To err is human.
We commit errors at work, some one points it to us or we figure it out ourself and fix it the next day, or in a couple of days. While it might get us a scolding or some monetary loss at max, life won’t stop for us or anyone around us.
Well, not if you’re a doctor.
When a doctor makes mistake, life can literally stop, for the doctor themselves too.
Below are some heart breaking mistakes that doctors made and still lament them.
I had a 9 year old girl bought in one night with her parents complaining of fever and respiratory distress, presenting with coughing and wheezing. The kid was really out of it and the parents were very upset. I thought it was Bronchitis, but admitted her and at once ordered treatment for her fever, cough and even throat cultures.
I was with another patient when the kid started hallucinating, sobbing and spewing everywhere. I figured it had to do with the fever, so I packed her with ice, but she died maybe a half hour after that.
This wasn’t my first death, but it was one of the worst. A 9-year-old girl just died. I couldn’t tell the stiff neck since the kid was coughing and whizzing. She also couldn’t tell me anything that would point to simple or complex seizures.
She died of Neisseria meningitidis. About 10% of adults are carriers of the bacteria in their nasopharynx, the part of the throat that is behind the mouth and nasal cavity.
The worst case of wrong diagnosis. Now this bacteria is contagious. We called in all her school mates and anyone else we could wake up. To my horror we saw three other kids go and the rest got antibiotics quickly enough.
Probably my worst day in medicine.
A fellow doctor saw this patient regularly for medication management. The patient came back for a follow up appointment with a very telling side-effect from a very low dose of a medication and no improvement in symptoms that the medication was intended to target. But because this particular side-effect is relatively mild and can also be caused by many other variables, the doctor was not duly suspicious of the medication being the cause of the side-effect and increased the dosage of the medication.
In 3 days the patient became gravely ill, and died a few days after that due to complications of the side-effect of the medication. It was a huge mistake and I can’t help but think if I had been the doctor, I wouldn’t have overlooked the side-effect, and Patient would still be alive.
As an ICU nurse I’ve seen the decisions of some doctors result in death. Families often times don’t know, but it happens more often than you’d think. But it usually happens on very sick patients that ultimately would have died within 6 months or so anyway.
Procedural wise, I have seen a physician kill a patient by puncturing their heart while placing a pleural chest tube. It was basically a freaky thing as apparently the patient had recently had Cardiothoracic surgery and the heart adhered within the cavity at an odd position.
I’ll never forget the look on his face when he came to the realization of what had happened. You rarely see people accidentally kill someone in such a direct way. Heartbreaking.
There was this girl in Belgium who suffered from anorexia, a loss of appetite, and got a gastric feeding tube inserted into her lungs, instead of stomach, literally drowning her in food.
At the hospital I work at, during a very stressful shift, a nurse accidentally mixed two infusions for two separate patients with 100ml of potassium chloride, instead of sodium chloride (NaCl). They both died within minutes of one another.
I know of a case on a special ward for immunosuppressed people. In this case, it was someone who had a bone marrow replacement for a rare hematological disease. She was recovering quite well. The ward had positive pressure, airlocks and other safety measures. However, that did not prevent family from sneaking in a pizza from the hospital restaurant without staff knowledge. Now pizza is not the cleanest food there is.
The patient eventually died from an opportunistic infection, because she at that time had no immune system to speak of.
Safety protocols have been updated since.
My best friend’s aunt was in the Hospital to remove a small cyst. It was a really small and simple operation.
The doctor was nice and the operation went smooth. It was done much sooner than everyone had expected. Well, this happened after her operation. While the aunt still lay unconscious, none of the nurses bothered to check in on her, and she ended up choking on her own saliva and dying.
I’m not a doctor or a nurse, but my grandma died because her nurses were careless.
She was in a nursing home because she had such a severe Alzheimer. She couldn’t do anything alone and we couldn’t afford to hire a full time nurse for her. She had urinary tract infections many times, because they only helped her shower once a week and she didn’t remember to do it when alone. So we started helping her shower once a day and it helped a lot.
