Stories from the medical community (and more specifically, the emergency room) have surely captivated people for as long as doctors have been around. It's fascinating to hear about the challenges tackled by heroic professionals in medicine.
There's a forum on Reddit devoted specifically to questions for doctors, but the classic standby AskReddit recently provided a great roundup of stories.
That would be the worst allergy.
“Had a lady come in for shortness of breath,” wrote Hoax13. “Began to place an oxygen mask on her. She yells, ‘I’m allergic to oxygen!’ and pulls the mask off. I heard the doctor laugh behind the curtain.”
Try eating first.
“20-year-old male came in for stomach pains. Said he was hungry. Hadn’t eaten in two days.”
Not the way to find out!
“One time the news was playing on the TVs in the waiting rooms. The anchor mentions a man shot in a gang-related fight ‘who later died from his injuries.’ Suddenly, my parents hear screaming and crying in the other room. It was the family of the guy who got shot. They had not been informed yet.”
This kid is tougher than most people.
“My husband is an RN and he treated a 15-year-old kid with a gigantic knife through the side of his head and out just under his eye. The kid was completely conscious and calm, sat upright and chatting.”
The bug’s life.
“A guy came in and said, ‘I think a bug crawled up my butt this week! I’m sleeping somewhere, uh, not so nice. I feel him crawling around in there!’
…He had a hemorrhoid.”
Ah yes, those upright carrots.
“A guy came in the middle in the night with a carrot stuck in his rectum. He said he was walking in his garden and fell.”
Not falling for this one again.
“Guy comes in with a salt shaker lodged in his rectum. Said he was changing a lightbulb then somehow fell onto it.”
“Put a flare gun between his legs (like a penis, I guess?) and shot it off. Third degree burns to the groin are not fun.”
Real wrench in your plans!
“One woman came in with chest pain and had a wrench hidden under her gigantic floppy boob.”
The irony is rich.
A guy got hit by a speeding ambulance. He was a trash collector, hanging off of the back of the garbage truck, and the side mirror of the passing ambulance clipped him in the head.”
I think this story needs more details…
“One guy thought it was a good idea to vomit out the window of the car he was driving at 70 MPH. He rolled the car several times and survived without a scratch.”
Now this is becoming too common.
“Man with ten-inch cucumber in his rectum. Did not mention said cucumber ’til the doctor. noticed a bump on his stomach. Still didn’t say anything until we got a CT result.”
THIS MUST STOP NOW.
“An older man came in with vibrator in his rectum. His wife couldn’t get it out and refused to come with him.”
A little scary.
“A woman with schizophrenia was occasionally brought in by the police because the voices were telling her to kill her parents and neighbors. Apparently, the voices started telling her to kill the people in the ER as well.”
Thank you, Captain Obvious.
“One lady that had an allergy list a mile long, including ‘all poisonous plants’—duh, we’re all allergic to them, hence ‘poisonous.'”
It’s a dog-bite-dog world.
“25-year-old male, comes in at 10 p.m. on a Thursday because he had a big bite on his leg. The guy is obviously tripping on something. We start asking the relevant questions and get to ‘Why did your dog bite you?’ …He calmly answers, ‘Well, that’s because I bit him first!'”
Just like that!
“A lady came in complaining of involuntary ‘whole-body muscle spasms.’ I asked her if she meant seizures, but she said no and proceeded to break into this weird standing whole-body-shaking dance, and told me ‘See? Like that!'”
I’d be upset too.
“Some guy got belligerent on his bachelor party, which was a week before his wedding, climbed a tree, and jumped. Ended up with two broken legs and an upset fianceé.”
This is a true nightmare.
“I have a cousin who landed himself in the ER because he thought that instead of a condom, he could put something tightly around his male appendage, and it would force the sperm to stay inside. Unfortunately, getting it off posed a problem and he ultimately wound up in the ER with a zip tie around his male appendage.”
