Trust me, I know how it goes. My grandma had an old-timey solution for everything. It usually felt less painful but that doesn’t actually make it you know, medicine. Some things should be left to the professionals.
Here, doctors, dentists and all stripes of medical professionals share the most baffling thing a patient did to treat themselves before they finally called the experts. Enjoy! And make sure to check out the sources at the bottom for even more.
1. My ear is really bugging me.
I responded to a man who called 911 complaining of a insect crawling up his ear. Upon arrival we ask what ear the bug crawled into, he says his right ear, but keeps complaining about burning coming from his left ear. We noticed his wife standing next to him holding a bottle of insect spray, upon further questioning we come to find out she had actually sprayed insecticide into his left ear thinking it would “flush” the insect out of his right ear. I had to explain to her that our ear canals are separated by our brain.
2. Tums cocktail.
I used to work in a lab in a hospital in a rural town. I got a sample from the ER that was basically a blood clot the size of a golf ball. Sometimes the ER gets mixed up and sends me the wrong specimen, like some kind of body fluid and labeled it as urine, for example.
I called the patient’s nurse and asked what the deal was with the patient and if it was really stool they sent up. The nurse I talked to said the patient thought he’d eaten bad pork and to prevent food poisoning, drank a concoction of bleach, rubbing alcohol, vodka, ibuprofen and some Tums.
3. Lemon fresh.
I’m a 911 dispatch. One time this kid had a crazy high fever and wouldn’t stop crying. Paramedics get on scene… and mom is squeezing a lemon while rubbing it all over the baby’s forehead because it’s “supposed to keep the fever down”. Mom was completely at a loss as to why the baby wouldn’t stop crying either. It couldn’t possibly be the lemon juice you’ve essentially been squeezing into it’s eyes for the last 20 minutes. No siree.
4. Uh-oh, that’s definitely not supposed to be in there.
I have a buddy that is a medic in the United States Navy. One time when I caught him on leave he proceeded to tell me the craziest story I’ve ever heard.
He told me of how a young (late teens early 20’s) woman came in complaining of severe stomach pain. He was expecting to diagnose her with menstrual cramps or something else rudimentary and gave her basic pain meds etc. She came back less than a week later, complaining that the pain had only increased. He decided to send her for an X-ray to get it checked out and he could not believe what the results showed.
It appeared like roots of some sort were twisting and turning inside her abdomen, and proceeding to wrap around her spine.
Apparently, as a form of do-it-yourself birth control, this young lady had followed her mothers instructions and cut the end off a potato and had well, put it inside herself. In a damp, moist environment, it began to thrive, as well as partially rot. I cannot even imagine what her gyno must have said.
5. Do you have any idea how much bacteria is in your mouth?
Ophthalmologist here – I’ve had a patient who would rewet her contact lenses when they felt dry by putting them in her mouth. Ended up with a central corneal ulcer requiring a transplant.
6. Wow, that actually worked…
Had a frequent flyer patient who had psoriasis so bad that he literally had huge scales all over his legs. One day he gets admitted and the scales are gone. He tells me he took a brillo pad (steel wool) and scraped them all off. Surprisingly it works with no adverse effects and he’s still scale free a year later.
Still shouldn’t try doing that though.
7. But on the label it says…
The nurse didn’t keep up with the insulin and gave a tad bit too much, decreasing the pt’s blood sugar. Ok, this is fixable. I walk in to see another nurse pouring Splenda down this lady’s mouth.
She has snoring restorations and the Splenda is just being inhaled into her lungs. It also isn’t doing anything for this poor lady because it isn’t sugar.
After give this lady some D50 (IV sugar water) she came to, but felt like she couldn’t get enough air.
She ended up being treated for a few days for pneumonia.
I swear, some people get their medical licenses from the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.
8. Solar powered healing.
The most outrageous thing I’ve heard was from a boy who was something like 20-22 years old from a very strange family. The boy had a bad case of tonsilitis and refused to take any meds because all he needed to do was “bite the sun.”
Basically at noon he had to look up to the sun, open his mouth as wide as possible and “bite” the sun several times so it would “burn” his tonsils and cure him over the course of a couple weeks. When that wouldn’t work, plan B was to do the same at night but only under a full moon.
