Part of what makes medical dramas so intriguing is that often the patients come in with one complaint, and doctors end up finding something completely different—and much worse! These medical professionals from Reddit shared their real-life encounters with medical plot twists, ranging from shocking test results to ignorant patient mistakes. Be prepared to be equally surprised, disgusted, and disappointed with humanity.
1. Weight Loss Secrets
I was called to the ER to do a psych consult on a patient that was complaining of GI symptoms but his story was sort of strange, and he had no overt abdominal signs or symptoms. He was complaining that he suffered from "Barrett's stomach" (not esophagus) and had been diagnosed by a world-famous gastroenterologist. He stated that if he could lose weight that his GI issues would resolve.
I spent some time talking with him and, other than this strange fixation on his "Barrett's stomach," he seemed okay...Until he brought up his disturbing weight loss method. He made a massive wound in his thigh so that the leg would become gangrenous and eventually need to be amputated. This would allow him to quickly lose the 20 or so pounds needed to cure his stomach ailment.
The man actually had a self-inflicted GSW to the thigh from several days before. I didn't actually assess the wound because I was there for a psych consult but did immediately alert the ER staff. I was all calm and nonchalant like, "Ohh sir, excuse me for a sec…I'm just going to pop out and let another staff member know about this so they can take a look at it for ya!"
The ER was located in a county that employed a staff of mental health social workers to place psych patients so I had to call one of them out while he was getting (thoroughly physically) assessed. I have no idea what happened to him but I hope he's doing okay.
2. Pain Tolerance
I had a male in his 50s WALK into trauma to have his left thigh stitched up. Not an uncommon wound in an agricultural area. Speaking to him while stitching him up he tells me he fell off a ladder while cutting a branch and the machete sliced him on the way down. Told him I was going to write him up for an x-ray of the entire leg just in case.
He kept on saying he was fine, his knee hurt a bit but logically that was from the fall. I agreed, but asked him to go to the x-ray department just in case. He reluctantly walked there and back. The x-rays showed a helical fracture almost the entire length of his femur! Besides being a dangerous fracture, the femur is supposed to be the most painful bone to break and he was walking around.
In the end I had to show him the break to get him to sit down on a wheelchair and into the hands of orthopedics. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. That man's pain tolerance still impresses me.
3. Not The Antidote You Were Looking For
I had a patient come into the ER with some sort of spider/bug bite on her hand that had progressed to a red line running up her arm. She stated she put Benadryl cream on and it was very itchy. We continued talking and I asked if she had any allergies… "Yes, Benadryl!" I thought, good lord what?? I'm sure she could see the shock on my face.
We washed the Benadryl cream off her arm and miraculously it stopped itching.
4. Forgot To Mention…
This was one of my first patients as a medical student. We were asking her about prior medical history because she was on a waitlist for an intestinal transplant, and we asked her in every possible way if she had any history and she was like, "No, I was very healthy before this". Finally we ask her "Do you take any medications at home"? That's when the truth came out: "Oh, just the meds I take for the lupus".
I swear to god, I almost slapped her.
5. Is This Really Necessary?
I was working in an area with lots of Mennonites. A mom called into the clinic because a wheel had broken and one of the spokes had penetrated her toddler’s eye. The reason for the call was to ask if he needed to be seen by a doctor…she indicated they had removed the spoke and she knew he was going to lose the eye, so was there really a reason for him to be seen? The answer was yes. Definitely, yes.
6. Fullmetal Toe
I did a bunion and hammertoe surgery on a lady with no allergies. They had a new patient packet, and the primary care notes all had "no known allergies". I always ask about metal allergies anytime I plan on putting in hardware. The surgery goes great. I’m on call for the practice and receive a phone call for the group 18 hours post-op.
Her nerve block has worn off and she is in excruciating pain. I give instructions on what to do. The next morning she shows in my office before I even arrive. I took one look at her and knew something had gone horribly wrong. Ten out of ten pain, sweating profusely, blood pressure elevated, foot is massive. Clearly not faking it. I have to send her to the hospital for intractable pain. Blood work indicates elevated eosinophils but everything else normal. No blood clot or infection.
The hospitalist is convinced it’s complex regional pain syndrome. I rack my brain and think of what could be going on. I am only five months out of residency. My butt is puckering so hard. Since eosinophils are elevated, I ask if she is allergic to jewelry. "Yeah, my tongue swelled up when I had it pierced. I had it removed the next day".
She had a freaking NICKEL allergy. No allergist will see her to confirm so this is all speculation but makes sense with the hardware I used. Once the hardware is removed and exchanged for titanium, her pain is resolved. There was one case in my residency of hardware allergy (1/3,000 cases I was first or second assistant on). If I did not scrub into that case, I don’t know if I would have figured this out so quickly. Crazy case.
Now I always ask: "Have you ever had any reactions to jewelry?" A lot of patients won’t tell you about problems with jewelry and may not know they have metal allergies!