Anyhow, one day when we visited she was really warm and tired. We told the nurses to check for urinary tract infection. One of them promised to do it as soon as she gets time from the patient she was currently dealing with. We went the next day and she said she had forgotten do it. They did it layer that day but it took FOUR DAYS for the doctor confirm if she had one or not, and if they could start antibiotics! For days for a UTI test! When I had one, they told me the same evening what kind it was.
My mom and dad called there every day, even went over but the nurses were like: “well, what will you do?” The infection got to my grandma’s kidneys, she got transferred to a different hospital and then she passed away. She was too old to fight it anymore. We told what had happened to the nurses in that hospital and they were absolutely shocked and angry. We are now suing the nurses and I believe the boss of that faculty, so no one else dies because of their crappy attitude. We found out that we were not the only family who complained about them. The only reason we had put her their was because it was comparatively close to our house, and we could easily visit whenever we wanted.
I worked as a transporter in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit- where anyone who is put under intense care goes post surgery before being transported to a room.
We received a post-op patient who’s pulse oximetry was tanked and no matter what the nursing staff and unit docs did it just wouldn’t come up to safe levels. The oxygen level was at dangerous low when a nursing assistant pointed out that the oxygen tank on the bottom of the stretcher was of the wrong color. Yeah, the OR staff had hooked this poor guy up to CO2 by mistake.
Oxygen tanks were bright green whereas carbon dioxide tanks were bright red or black. Hard to miss. The only reason the guy lived was because the place only had a nasal cannula at the moment, as opposed to the newer face masks they generally used. I don’t know if he suffered any deficiencies but I know his brain was affected to some degree. BTW this happened in a Major NC teaching hospital/ trauma center.
Essentially a man came in for a routine operation, say kidney stone removal or something, to a hospital where my wife worked as a second shift nurse.
She had the man as a patient for a few days. She even met his daughters and spent time talking with them. She told me at the time she was touched by how loving the man and his family were. One night she came in and the man was not doing well, he had not passed a stool since the surgery. She notified the doctors and made special mention of the patient’s deteriorating condition to the nurse taking over at the end of her shift.
She had a day off and when she came in next she found out immediately the man had died. Apparently the surgeon had nicked the man’s bowels. As a result his abdomen filled with waste and essentially poisoned him. She was absolutely devastated.
She later found out that the same surgeon had made other mistakes in the past. Needless to say she left that hospital as soon as possible and got a much lower paying job in a doctor’s office. That night she raised as many alarm bells as possible and followed all the necessary procedures but still wonders even after all these years if there was anything she could have done.
In short, man came in for routine operation procedure, doctor nicked his bowels, and the guy died from his body filling with his own waste.
I walked by a room when I heard a guy that sounded like he needed to throw up, so I checked for nurses since I was just a summer temp, but couldn’t find any.
I just grabbed a bag and went in. This poor elderly man was in bed, very emaciated. He signaled towards his throat, almost blue in the face. I rushed over, and got him to open wide.
When you lose weight, your prosthetic teeth might not be a good fit anymore. His had gotten lose while he was resting and were stuck in his throat. I didn’t have time to put gloves on — just dug in with my hand and managed to slowly pry them out. I went and told a nurse, she just came back with me and promptly reattached them to his gums.
I had to report her and get the prosthetics changed. I think the man would have surely suffocated had that happened again.
I was a hospice nurse for 10 years. I admitted a patient with cancer who had intractable bone pain. In his case, the only medication that gave him any relief was morphine. His wife did a great job taking care of him and giving him his meds as we planned. It was very effective and the he was comfortable. As he came closer to his death he was sleeping more, which is normal and expected. This was when his daughter flew in to be with him at the end. She went ape crazy that “daddy was on morphine” and raised so much hell that his wife freaked out and caved to her demands, revoked hospice and called the ambulance.
When he got to the hospital the daughter told them that he had taken too much morphine, so the ER room doctor gave him Narcan. The patient came out of it screaming in pain, and didn’t stop. He stayed in the hospital until he died from the pain.