9. Grandma always did have the best recipes.
An 8 year old tripped on the cord of a deep fryer, spilling hot grease on his shoulder and arm. His grandma slathered him in butter to “cool him off” and “draw the heat out”. When my medic partner and I entered the house and started assessing the boy, I was saddened and hungry at the same time. The poor kid smelled absolutely delicious. No cannibal.
10. The sound of stupefied silence.
I had a patient treating her lung cancer with a “sonic emitter”. Her argument was that sound waves can shatter glass, so lung cancer wouldn’t stand a chance.
11. Worst vacation ever.
I’m a pharmacist so I get a lot of interesting questions… but one of the worst was when I was interning my first year of school. A couple came up with 2 kids, once of which was < 1 year old. The baby had a cold and a cough and they wanted to know what they could give him so their family trip to six flags wasn’t ruined.
I had to explain that there are no products for cough and cold for children under 4. The best they could do would be some tylenol for any pain or fever and fluids/rest, maybe a humidifier. Definitely would NOT be ideal to be bringing the poor little guy to six flags. They scoffed and kept pushing me to recommend a product. Nope, sorry. Had the pharmacist working corroborate what I was saying. They still didn’t care, and off to the cough and cold section they went… sigh. We tried.
12. One for the dogs…
I work at a veterinary clinic and we once had a gruff, old country guy come in with his Australian shepherd. The dog had a huge hanging growth under his neck that was rubbing against the ground and just looked horrible. The doctor strongly recommended he have it removed, and the owner said he could do it again.
Again!? Apparently, the dog had a smaller growth in the same spot years ago that the owner removed with a pocket knife and bottle of alcohol. No closure, no antibiotics.
We were so shocked! The doctor went on to educate him as to why that is NOT a good idea. He eventually agreed to let us do the procedure, but MAN was he a difficult son-of-a-gun.
We’re still not sure how the dog survived the last removal without any problems.
13. Blood is thicker than seawater.
Diabetic patient, went to vacation in the Caribbean, left her insulin on a cruise ship, hasn’t taken any for a week… Gets back to states and Medicaid won’t pay for lost or stolen meds, and she refuses to pay for another bottle, because she “doesn’t have any money”.
Realizes that no insulin = more sugar in blood, somehow gets the idea in her head that more sugar in blood means that her blood is now “thicker” so she decides to take a bunch of plavix, warfarin, and aspirin (all blood thinners that cause bleeding and high doses can and will lead to internal bleeding and death) to thin her blood. I get the story when she comes into the pharmacy to get refills on her warfarin and plavix and ask her why she needs those early. Told her to immediately go to the ER. I have no idea if she actually did…
14. I thought making it cold was the point?
One of my coworker’s most infamous cases (we all have a few): Homeless guy got his finger severed when a metal dumpster lid swung down on his hand. (It severed one finger and broke a few other bones in his hand.) He went to a convenience store and told them to get him an ambulance, but because he was bleeding they wouldn’t let him wait inside the store. He was worried the finger would ‘go cold’ while he waited outside, so he kept it warm. Ill just let you guess where.
On my end, I had a patient who had a bad acid trip. He thought he was being attacked by ‘the Canvas people’ and sawed his right arm nearly off with a jigsaw because apparently one of them bit him and he didn’t want to get ‘infected’. Mind you, jigsaws are not very sharp. That took freakin’ dedication to saw through the bone. It was actually still attached by a few sinews when he got to the hospital, but he was combative with the staff, kept flailing around, and the arm didn’t last.
15. I’ll need to hear your ABC’s backwards.
I work in a hospital lab. A couple years ago, I worked night shift and would routinely get called up to the Emergency Room to draw blood. I get the call, go up there, and find a two year-old boy, completely unresponsive and a mother screaming frantically and hopping around. I draw the blood, go down to the lab, and start my tests. I found an ethanol level of 350 mg/dl (Blood Alcohol Level of 0.35…possibly fatal even for an adult).
I call it up to the doc and they bring in Social Services and whoever else to question the mom. Apparently, she found her son in the garage with a bottle of antifreeze and he was acting kinda weird, so she figured he was drinking it. She went online and saw that the cure for ethylene glycol poisoning is ethanol. So she went to the liquor cabinet and started POURING STRAIGHT WHISKEY DOWN THIS POOR KIDS THROAT!!! Then, of course, he passed out and she decided maybe they should go to the hospital. Kid lived.
