This article is based on the AskReddit question “Morgue workers, pathologists, medical examiners, etc. What is the weirdest cause of death you’ve diagnosed?”
[Source can be found at the end of the article]
1. Heart attack
I’m a histotechnician in an anatomical pathology laboratory, and if my daily duties allow it, I assist with autopsies.
An autopsy was performed on an individual after he fell over dead on his wife after they were finished having sex. Turned out, he had a severe case of hypertension (his heart was easily double the size that it should be) and was taking Cialis. His death was ruled as a heart attack.
2. The cheese lover
A Med student here in Germany. In our Pathology Seminar the Professor told us about some weird cases he handled. The weirdest is that some guy had a fetish for Cheese. Yes, cheese. He liked to wrap himself in cheese with those plastic wrappers. And when I say wrap himself I mean all of his body was wrapped in cheese. He got sick and had a fever but he would not unwrapp himself and he could not sweat and so he could not transmit heat and so he died of hyperthermia. The Professor had to unwrap the plastic and remove the melted Cheese.
3. Poor guy
Doctor here. A friend of mine was on call on one of our medicine rotations and was called to the ER to do an admission. The patient in question was an elderly man who came to the ER because of progressive leg weakness. A CT-scan of his chest and abdomen showed complete occlusion of his aorta somewhere in his mid-abdomen – there was literally no blood flow going to the lower half of his body. Even the radiology report stated “This condition is not survivable.” The man died less than 2 hours later in the ER, never even made it up to the floor.
4. This horrible accident
Patient was being transported via stretcher on elevator. The transporter pushed the stretcher onto the dark elevator just as the elevator was being called up to another floor. The elevator pulled the patient into the shaft leaving her hanging upside down. Lower half of her body crushed to her chest. Patient was screaming, her family witnessed the whole episode. There was an Otis repair crew working on the elevator because it was stuck. They didn’t put up signs that said it was out of order. Transporter was new employee and didn’t question why the lights inside elevator off. OSHA now has mandated that metal bar is across the doors and big yellow signs to indicate out of order. Employees who witnessed it resigned from PTSD. I still work at the hospital. Its been almost 20 years since it happened
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5. Do-it-yourself liposuction
An accidental death where a guy and his friend had been drinking and watching some show about people getting liposuction. One of the guys has the great idea of a Do-it-yourself liposuction – they go to his workshop (with even more liquor) and he proceeds to put an incision in his abdomen and try to use a shop-vacuum to suck out the fat. He sucked almost all of his intestines out, but not a single ounce of fat was in the vacuum. The friend was freaked out when he sobered up but told us his buddy was laughing and didn’t see anything wrong until he started bleeding profusely.
6. What was he thinking?
I was on the verge of working the county morgue last summer. The morgue is right beside the county prison too, so the morgue processes deceased inmates for the county because it’s cheaper that way. When I went in for my formal interview they took me on a little tour and run through of what they do and procedure and they let me sit in while they did an autopsy. The guy on the table was an inmate in maximum security, who had died in his cell and no one was sure how. So they start to work their way through the process of the autopsy and they notice lots of blood near his intestines. As they start to inspect that, an intern saw something in the guys rectum, so the Medical Examiner removed it and blood poured out of his rectum and his intestines emptied. This dude has shoved a short, but thick, metal rod up his butt, and had sliced open the internal parts of his anus, and he died from internal bleeding.
7. The window washer
We had a case once, the dude was a window washer. First day on the job. Somehow the scaffolding got tangled up and sling-shot him off an 8-story hospital roof. Splat. The ambulance company charged his family $700 to pick him up outside the hospital and take him into the emergency room.
8. A man and his chicken
I worked as a Funeral Director Assistant in Toronto for 3.5 years. Nicer way of calling me “body removal”.
I had a coroner’s call involving a chicken. Old man was running a bath with his pet chicken, took a step in the tub, slipped with the chicken cradled in his arms and went face first into the filled tub. Drowned the chicken and himself. Coroner requested the chicken to be transported with the deceased in the pouch (body bag).
