Human body is absolutely fascinating. Most people don’t survive a weak, dying heart, or a devastating brain damage. And then there are times that the body just refuses to give up. The patients in this article miraculously survived through the worst medical conditions. (Let’s also not forget about their doctors’ hard work.)
[Source can be found at the end of the article]
Had an extremely frail, sick woman suffer a minor heart attack in hospital, and was unconscious after. Her family was there, we spent a long time talking about how sick she was and how this was likely the end. Just as they were coming to understand, she stopped breathing for some time. I took her pulse and was about to share the bad news when she started up breathing again, woke up, and lived pretty well for another six months. I have no idea how she rallied like that.
It was damned hard to have end of life conversations with that family afterwards.
Stroke patient. One side of his body was paralyzed. He walked out less than a month later. No physiotherapy and no permanent damage. Guy is over 80 years old.
Nurse here. I have a pet starling. I’m on my third one. My first one used to sit on my shoulder everywhere I went… to the store, my parent’s house, and even work. I’d bring him in on my days off to entertain the patients, especially the old folks and kids. Had a woman in with bilateral strokes. She was paralyzed on both sides and was totally immobile. My starling hopped on her belly and she concentrated as hard as she could and was able, for the first time in many days, move her left hand up to pet the bird. That was the start of a pretty amazing recovery. She never walked again, but got the use back in her arms.
I’m an EMT, but I once witnessed an 80 year old woman go from conscious and talking to working code (no pulse, not breathing) to pulse but no breathing and back to awake and oriented with 0 memory of her 8 minutes of terror. We never initiated CPR, pushed no drugs, and only gave her a few breaths from a BVM.
I had a young woman who came in septic from pneumonia. On full inotropic support, still deteriorating. Adult retrieval assessed her and declined our request for ECMO because they thought it was futile. The pressures required to ventilate her caused a tension pneumothorax. She arrested 3 times. Ended up ventilated for 2 months. Multiple failed attempts to wean her off because of critical illness myopathy. Eventually, after a 4 month stay, we got her to rehab. Sickest person I’ve looked after who lived.
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I’m an Ob. And I delivered a baby with newborn leukaemia This baby looked like it had no chance of life with a enormous belly of ascites, hydrocephalus, leucocytosis off the chart and so on and so on. This baby was transferred to a University and started on chemo at 1 day of life. I saw the baby at 6 weeks and was completely cured and normal in appearance.
Patient with chronic depression with suicidal ideations, no meds worked, he tried them all for over a decade. Sent him for a sleep study. Obstructive sleep apnea was identified. Put him on a CPAP, his whole life changed. He was really thankful to feel good again, he teared up when he thanked me.
I had a patient that went into cardiac arrest and was found in refractory V-fib. It means his heart wasn’t pumping and was just quivering like a big ball of jello. Normally this is fixed by shocking it and typically converts after one of two shocks or they flatline. This guy spent 45 minutes getting CPR and was shocked 15 times on the way to the hospital. So his heart was basically stopped for an hour. He was brought to the cathlab, put on ECMO which is a heart lung bypass machine and 2 stents were placed. He walked out 3 days later. To this day it’s one of the longest instances of someone being in V-fib and surviving.
ED registered nurse here: We had a morbidly obese patient who went down at work. She was very lucky in that she had co-workers who had CPR training (paid for by their company!) and knew how to use the AED in their office. She was with us for a whopping total of fifteen minutes before we zipped her off to the cath lab. No one thought she was going to make it.
She was out of the hospital within a week and sent us and the EMS crew a thank you basket of fruit. I really hope that she got her co-workers something because without their immediate action, there isn’t a doggone thing that any of us could have done.
I’m an occupational therapist and during school I did one of my rotations in a hospital psych unit. My most memorable patient who was bipolar and schizophrenic came in one day and was just off the wall… screaming at everyone, threatening suicide constantly, destroying everything he could in his room… After like a week of the doctors readjusting his meds and attending therapy groups, you wouldn’t have known anything was wrong with this guy. He got discharged and was just like “OK, thanks guys, see you next time. I gotta go back to work on Monday…”
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Paramedic here. Had a patient go into cardiac arrest at the top of his stairs. He falls and impales himself on a katana he had on display in the hallway below. Big time no-no for pre-hospital emergency services is pulling anything out of the patient unless airway or ability to do compressions is compromised. Pull the sword and the most horrifically beautiful geyser of blood I’ve ever seen erupts. Start working this guy completely believing we are going to call a pronouncement because every compression is paired with squirting blood. 6 minutes into the arrest, flying down the highway, we get our patient into sinus brady. 3 days later he went home with no serious complications!