“My wife is an ER nurse. Valentine’s Day tends to bring in the best stories. A few years ago a couple came in with lacerations all over their bodies. Apparently, the guy had duct taped a large mirror to the ceiling during their alone time and it fell and broke all over them. My wife got to pull little pieces of glass out of the lady’s skull and back for a few hours.”
Smelly feet are the worst.
“This one man came in and there was an order to X-ray both his feet. As soon as I got to the hallway with his room there was a nasty smell. I got to his room, opened the door, and almost puked. He was soaking his feet in the water and it was the worst thing I have ever smelled in my entire life. His skin was peeling off and getting stuck to the X-ray board.”
Not the best method.
“We had a middle-aged man bitten by a snake; he was referred to a tertiary hospital. He and his family negotiated if they could delay the referral for some time and wait for the quack doctor to see him and ‘maybe suck out the venom.'”
Can’t believe this…
“A lady and her husband were driving down the highway. A big bolt falls off the back of a truck, bounces, and goes through their window. She slams on the breaks, stops and they start to look survey the damage. The husband looks at the wife and the bolt has gone right into her eye socket. For whatever reason, the doctors knew she’d die if they took the bolt out, so they had her husband say goodbye and had to eventually pull it out.”
This only sounds like a slight disaster.
“One lady had drunkenly hooked up with her husband six months after a hysterectomy and she came in with her intestine prolapsed through her vagina.”
“The dumbest: A patient arrived via ambulance to get his methadone prescription refilled.”
Gotta chew that stuff.
“A guy comes in coding after being found passed out at the kitchen table. They couldn’t get an ET tube in him but CPR otherwise was going okay. They discover that there is an entire hot dog down his throat, blocking his trachea. The RT ends up pulling out a six-inch-long by one-inch-wide wide wiener. Haven’t eaten a hot dog since then because I’m terrified of choking to death.”
The REAL emergency here!
“A girl in her twenties came in because she had popcorn stuck in her teeth.”
Proper first-aid, please.
“A guy cut his thumb doing home renovation and wrapped it extremely tight with paper towels and duct tape. He went in three days later because he couldn’t feel it. He said ‘I had to wrap it so tight to stop the bleeding, it only bled for like two days.’ They cut it off because it was dead.”
“Had a car crash through our ambulance bay, action movie style. The entire car was well within the building when it finally stopped. It was a 16-year-old kid carrying his 14-year-old brother who had been shot in the abdomen over some gang stuff.”
Was he Criss Angel?
“Had a patient come in because he was dared to swallow a three-pronged fish hook, a nail, and a razor blade.”
Two birds with one gut lift.
“Morbidly obese guy came in for right lower quadrant pain. I lifted up his gut and found his lost wallet. Solved two problems.”
Why. Why. WHY?!?!?
“My sister had a patient who was interested in having her clitoris pierced, but was afraid of the pain. Curious, she affixed a super strong magnet on top of and below the clitoris, but couldn’t remove them. By the time she got to the hospital, her tissue was essentially dead. The doctor had to scrape the magnets off of her dead clitoris, as there was no other way to remove them.”
That’s so sad.
“A guy came in that was around my age, mid-20s, and he was having severe pain in his shoulder—but claimed he didn’t injure it. He gets taken back, gets X-rays done, and finds out his body is absolutely riddled with cancer. He was given one year to live. The family’s reaction to the news was so heartbreaking to witness and something I will never forget.”
This is…nope. I’m done.
“One lady came into the ER for a foul vaginal smell. During the examination, they found a dead gerbil inside of her.”
Superglues fixes everything!
“Two extremely drunk men came in. One of them fell down the stairs, and somehow, he got glass in his eye. They pulled out the glass and sealed the gash in his eye… with superglue,” wrote brianofcortlandt. “They had to soak his eye in acetone to get it open.”
Don’t ask me how he lived…
Surgeon here. Saw hardened trauma nurses leaving an operating room looking grim and a bit green. Went in to see what the fuss was. A homeless man was attacked by Rottweilers, incapacitated, and they proceeded to eat all the flesh from both legs and 1 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 (arm was gone). He still had the interosseus tendon holding the tibia to the fibula (hard to eat I guess) but otherwise just intact leg bones completely free of flesh. Feet gone of course. I still shudder.