It’s been years since this happened but it’s still the worst nightmare of my nursing career. There really wasn’t anything I could have done because I spent a lot of time teaching his wife what to do and what to expect. I still feel bad about it.
As a paramedic intern I had one call in particular that still sticks with me.
We were called out for an early 40s male with chest pain. We get there to see a healthy guy sitting in his car breathing hard. I get a history from his wife and an initial assessment of the patient. He doesn’t have any history except for having anxiety problems and had been previously treated for abusing his anxiety meds. The patient described his symptoms as being just like when he has panic attacks.
I hook him up to the monitor and everything looks fine. Slightly elevated heart rate but all of his other vitals seemed to be within normal limits.I get him loaded into the ambulance and begin the 20 min transport to the hospital.
I start treating him with meds for the chest pain protocol and then all hell breaks loose. He tells me his chest doesn’t hurt anymore but he can’t breathe. His vitals didn’t line up with respiratory issues but I put him on high flow oxygen just to be safe. As soon as I get the oxygen on him he starts losing it. He tells me he needs to get out of the ambulance.
He starts standing up, ripping all the wires off of him, pulling the oxygen off, and even pulls his IV out.
I struggle with him to keep him on the gurney and calm him down. I start another IV, he pulls it out. I hook him back up to the monitor, he pulls it off. Same with the oxygen. The situation turns into me having to physically hold him down to keep him from jumping out of the ambulance on the freeway. I end up having to be pretty stern. I was yelling at him to sit down and stop fighting. I gave what little report I could to the hospital, holding the radio in one hand and his shirt collar in the other. All I could tell them was we had an agitated patient initially complaining of chest pain which has resolved, and now seemingly having a panic attack. I didn’t use the words “panic attack”, because it isn’t my place to diagnose, but the description of the situation spoke for itself. I had no current vitals to give them, cardiac rhythm, nothing. I couldn’t even get him to keep an IV in. When we finally get to the hospital we wheel him in, still holding him down.
The moment we transfer him to the bed he goes from an agitated, fighting guy to a full cardiac arrest instantaneously. We worked him up in the ER bed for over 30 minutes. After the doc called time of death he came out of the room with us looking confused. “I thought you were bringing in a panic attack.” So did we.
To this day I have no idea why he died or what was wrong with him. I just couldn’t stop thinking that there was so much more I could have done for him had I been able to manage his anxiety. I was the last person to have a conversation with this guy and it consisted of me yelling at him to sit down straight. I had plenty of patients die before and after that, but that is the one that stung the most. I had never felt that helpless/confused before on a call.
My dad died after going into emergency gall bladder surgery. He had a DNR. His surgeon, I think, tried to express the seriousness of the situation – my dad was on blood thinners, had just had a gall bladder failure, was old, and had a bad heart. But then he kept giving me options I didn’t know I had.
If he codes on the table do you want to try once, or try twice, or not at all. If he stops breathing do you want to intubate? I didn’t understand why I suddenly had a say in that moment in which he could die. I, of course, should have just said, if he’s out, he’s out, but he’d always been so plucky, surviving conditions doctors said he should have never survived.
He ended up coding in the elevator, they intubated and he was unconscious in ICU for a week before they suggested hospice. The worst part is that my dad was a surgeon and he knew he never wanted to die with a bunch of tubes in him keeping his body working after he’d long left the room.
I am a registered nurse and this incident has stuck with me forever.
I had five patients one night. Two were being treated for cancer. One was responding well, one was not. I had looked through the charts briefly before hand, noting vitals, labs, meds, etc. It was super busy, so I didn’t actually write anything down.
I go in to do assessments, and my one cancer patient looks good. She looks healthy and has a great appetite and is on the phone making plans for her daughter’s high school graduation. Surely this is the gal who is responding well to treatment and is probably near remission.
She asks me what her CA-125 labs are, and I tell her they are much better. I say “yeah, I think they’re in the 30ish range.” She immediately yells “oh my god, what?!?!” And starts to cry. I get nervous and say “uh, here, wait a minute, I may be confused, let’s just look it up in your chart together.”
