after receiving a ton of blood transfusions. A few hours into my night I get called to a code blue in nuclear med. It's the same woman, and apparently whatever was wrong with her intestine had ruptured again, and was now filling her abdomen. Within 5 minutes of giving her CPR, her stomach had tripled in size. I will never get over how surreal the scene was. My brain couldn't make sense of what I was looking at, because her body looked so distorted.
I did a round of CPR, and at that point, she had blood coming out of every orifice, and we soon had to call it. I've been working in a medical setting for a while now, and I have never seen so much blood in my life, especially from something that wasn't a flesh wound. This was gross in a sense, but even more scary because it came out of nowhere and we didn't have time to do anything about it.
Years ago I worked as a phlebotomist in a hospital. I got a call to rush down to the OR for a stat blood draw. I got suited up and into the room. The patient is a woman who had just delivered a baby and was hemorrhaging. She had IVs in both arms so I had to draw from her foot. I got a good vein and started filling my tubes and a big gush of blood fell all over the floor at my feet. My feet and legs got splattered with blood. Thankfully, I had on sterile booties that protected my shoes, but I had to have my husband bring me clean pants.
We have a saying, if you hear hooves, don’t think of zebras. Well, I’ve never seen a person bitten by a horse, but I have seen one bitten by a zebra. This was in rural Denmark.
I saw this big 30ish-year-old guy in full camo come into the emergency department with an enucleated eye. He had shot a young male white-tailed deer in the northern woods in Arizona and was carrying the thing back to his car over his shoulder. He stumbled and the deer's neck bent towards his face and the antler plunged straight into his eye. So naturally, he hiked another three miles to his car and drove himself to the hospital. Oh and he didn't leave the deer. I wonder if it rotted in his car over the next day or so of treatment.
Back when I still did x-rays, I had a girl who was driving with a pair of metal tweezers resting on her leg. Unfortunately, she got into an accident and all of sudden the tweezers went from being on her leg to in her leg. The crazy thing is that she didn’t even realize they were in there until I brought it up. Then she started yelling at her boyfriend for no reason like it was his fault.
Not my patient but the emergency department once had a kid come in with a hook piercing through her right eye (it was an accident apparently). Her cries still echo at the back of my mind from time to time. I hope she is fine, though she probably has monocular vision now, seeing as her optic nerve was severely damaged.
I once had a four-year-old boy come in who'd been run over by a runaway riding lawnmower. The medial side of his leg was sliced off groin to toes, and some toes were hanging by just skin. The femoral artery was exposed for decimeters; the mower had just missed it. I asked an experienced colleague to come in and help me. He said he'd only seen something like it once before, when he had a patient in Africa that was bitten by a lion.
I’m a medical student, but I have seen two cases that I don’t think I’ll see again. First was a woman with Frey’s syndrome. Basically, every time she chewed, a small area on her cheek (right in front of her ear) would start sweating a lot and get red. The other one was a middle-aged man who got stabbed by his wife. It was actually the second time that he had come to the ER for being stabbed by his wife, and apparently, his son had stabbed him once before too. He defended his wife by saying, “I made her mad,” and refused to take legal action against her.
In the morgue at my hospital, I would always hear knocking coming from inside the freezer. It really creeped me out, especially when the pathologist looked up, grabbed me by the shoulders, stared me straight in the eye and said, “You hear that? You never open that door when they're knocking. Never.” It turned out to be some loose pipes. I didn't sleep that night, but the pathologist thought it was hilarious.
I worked at a Level 1 trauma center in the Bronx. I had an FTF (forgot to fly). The guy was high and ran off the roof of his 6th-floor apartment building. His fall was interrupted at about the 2nd floor level by the electrical lines that ran through the back yards. He hit the line with his right arm. The electrical current blasted his right arm almost off. The line did attenuate his fall and he landed on the side of his head. He needed an emergency craniotomy as his skull was fractured quite badly. This relieved pressure from his brain swelling. His right arm was a blackened mess and had to be amputated.