When it’s someone so young, you keep trying.
Former ER nurse here. These are the cases that come to mind when I think about my time in the ER.
The first story: A gas line leak caused an explosion at a rural home. There was a family inside the house at the time of the explosions. After the explosion, the father was found trying to carry the kid to the nearest house to get help. The mother died instantly. The father and child made it to the Emergency Department… somehow alive and completely blackened with 100% burns. They did not live very long. It was unreal seeing these breathing masses that didn’t resemble humans.
The second story: A very underaged girl was taking an unrestrained joy ride with a man probably about 24 years old in the middle of the night when he rolled the vehicle. They were doing CPR as they brought her into the department. As they brought her into the room you could see an obvious deformity to her forehead. Upon further inspection, her brain was visible through her skull and was bulging with each compression. She was long gone but when it’s someone so young… you just keep trying. I’m just glad I was not there when the mother arrived.
“Like an apple plucked from a tree…”
This story is my brother’s story, who is an EMT.
Patient is an obese male, in excess of 500 pounds. Unable to lift himself from the couch, has been in that state for several weeks. When they attempt to remove him from the couch, a massive chunk of flesh begins to peel away from his body, exposing his muscles, and his vertebrae.
Patient loses consciousness. Unable to remove the man from the couch without losing him, they attempt to keep him alive while he is attached to the couch. The fire department is called. They can cut the couch away, and hopefully get him into the hospital intact.
Fast forward to the ER. The surgeon concluded that there was no way to remove him from the couch, and save his life. Attempting to remove the couch would expose too much of his body to the outside, that if he could survive the surgery, he would not survive the infections to follow.
The second story is much shorter.
An ambulance is called for a homeless man who complains of severe foot pain. Upon trying to inspect the foot, it comes off. Just pulls away like an apple plucked from a tree. This reveals the man’s lower leg bones, and a horrendous infection. He would survive, but not until he had his leg amputated at the mid thigh.
We had to spray for flies.
Well, the grossest thing I’ve seen so far has been a diabetic homeless guy with necrotizing fasciitis and a ridiculously uncontrolled maggot infestation of his right leg. Dude’s entire right lower extremity below the knee was black and smelled like a rotting animal carcass, with uncounted maggots boiling around inside. You could hear them from the doorway to his room. After he went upstairs to the ICU we had to close that room for multiple days and have it sprayed for bugs because there were thousands of flies in there.
Best part of the story is that he subsequently left the hospital AMA – against medical advice – presumably, to die within a day or two, after telling the critical care doctors and the surgeons that he refused to lose his leg because he wanted to be whole in the afterlife.
ER technician here.
I did most of the grunt work while nurses were administering drugs and dealing with doctors. Guy gets stabbed in heart, medics bring him in. ER doctor immediately “cracks his chest” to get to his heart. Makes a huge incision between two ribs on his left side then puts rib spreaders between them and cranks. A couple seconds later, there are his lungs (purple, by the way) and his pumping heart spewing blood. He then cuts open the pericardial sac (thin sac around the heart) and a lot of congealed blood pours out. Picture spoon chunks of red jello. So I help him get all these chunks of jello (blood) out of the sac while he desperately tries to sew up the bleeding. The man died. But a great anatomy lesson was had by all. Nurses said they’d worked 25 years and never seen that.
“Well, there’s your problem!”
I used to work in patient transport. It was my job to move the gurney/body/patient while medical staff focused on trying to save lives in a trauma center in downtown LA. Saw a lot of stuff but the two worst are:
1. Guy attempts suicide and shoots himself in the face (gun barrel in mouth). Initially fails his attempt and has enough brains left in his head to call 911. Shows up at the hospital with a mostly normal looking face, talking coherently, making small chat, the majority of the top of his head was missing and his brain was exposed and oozing out. Eventually his failed attempt turned into an unfortunate success and I bagged that body and took him to the morgue about an hour after arrival.