7. Family Matters
While I was a psychiatry resident I did a graded 30-minute interview in front of my attending on a new patient without knowing any previous chart history. I spent 29 minutes collecting high-yield medical and psychiatric history, and since I had an extra minute to spare, decided to ask him more about his childhood. "Well, it was pretty terrible after I watched my dad off my mom and then off himself". Needless to say, I did not have enough time to unpack that and failed my exam.
8. Not So Routine
I had a guy in his 50s who had been seeing an acupuncturist for an area of numbness and weakness traveling down his legs. He’d had two months of acupuncture for them with no improvement, so very reluctantly booked a routine GP appointment. At that point, he’d started to have issues with his urination too. As soon as I started speaking to him it became obvious that the symptoms he presented with were consistent with spinal cord compression—an absolute medical emergency.
We got him straight into the hospital, and imaging showed cancer, with a tumor pressing onto his spinal column. Although he started treatment and steroids that day, by then it was too late. He lost the ability to walk, and a few months later the cancer won. It was enormously sad and frustrating as that constellation of symptoms would have raised an immediate reg flag with anyone with medical training.
9. Tooth Tales
I had to take out the remainder of this guy's teeth. He was in his 60s, and told us verbally as well as on his health history that he didn't take any meds. So I took out his last eight teeth, all easy extractions due to infections and periodontal disease. But I couldn't get him to stop bleeding. I asked him again if he was taking anything. I finally got the clots stabilized, but it took almost an hour and I had to consult our surgeon.
When he saw the surgeon a few months later about placing implants, he told the surgeon he was on BP medication and blood thinners. I refused to see him anymore after that.
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10. Trash Day
I was working in the ER as a paramedic intern. An older man came in with his hand bandaged stating he couldn't get his thumb to stop bleeding. The nurse unwound the bandage and revealed a horrifying sight: There was a gaping wound oozing blood from where his thumb USED TO BE. The nurse asked him where his thumb was and the old guy asked what day it was. The nurse said Thursday or whatever day it was.
The guy said well, I guess the thumb went out with the trash this morning. He'd lost his thumb to his lawn mower three days ago and only now was coming in.
11. Not Just The Flu
I was an internal medicine resident who had a patient come to my clinic for "persistent flu". I had never seen her before, and she was a healthy-looking woman in her 60s. About a month before seeing me, she was seen by her PCP with persistent coughing, and otherwise had no shortness of breath or other infectious symptoms. Just a dry cough.
She got tested for flu and was negative, but got tamiflu just in case it was a false negative. She had a chest x-ray which was normal. She came to me a month later because her cough persisted despite completing her therapy. Everything sounded great. Heart, lungs, everything. To be honest, I don’t usually do this, but something in my gut told me I had to keep looking. So I started to feel for lymph nodes.
I felt around and found something above her left clavicle. It was hard, round, and she was completely unaware of it. I told her it was probably a reactive lymph node, but just in case, I wanted to get an ultrasound. This cascaded into her getting a biopsy, which showed squamous cell lung cancer. A CT scan showed stage IV lung cancer, not seen on her chest x-ray.
All diagnosed because of a lymph node that, almost by chance I was lucky enough to find by being thorough. I checked her chart about a year ago, and she was doing well. She got therapy and was in remission after a very long road and many obstacles. I’ll never forget her or her case. It was such a close call, and a good reminder for future cases.
12. Don’t Forget To Make Your Meds
I had to perform an extraction, so I took a detailed medical history. The patient said they were diabetic and hypertensive. Both big contraindications in extractions due to uncontrollable bleeding. Unless they're meticulous about taking their medicines and you stop the blood thinners five days prior to surgery, it's usually a blood bath.
I asked the well-educated, 50-year-old woman a number of times if she took her diabetes medicines on time and if she does rapid tests at home to check her blood sugar. She said she takes them every day without fail and hasn't missed a day in over two years. She said she's super disciplined about her health and would tell me if she hadn't taken them.
I sent her in for a rapid blood sugar test anyway, as a precaution, and lo and behold her values come back as 282mg. Almost twice as much as the normal value so it wasn't even like she was JUST off the mark. I asked her to explain and she gave a shocked expression and insisted that she took them. I ask her to physically show me her medicines instead of listing them. That's when I finally get the truth out of her.
She says, "Oh I don't have it right now, I make it when I need it". MAKE. She drinks bitter gourd juice one time every day instead of her diabetic pills because they are too big. And she 100% believed bitter gourd juice was the only medication she needed. She's a high school teacher.
13. Check The Calendar
When I was in my final years of med school (English division of a European University in a country where I speak the native language fluently) we were to do patient interviews and physical examinations on our own and then circle back to our supervisor. I was translating back and forth between the patient (infectious diseases department) and a fellow classmate whom I was doing the interview with.
The patient said, "So you guys are coming in on a Saturday to do patient work? Good for you for going the extra mile"! (it was a Friday, which I initially brushed off as a mistake). My classmate asked me to ask the patient if he could tell us the date. I was like, "Are you sure? He's here for an infection not head trauma, he might think it's a bit degrading".