I had a homeless man come in with a perineal abscess. He was literally minutes from going down to the theater (despite him refusing to shower preoperatively), and he must've moved on the bed and ruptured the abscess. I have never smelt anything like it (relevant: I am a colorectal nurse). Being at that time the most junior nurse present, I got to clean him up. It looked a lot like pale, translucent brown gravy, and it put me off some foods for a while. Luckily, he happened to be in a room by himself, but everyone else evacuated that end of the ward.
I was called into the ER for an eye injury at 3am. Some poor woman's son was a veteran from Afghanistan and had an acute psychotic episode and attacked her. I walked into the ER and the woman was sedated. Without putting too much pressure on her lids I gently explored what looked like three-day-old spaghetti sauce but couldn't find her eye. The nurse walks in and points to the table next to the bed and the poor woman's eye was in a plastic Ziploc bag with 4 inches of the optic nerve still attached to it. I have no idea how he did this, but as a surgeon I was impressed. Then sad. Then sleepy.
A good friend is doing residency at a pediatrician's office that had a six-month-old girl brought in because she had started growing pubic hair. A nurse took note of the fact that the father was in his 60s and had enough insight to ask if he was taking testosterone treatments. Turned out that during "skin to skin" time he would lay his daughter on his chest, in the same spot he had applied his testosterone gel earlier in the day.
I only saw the aftermath, but this happened when I was a student nurse, and I got the story from one of the physiotherapists there at the time. A guy with a dislocated hip came into the emergency room at the hospital where I was completing my training. So with the whole team and a number of med and physio students, they went to put his hip back into place. They've done this, and then the guy just started screaming in absolute anguish and pain and continued to scream and scream till his voice box gave up and he just screamed silently until he passed out from the pain. Doctors found on closer examination that one of the patient’s testicles somehow got in the way and ended up being squashed like a pancake.
I work as a paramedic in Canada (more specifically Ontario) and we were dispatched to a call by police for a Code 4 (emergency) and Code 5 (obviously dead) and requested to bring a box of N95 masks. My partner and I were quite confused but we did as we were told. When we arrived on scene, a police officer met us outside and when I handed him the box of masks he looked significantly relieved. My partner asked what was going on and the officer directed us to the door.
Within two steps of where we were, we began to smell it. That oh-so-obvious smell of death—death that has had time to fester. At this point we understood the request for masks and as we poke our heads through the door a clearly deceased human greeted us. The officer proceeded to tell us that she hadn't been seen or heard from in two weeks until someone finally came to check on her. To make matters worse, she had her heat blasting (it was the middle of summer and temperatures can get up to 30+ degrees Celsius or approximately 86 degrees Fahrenheit) and she had all her blinds open and seated in direct sunlight.
It was probably the most disgusting sight I had ever seen.
This lady came in and literally half of her face had been basically eaten up by basal cell carcinoma. One of her eyes was completely missing. According to her, it had been this way for years. And here’s the kicker, that's not even the problem she came into the hospital for! She had come in for an umbilical hernia as big as a basketball that had been there for months, and she'd started vomiting over the past week so she finally went to the emergency department.
I'm a nurse, but I was working in the ER when a guy came in for a scratch on his neck and "feeling drowsy." We start the usual workups and this dude's blood pressure TANKED. We scrambled, but he was dead within ten minutes of walking through the door. Turns out the "scratch" was an exit wound of a .22 caliber rifle round. The guy didn't even know he'd been shot. When the coroner's report came back, we found that he'd been shot in the leg and the bullet tracked through his torso shredding everything in between. There was really nothing we could've done, but that was a serious "what the heck just happened" moment.
Heard this from an emergency doctor friend of mine a while ago. Female patient comes in complaining of severe abdominal pain, nurses take vitals, ask questions, etc. Eventually, my friend sees her and, after a few questions, he has her lift her shirt.
The "severe abdominal pain" on the chart was in fact due to a gash so severe that part of her intestines were sticking out of her. No one had noticed and she hadn't thought to mention that her organs had started leaking out. In fact, she seemed just as surprised as he was.
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