Weirdest thing I ever had to remove.
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9. How odd
The undertaker conducting a funeral service at a church where I was organist told me that he had to prepare a woman for viewing at a wake who had been killed by a gargoyle falling from the tower of an old church and making a direct hit.
Apparently, it did extensive damage – the kind that took him several days of reconstructive preparatory work.
10. The hoarder
I worked with the M.E. in a small town in Canada when I was a resident. While I was there, an older woman who was a hoarder had her house filled to about 5 feet (1.5m) deep with piles of newspapers and magazines. She was found literally drowned in the papers; upside down, wearing only a housecoat, her naked bum in the air and her torso and head buried in the papers; she possibly was looking for a specific item and the papers caved in, trapping her. We couldn’t get her to lie on the gurney properly. It was pretty horrifying.
11. Burning or cooking?
My family use to live in a mortuary when I was a child. We could live there for free but my father would have to be “on-call” for periods of time; which meant going and picking up the deceased from wherever they may be.
One such instance a large apartment complex started smelling something terrible coming from a particular room. Landlord found the old lady that lived there dead in the bathtub. Not so disturbing, right?
Well, my father goes to pick up the body. Apparently she was getting in the tub to take a bath and had a heart attack. The water was running, already hot, and she accidentally knocked loose the drain with her foot. So what happened for the next two weeks (they estimated) is she lay there in marinating in hot water. Now, you’d think the water would eventually cool, right? Nope. They had those industrial hot water heaters since it was shared by the apartment complex and it easily kept up with the hot water demand.
So she had been sitting in this hot water for a couple of weeks.
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12. Bad luck
Paramedic here. The city was doing construction work on a local street and had put up a bunch of metal sawhorse barricades. The ones with the orange and white reflective stripes and the little orange strobe light on them. Some guy was trying to pull out of his driveway and apparently went to move one of the sawhorses. He slipped and fell against one and [cut] it cut him in the armpit. The wound was less than an inch deep and maybe a half inch long. Hit an artery and killed him.
13. Overly accessorized
In a mortuary science program and on call to do removals. I didn’t go on this removal but when I was dropping off at the ME office there was a younger guy out on a table. They were unraveling cords from his neck when we walked in so we asked what his story was. He was found hanging in his room from some cords with heavy accessories/jewelry around his neck, wrists, and ankles. The necklaces/bracelets were made from thick twine or some thicker string with some wooden beads and large (fist sized) stones. Apparently he also had some sort of shrine set up in front of him. Quite interesting.
14. The man obsessed with sex toys
I worked as an autopsy tech intern for awhile. Weirdest case we had while I was there was this 500 lb man who lived in a small trailer home and wasn’t answering his phone for about a week. His sister got nervous so she took a drive over to his place. Noticed a rank smell before even opening the door. She found him face down and blue. Investigators got on scene and they actually had to tear the wall off the trailer home to get his body out because he was so huge. We didn’t have a body bag big enough for him so we had to ‘close’ it with duct tape. His body was already so decomposed that the family just decided on an external exam. Turns out he had a thing for sex toys and had one in his butt when he was found. Probably died of a heart attack.
Am both paramedic and mortician, so I’ve seen some real doozies. One of the most bizarre was the fellow who, upon autopsy, had his cause of death declared as electrocution, despite the fact that the abandoned farmhouse he was in hadn’t had electricity in decades. Lividity and decompose both supported the conclusion that he died where he was found, so it wasn’t a body dump, but there was no possible way for him to have been electrocuted there.
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16. The closeted alcoholic
I’m an apprentice funeral director, but we had an autopsy tech come into my school once to do an autopsy demonstration. He was asked this very question and this was his answer. Male, mid 50’s presented with jaundice and other signs of alcoholism but supposedly no history of drinking. During preliminary observation techs noted a red liquid coming from the anal area. Assuming blood it was tested. Came back as red wine and blood. Turns out the deceased was [cut] a closet alcoholic who would give himself enemas with whatever alcohol he had, in this case red wine, the doctors concluded he pierced part of his colon/rectum with whatever he enema’d himself with and led to a bleed.