16. That sucks kid.
When I was twelve I had a really irritating case of tonsil stones. No matter what I did I couldn’t get them out and was starting to get a little desperate. I decided to use a vacuum cleaner (not a small one, an actual household vacuum cleaner) on its lowest setting to suck them out.
I ended up bleeding a lot and my uvula swelled up so much my throat almost closed. The hospital still wouldn’t take out my tonsils.
I was not a smart child.
17. An interesting delivery method.
Patient comes in to the ED with an abscess. Tells us he knew he had an infection and so ate a pound and a half of raw steak to get the antibiotics that were given to the cow.
18. Earning your worst-aid badge.
My first year going to Boy Scout camp I wasn’t able to go the week the rest of my Troop was going so I had to go with the provisional group (all the people who went without their Troop). Being that way I didn’t know anyone in it but soon made some friends. This one kid loved holding his extremely sharp pocket knife in his hand and then throwing it into the ground in front of him.
One day he got the idea that the ground wasn’t fun enough and decided to try and stick it into trees. We were all just sitting around relaxing in between classes watching him and he throws his knife directly at the tree in front of him. It didn’t stick into the tree. Instead it ricocheted off of the tree and sliced his shin. Since he was working toward his first aid merit badge he decided he could handle it himself and tied a tourniquet below the cut. We tried to tell him he was wrong and he assured us he was fine and started limping toward the first aid hut with someone helping him. He passed out on the way there.
19. WHO you gonna call?
I formerly worked abroad with the World Health Organization. I wish I could say I was the doctor at the right place and with the right idea but this actually was the experience of field colleague.
In many parts of the world, from Asia to the Americas, it is a traditional practice to cover the wound from severing a newborn’s umbilical cord with fresh cow dung.
Many societies believe in a connection between temperature and health and accordingly consider heat to be an important part of healing. One available material that is very warm, easily applied and readily available is fresh cow dung. Right on the belly of the newborn with the cut cord.
Needless to say that it is A Bad Thingtm. One common outcome is neonatal tetanus.
A colleague, fresh out of medical school in Mexico, was doing a rural health rotation. New docs often have to practice for a couple of years at a rural health station as a part of their payment for med school. In this area, the villagers had this practice and the belief of heat as being important for healing. He kept getting cases of babies with tetanus or other infections but he couldn’t convince the villagers (who generally never bothered with having trained birth attendants present for births) to stop using dung. They kept clinging to their heat belief.
Here’s the brilliant part. He decided to work within their belief system. He said that dung was unclean and unsafe but there was something else that was very hot and available — tequila. He convinced people to use tequila, which ‘burns’ in your stomach when you drink or burns when you put it on a cut. The benefit is not only was it not cow poop, but the moonshine they cooked up was almost pure alcohol and an excellent antiseptic.
The practice caught on and cases of neonatal tetanus in his district plummeted. All because of a brilliant young doctor thinking outside the box.
20. Mr. Clean not DR. Clean
I had a patient come to the ER complaining of severe pain and swelling “all down there.” On physical examination we noted a really remarkable amount of swelling, and both the internal and external tissues were extremely red and irritated. She was so swollen she couldn’t even pee until we put a catheter in. The physician did a pelvic exam and found blisters on her cervix.
We asked when the symptoms started. She said, “Well it was itching tonight. I thought I had a yeast infection, so I tried using bleach to kill it. But then after a while it kind of started to hurt.” Yeah, I bet it did.
21. This one’s cheesy.
I once shared living quarters with medics at a small outpost in Afghanistan. Whenever they weren’t busy otherwise they’d see as many locals as they could. I’m working in the back room one day when I overhear this little gem of a conversation:
Patient, through interpreter: “I caught an STD recently during a vacation in Pakistan.”
Context: The locals tend to look at Pakistan like Americans view Las Vegas; a way to get away from it all for uninhibited hedonism when desired.
Medic: “How bad are the flareups?”
Patient: “Pretty bad, but I’m trying to treat it naturally.”
I lean in at this point, ready for whatever explanation is coming. Long silence from the medic, who is trying to process the situation.
Medic: “How…does one treat a STD naturally?”
Patient: “I’m eating a lot of cheese.”