I log into the computer in her room, pull up her labs, and boom, her ca 125 is sky high, and much worse than it was at her previous draw. I tell her the actual lab results, and she says, “I knew it was too good to be true,” and starts sobbing for real. This woman is 45 years old, and actually dying.
I apologize profusely, and she is so heart meltingly gracious about it, telling me she knows she’s dying, and that she knew the moment I said it that I couldn’t possibly be correct, but that “you never give up hope, you know, and I just wanted to believe so much that I might live long enough to at least see my kids to adulthood.” I end up bawling and puking in the bathroom several times that night. I have never before or since cried at work, I am not a person who cries much.
For those of you who don’t know, ca 125 is a cancer marker that is one test used to measure the body’s response to certain cancer treatments in some cancer cases.
So, no one had gone over her test results with her yet, because they were so horrible the doctors were conferring about whether to withdraw care entirely or whether to try to limp her along until her daughter’s graduation, knowing that further treatment was hopeless, expensive, and probably not going to buy her more than a couple of weeks.
She died two weeks later, did not live to see her daughter’s graduation from high school.
I will never ever give results I’m not sure about, I will never ever make a statement that I can’t verify to a patient. I am still horrified by the anguish I caused her with my careless comment, and it has stuck with me for years.
I’m tearful and feel like puking right now, from typing out my confession.
Last year my aunt passed away from pancreatic cancer. And just 12-18 months prior to that she had gone to her doctor because she “didn’t feel right”.
My aunt was quite the train wreck medically. She once stepped off of a 2″ high deck and broke her toe. And lots of things like that. So when she went to the doctor that time, the doctor just said she’s fine and should go home and just get some rest.
3 months later she comes back to the doctor, still doesn’t feel “right”. The doctor runs a full battery of tests, again says she’s fine and asks her to go home.
A bit later she goes back and is adamant that something is really wrong, she can feel it. At this point you’d think she should have gotten another doctor. The thing was this guy had been treating her for YEARS. And they were friends. So the doctor runs more tests just to calm her up.
And guess what? Terminal stage pancreatic cancer! She dies in a few months. Bam!
He admitted to her that he “missed it” during the first round of tests. I asked if anyone was going to sue. “No. He feels bad enough.” Well thank goodness he feels bad.
I worked as a nurse in labor and delivery. There were several things that ultimately led to this woman’s death, but the first thing went wrong during her c-section. The OB (obstetrician) performing her c-section had nicked her bladder during the procedure.
I wasn’t a part of the team in surgery that day. I got involved with the patient about 45 mins after she’d been in recovery room. No one realized what had happened during the surgery, no one realized the entire time she was in recovery prior to my arrival, to approve her transfer to postpartum ward.
I glance at her catheter bag to note the amount of fluid and immediately realize the error as it has a large amount of blood in it.
She was immediately transferred to ICU, in surgery about 15 mins after that. But she died later that night.
For years my uncle was turned away from his GP and A&E doctors and labelled a drunk with mental health issues. He was referred to a psychologist who said he needed a neurologist – he never saw one.
He was having headaches, slurred speech, black outs etc. This went on for about 15 years until it got so bad he passed out on the path outside his house and the neighbours called the police (they thought he was drunk).
He eventually got taken by ambulance to the hospital. When they couldn’t rouse him and he had a scan – turned out he had a brain tumour.
It’s 10 years later now, he had some surgery and treatment on it but we recently found out it was growing again. The surgery to removed a section of it ended up with nerve damage that affects his balance, walking and grip.
He cannot work as he is permanently disabled. His quality of life is poor, his wife left him, his children don’t want to be around him. The situation has affected him and his personality so much. So he’s not dead yet but this tumour will kill him and all because they found his tumour 15 years later. I always feel sad for him and his irreparable situation.
A student nurse drew up Heparin (5,000 units) for one patient and 68 units insulin for another patient in separate syringes.