Nurse here. Took care of a hemorrhagic stroke patient. He was totally non responsive, wouldn’t open his eyes or move his extremities. He had a tracheostomy to help him breathe and a tube in place for feeding. Was like that for a few months, everyone thought he wouldn’t recover. Then he started opening his eyes more, started moving his limbs. Few more months and his tracheostomy is out and he’s talking and able to swallow and moving a lot more. He was able to go to rehab and when he got out he was walking, talking, and doing everything with no noticeable deficits.
Nurse here. I remember distinctly a guy in his nineties with a lot of co-morbidities from a nursing home. Placed him in a side room cause he was Cheyne-Stoking “death rattling”. Grey with purple mottled peripheries. Vital signs awful. The usual. Go to check on him half an hour later expecting him to have passed, nope he’s got about half a litre of sputum all over his chest. He’s alert and all his vital signs are now fine. Was discharge a few days later.
I treat brain aneurysms, strokes, and a few less well known things by working from inside the blood vessels. Lady had an aneurysm pop, she was the highest grade in both state and consciousness and amount of blood (Hunt-Hess 5/Fischer 4). 10% chance of survival, and basically all of those are neurologically devastated if they live. Most of the time we don’t even treat the aneurysm they are doing so bad.
She comes in, intubated – no corneal (eye blinks when you touch it) or no gag reflex. Both of these are low level basic brain stem function, usually the last to go before someone dies. I think one pupil may even have been dilated. Shes basically dead. Have family discussion, they understand. We wait 24 hrs.
She basically turns a corner the next day. Decide to treat aneurysm 48hrs later (but all of us are like “what…?! how is she doing this well?”) She had a long road with pneumonia and bowel obstructions and scattered things, but she left hospital for rehab pretty intact.
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I am a doctor.
Residency in a large hospital in Toledo.
Had a patient come in with a simple pneumonia. In and out of the hospital in 2 days. How is this a miraculous recovery? Good question.
She had gone home to die with hospice 2 years prior.
Biopsy proven small cell lung cancer. With treatment most don’t survive 5 years. Most are dead in less than 2 years.
She had no evidence of any cancer in her. Masses and nets seen before all gone.
Family reported she hadn’t tolerated the pain mess given by hospice. And no this isn’t a pot ad. She didn’t smoke pot for relief.
She went hard core crack cocaine for her relief.
And we couldn’t find a trace of the cancer that kills practically everyone who gets it, and kills them fast.
Less high tech than some of the other doctor stories, but I agree, sometimes the body just refuses to give up. Sometimes it’s so tough, and sometimes something trivial will finish it off.
Last week one of my normally chirpy 96 year olds at home was less well. That’s all – no symptoms, nothing to help me diagnose. Nothing in the chest, nothing in the urine. Blood tests unlikely to help. Semi-conscious. Non-clinicians – the elderly can be really sick without a fever or a fast heart rate as in a younger adult. I judge that a dramatic response would be inappropriate (i.e. sending him to lie for 5 hours on a cold stainless steel trolley in the ED, and then die), I hold his hand and make him smile weakly by telling him little jokes, tell him we’re going to help him, discuss his impending end with his family and decide that it won’t do him any harm to give him a broad spectrum antibiotic (well, it can, but that’s another story), so I do and 24 hours later, he’s out in the garden in the sun on his pool chair, listening to the radio and talking about politics. He’s back to normal.
I was on the stroke team. Saw a guy come in from the local prison. He had been an IV drug user and had bacteria in his blood, on his heart valves, and growing in multiple spots in his brain. His MRI was the worst looking one I had ever seen. He was entirely comatose and on life support. We all knew he probably wouldn’t last long. And even if he did survive, his quality of life would be absolutely terrible (known colloquially as a vegetable).
We had a family meeting where some members wanted him to go peacefully, while others were saying that he’d want every measure to prolong his life. It was decided that he was to be taken off life support.