2. Motorcycle accident and the biker is in full leather with a helmet on as the EMT was nervous about neck and spinal injuries. No pulse. Doctor in the ER is doing chest compressions trying to keep the heart moving and there is A LOT of blood. To his credit he put effort into the rescue attempt, but the motorcyclist’s head eventually rolled off the stretcher. And by eventually I mean fairly quickly. We had barely gotten all the way into trauma room 1. The guy’s head was likely severed from the get-go. We all stopped working and I remember initially feeling sick (I was 18). Lead doctor yells out sarcastically, “Well, there’s your problem!” Takes off his gloves and mask and walks out. That was a hard patient to figure out how to bag.
Wasn’t a pile of snow after all.
This happened around last New Year’s. We get a call for an incoming level one trauma, and the EMTs on the radio tell us it’s an impalement injury. Okay, that’s pretty unusual, but whatever. Fast forward ten minutes. EMS brings the patient in, accompanied by a crew of firefighters. Here’s the story:
20-year-old kid gets new skis for Christmas. It’s around 2 AM a few days later and the streets are covered in several inches of fresh snow. So, the kid straps on his new skis, his dad hops in the car, and is towing the kid along through the snowy streets at 30 mph. Big surprise, the Toyota loses traction and starts to skid. The skier, seeing what’s happening, doesn’t want to be anywhere near the car and bails. Of course, he’s flying, and needs to stop, so he aims for a big pile of snow on the curb and slams into it.
Turns out, it’s not a pile of snow. It’s a pile of construction debris under a thin layer of powder. Oops.
The kid comes into the trauma bay with a five foot long piece of steel rebar entering his thigh, exiting at the groin, then re-entering his abdomen at the crest of the pelvis and exiting again about 5 inches later.
The kid is fully oriented and awake, and besides the rebar skewer, is uninjured. After the survey and imaging is complete, the trauma attending makes the decision to head straight up to the operating room. I work in the ER, so everything from here on in is second hand.
Three firefighters come into the operating room and they bring a special saw that can cut the steel without creating sparks and igniting the oxygen. The saw immediately malfunctions, and the trauma surgeons decide that rather than cut the metal, they’ll cut the patient. They “de-roof” the rebar, essentially slicing the top off the skin tunnel, and lift the bar out.
This five foot steel spike missed every bone, every major blood vessel, and every organ. Not to mention missing his gentleman’s sausage. The kid spends two days in the hospital and walks out on his own.
A woman that successfully committed suicide by trying to cut her head off with a chain saw. She bled out in the ER before anyone had a chance to help her.
Also, a 9-year-old boy was in the psych ward having an “acute episode”. During the psych evaluation this kid was telling us how he had plans to sneak into his mother’s room and use the telephone with the cord by her bed to strangle her. He then went into very descriptive detail about the sounds she would make, what her face would look like, and how excited he was to see her die. He also had numerous plans to commit suicide that were potentially feasible. It was life-altering to hear such a small child have such vivid plans.
This poor kid (we called him Cactus Boy) took an off-balance tumble into a major cactus patch and had literally thousands of spines in him, head to toe. Side of his head, down his body on the same side and all down his leg. Like a horror movie special effect but all too real. They quickly gave him a serious shot of something, maybe Demerol, so he was pretty calm after the drug took effect and they cut his clothes off. Huge relief when the optical team confirmed his eye wasn’t involved. We could see little flashes of the treatment as the medical team entered and exited through the curtain. From what we could make out, it took about an hour of careful hemostat work to remove the big spines, one by one. Then they started carefully pouring what looked like household white glue on areas – let it harden – and peeled it off to remove the finer needles. Still makes me shiver to remember the way that poor kid looked as his parents, the hospital admitting folks, and the medical staff brought him into the area covered with those thousands of cactus needles. Yikes.
Note: Some of this material has been edited for clarity.