She did not label the syringes, mixed up the patients, and ended up killing a non diabetic person before she spoke to her supervisor about the mix up.
At a major university hospital in my country they gave some guy a heart transplant, but through some tremendous goof up the heart was of the wrong blood type.
The guy died. Of course.
In med school I was following a doctor when she did a bedside bone marrow extraction from the sternum (also known as breastbone, a long flat bone shaped like a necktie located in the center of the chest).
Sternum was ossified (thickened bone tissues), patient was obese and by a freak accident the patient’s pericardium (the membrane enclosing the heart)climbed high on the aorta. Combined effect was that the doc drilled deep through the thick tissues, thought she wasn’t in the marrow yet because nothing came through, and ended up in the aorta instead, evidenced by a sudden high geyser of blood through the needle.
The pericardium filled with blood, causing immediate pericardial tamponade and the patient was dead in minutes. Of course the ossified sternum and high pericardium were autopsy findings, this whole procedure would not have been done if they’d been known.
My first week of my intern year, the year one outside of medical school, when you’re on call overnight, AKA “Season One of Scrubs”, everyone “signs out” their team’s patients to the doctor on call overnight. So that doctor (intern, with an upper-level resident also present overnight to supervise) is covering many patients they hardly know, maybe 60 or more. The situation was that a patient with dementia, unable to really communicate with people and clearly ‘not there’ but conscious, arrived from a nursing home with I think some agitation as the original complaint.
Basic labs ordered in the ER show the kidney function is worse than usual, which could be due to many things, but what really MUST be distinguished is if the heart is failing to pump properly, backing up into the lungs or there’s not enough liquid in the blood to flow – due to excessive vomiting or something.
My resident instructed me to sign out the patient with instructions to continue a 500mL saline inflow, then re-assess to see whether the patient looked more ‘wet’ or less ‘dry’. I signed this out, and forgot to make the order to stop the saline after 500mL, so it ended up running slowly in all night. The intern on call (also first week as doctor) forgot to re-assess at all or shut off the saline if it had been noticed because we were so busy with new admissions. We’d also ordered 3 sets of ‘heart enzymes’ meant to diagnose a heart attack, one reason for a patient suddenly getting ‘wet’ (i.e. heart pump failure), since the EKG was not interpretable – he had a pacemaker which makes it impossible to tell.
Lab screwed up too, because hospital policy was that if the first set of ‘heart enzymes’ was negative, apparently the 2nd and 3rd sets, each traditionally spaced 6-8hrs later to catch a heart attack if it starts to evolve and become detectable by blood test, were both cancelled.
I came in and first thing in the morning checked on this patient, who was screaming things nobody could understand and the nurses had chalked up to dementia and agitation. I checked the labs and saw the second and third heart enzymes hadn’t been done. I went to the bedside and saw the IV fluids still running. I immediately ran to the overnight intern, who said things had been so busy and nobody had called to notify that things were wrong.
We stopped the fluids, immediately got a heart enzyme test, learned this patient was by now having a massive heart attack made much worse by the addition of IV fluids all night to this frail failing pump. I can’t get the screams out of my head, and cried a lot and was pretty depressed for a few weeks at least after this. The patient died because the status ended up being decided as not to resuscitate based on what the nursing home had on file, although no family members were known at all. This patient was totally alone, and spent the last night of their life in physician-induced agony. But I acknowledge the failure of two interns, the nurses, and the lab. Ultimately the blame fell on the lab and I think someone was fired, but I made clear to everyone that I am to blame too and wanted quality improvements made to prevent future errors, or at least catch them early if they happen. That’s I think the best you can do when you make a mistake.
There’s a Scrubs episode where as I recall at the end there’s a brief scene where the ghosts of dead patients representing medical errors follow around the physicians like little trains. That’s what it’s like sometimes.
A pharmacy worker here. Someone in my company handed out medication to someone called Mr Smith (name changed) without checking his address or any other information, not realizing it was the wrong Mr Smith.
The package had gliclazide and metformin in it. The patient took the medication, fell into a coma and died.