I switch to another team at this point and assume he dies.
A few months later, one of my buddies ran into the guy and his family in the hospital elevator. He was in a wheelchair and actually talking. My friend had no idea how to react and actually started crying and apologizing for telling the family he had no chance.
I still have trouble comprehending how that happened.
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I did an ER thoracotomy on a pulseless guy who came in with a stab wound to the heart. Basically a hail Mary with a 99% mortality rate, but what do you know, the guy’s heart starts kicking the moment I delivered it out of the pericardial sac and sure enough, there the stab wound was in the back on the left ventricle. The problem with sewing a muscle while it’s beating though is that every time I took a bite, it would tear more and the hole kept getting bigger. I had to stop the heart by compressing it against the ribs long enough to get some stitches in. Got him up to the OR to buttress the repair. The guy was a fighter — I had to paralyze him awake that night just to keep him from fighting the vent and resuscitate him. After getting him through everything, he walked out of hospital exactly a month later.
We are stationed in a very remote area so some conditions usually treatable or manageable in hospitals with adequate facilities are far more serious here. There’s one recent guy that come to mind.
The patient was clinically suspected to have an intestinal perforation. The astonishing thing was he had been symptomatic for 8 days ! He did not mention why he sought treatment so late, but my bet’s on his financial situation. We were surprised he wasn’t dead already. His lab reports from the ER were haywire.
He was planned for surgical repair in the ER, and had to wait another 16-18 hours for his turn (there’s just one OT.) When we saw him prior to surgery the next day and noted his status, we were fairly certain he would not make it back from the table. After thorough counseling, we got a high risk consent from the family. A kind surgical resident offered to pay for the procedure for the time being.
In-Op, he had a sigmoid perforation with gross fecal contamination. The repair was successful, but Anesthesia could not extubate him. He needed an ICU bed which we did not have (all taken). There was a hospital with an ICU bed an hour’s drive away. They loaded him in a vehicle, with a family member bagging him and monitoring a noradrenaline drip titrated to last almost exactly an hour. (Drip goes too fast and the drip’s gone, BP gone and patient gone – and a family member was looking after that all the way !)
He made it though. I will never understand how. There’s some that we lose so unexpectedly, and some that just refuse to go.
Electrical burn on lower limb. Surgeon wanted to amputate but internal doc intervened and prevented the amputation. The lower limb through a LOT of therapy and constant cleaning ends up looking normal.
I had a patient in his 30’s last year who had a sudden brain aneurysm. There was no warning or prior indications, he was found unconscious in his room and the nurses were performing CPR on him. He recovered completely without any neurological deficits. Pretty rare in my experience.
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I have family in the medical field who shared this story with me.
There was an old couple, husband and wife who had been married for 40+ years. They were the kind of old couple who still loved each other deeply and went on dates together. They had a tradition where anytime they went out for supper, the husband would order pie for dessert. And although the wife always claimed she didn’t want any and refused to order any, she would swoop in and steal the first bite of his pie every single time, to his constant annoyance.
But then the husband began to develop a type of dementia (possibly alzheimer’s, I can’t remember) where he started to slowly forget who his wife was. At first he recognized this woman as being someone in his life he knew and loved, but when they met around the house he would still ask her where she was. Things like, “If you see my wife, let her know I’m looking for her.” Eventually it progressed to the point where he didn’t recognize his wife at all and became visibly distressed by living with a stranger.
So he moved out of the house and into an assisted living style apartment. She lived alone, visiting him whenever she could, but he never had any idea who she was. Even seeing pictures of them together from their past visibly confused and distressed him.
One of the docs recommended that the wife should start taking him on a few dates as if they truly were strangers, so that the husband could at least gain a new kind of familiarity with her presence and maybe become friends.
So she took him to a restaurant they had been going to their whole lives and had dinner. They had some nice conversation. Afterwards he ordered pie, and without thinking she reached across the table and stole the first bite of it. The husband looked annoyed, but then suddenly seemed shocked and confused, and then started crying.
Everything had come back. All the memories, all the love, all of it. Something about that action triggered something in him and he was able to get back to who he was. They moved back in together and were able to pick up their lives again.
Unfortunately about five years later he began to regress again, but they still got five more years together than anybody thought they would be able to have which is really amazing and pretty miraculous.