17. WHAT WAS HE THINKING?!
I worked briefly as a morgue assistant a few years back. The job mainly consisted of moving corpses and holding organs while the pathologist did his thing. By far the most WHAT! worthy death I saw was a guy who had been working in a factory, getting himself off by rubbing his penis on the underside of the high speed conveyor belt he was meant to be operating. He got caught and it tore off most of his crotch. Ruled as death by misadventure, he had bled out (torn femoral artery) before the paramedics even made it to the scene.
18. Not seen by a doctor in years
Worked at a funeral home for a few years. First ever house call I took was to pick up a guy who died at home. Heard from his son that he hadn’t been to the doctors in 20 years. We take him to the medical examiner and discover he had a hernia on his scrotum causing it to be the size of a football. Not sure how he lived with that thing, but he was wearing jeans and a jockstrap to keep that thing in. His toenails looked like dragon toenails as he obviously couldn’t bend over to clip them. You know it’s messed up when the medical examiner calls another medical examiner on duty to say “hey dude, come check this out.
I wasn’t a pathologist or medical examiner but a histology tech that assisted with autopsies periodically years ago. We did a routine autopsy on an elderly woman that died during a hospital stay. Prior to the autopsy we remove all the left over tubes and catheters. Once that’s done, the pathologist starts dissecting the organs out, doing a gross examination, weighing each one then saving pieces of tissue he’s interested in. During the dissection of the heart, he cut open one of the chambers and was tossing little pieces of tissue he wasn’t interest in into the trash. He then tossed a small piece of plastic that looked like the end of a catheter. I asked what it was and he replied that it was just that and that it was probably a piece he cut while removing the heart. I then reminded him that we’d removed all the catheters prior to the autopsy. He quietly reached into the trash, pulled the piece out and submitted it for further cross examination. As it turns out, someone must have sheared off the end of a 22 gauge catheter when giving the lady an IV and never reported it, maybe not realizing what they’d done. That piece traveled to the heart and lodged in a valve and caused her death.
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Years before as a medic I always remembered when they taught us to put catheters in to never try to rethread the needle if we weren’t quite in the vein but to start from scratch with a new catheter. This was a bold reminder.
Now as a nurse, I still see nurses not wanting to bother restarting with a new catheter and I have to stop and tell them the story.
20. Perfectly balanced body
Back in med school, during internship at the coroner’s I saw a case when a man in his late 50s was found dead at home, although under quite peculiar circumstances. His body was found standing yes, standing in the bedroom, with one leg raised and resting on the bed, basically as if he wanted to climb on the bed but suddenly died. Further examination led to a severe heart attack as the most likely cause of death, however, no evidence of someone moving the body post-mortem could be found. The conclusion was that either someone would have to have found him quite early and basically hold the corpse for hours until it became stiff enough to stand on its own, or that his death was so sudden, that it happened just in the right moment so that his body would be perfectly balanced and not fall over.
21. Ashes and drugs
X-Ray tech did a chest x-Ray on a male in the ICU with severe pneumonia. He was barely able to get a breath. On an X-Ray his lungs were completely white. White means dense, hard material (like bone or metal) lungs are a mixture of black (air) and grey ( tissue/mucus). The X-Ray tech is puzzled by the compete whiteness wondering what kind of material it is or what happened to his lungs so he called the doc for a medical history. The doc replied thusly:
“Patient was on a bender, looking for drugs. He broke into his neighbors garage and found a batch of powder in his neighbors fishing tackle box and snorted the whole thing. A few days later he developed pneumonia. It turns out that the fisherman neighbors sister had died years ago and the fisherman kept her ashes in his tacklebox so she went with him whenever he went fishing, just like when she was alive. The patient had snorted the leftover metallic ash of his neighbors dead sister.
He died a week later.