I thought it wasn't important but she insisted so I translated the question. The patient replies, "Ah well it's 2002, of course"! (it was 2018). After more questioning we realized all of his replies were as if it were 2002 (eg. "The last trip I went on was to Africa in the '80s, so about 15 years ago"). As it turns out he had neurosyphilis that went unchecked for many many years.
14. Bump On The Head
When I was a recent grad while working with the army, a soldier came to ER. He had just returned from vacation and complained about a severe headache—he had been hit with a bottle the previous day. I didn't think much at first because he was conscious and there wasn't anything more in anamnesis. That was until the medical examination, where I found that he had high blood pressure and bradycardia.
I sent him to a larger hospital and surprise, surprise, he had quite the subdural hematoma (brain bleed). I still wonder how that man was walking as if nothing was wrong with him.
15. Under The Covers
I was working on a general medical unit. I saw a patient in his 20s with new joint pain, UTI symptoms, and a painful eye. We were thinking it was reactive arthritis. Me: "Sir, I’ve got your lab work back like we talked about this morning. As we thought there seems to be some inflammation going on. The most common cause of this condition is food poisoning or an STI like chlamydia. I asked earlier but just to confirm, have you had any recent tummy bugs"?
Patient: "No". Me: "So no recent dodgy takeaways or barbecues? No random vomiting or diarrhea"? Patient: "Not at all". Me: "Okay, have you ever had intercourse"? Patient: "No". Me: "Just confirm that means any activity at all which includes…"(I listed some options). Patient: "No". Me: "Okay, that’s unusual. I’m going to go chat with my consultant and I’ll come back".
Patient: "I have got something I’d like to talk about though. I’ve started urinating what looks like pus. Could I have caught chlamydia from that girl I slept with a few weeks ago"? Internally: "Yes sir. Yes".
A couple of years ago while I was a student, during an exam I had to physically examine a patient. I talked to him about his medical history: "Have you ever had surgery"? "No". "So you were never hospitalized"? "No". I finish with the history and tell him to remove his shirt to do a physical. The first thing I see is a big scar in the middle of the chest. "Sir, how did you acquire this scar"?
"Oh, that! That's from my open heart surgery a few years ago"!
17. Same Problem, Different Hospital
We had a lady attend the ER with abdominal pain. She was from Pakistan and did not speak any English at all. Her abdomen had a few oddly placed scars on her right side that she said were from an appendectomy several years ago. We asked if she had ever had gallstones or had surgery related to her gallbladder. She insisted that she had not and that she had never had pain like this before.
Anyway, in the hospital, she was in pain, and was having all kinds of tests. Her liver panel was normal, abdomen x-ray was inconclusive, US inconclusive, and the CT suggested multiple adhesions leading to difficult interpretation (not uncommon as appendicitis was really bad). ERCP (an endoscopy test designed to specifically image the bile duct/bladder etc., stands for endoscopic cholangiopancreatography) could view the common bile duct and hepatic duct but not the gallbladder as the duct appeared blocked by maybe a stone, consistent with her symptoms.
We decided to be as conservative as possible as surgery in an abdomen with potentially many difficult adhesions might create more problems than it solved. Her son arrived after several days. Yes, she gets pain like this often. No, it is not bad, she exaggerates it, the scars were from gallbladder removal. He said that while she genuinely did not speak English, she was also always attending hospitals in Pakistan with this problem.
18. Baby Blues
We had a patient who had come into our obstetrics and gynecology department with complaints of bleeding for the second time in a month and vague abdominal pain. She assumed it was irregular menses probably due to some hormonal imbalance or stress and wanted some medication for it. While she was talking to us, she suddenly felt weak and collapsed.
Once she gained consciousness, she assured us she was fine and it was probably because she skipped breakfast that morning. We asked her to get a pregnancy test done just in case, along with a routine ultrasound. But she said she was absolutely fine and just needed some medicine to regularize her cycle. On insisting, she got her pregnancy test done and it was positive.
Turns out it was a ruptured ectopic and she was going into shock because of the bleeding, hence the fainting. Thankfully we were able to manage her immediately. On probing further, we realized she has a previous history of ectopic pregnancy but didn't think it was significant enough to mention. Yes, that would have been helpful to know.
19. Just A Headache?
I was still a student when this happened. A male in his 20s or 30s came to the emergency with a headache. He said it was terrible, and it seemed so. Everybody thought it was a bad case of migraine because he started vomiting (even my superior, which I obviously had to report). After that, I was just asking if this happened before and he told me that he had been seeing neurology like a year before but lost the appointment and never came back.
I saw the guys from neurology and told them about the patient, even when my superior had told me to send him back home (something in my gut was telling me that there was something more). When they examined him they ended up sending him to do a CT on his head. It turned out that he had a tumor covering almost half his brain.
20. Don’t You Put It In Your Mouth…
I’m not a doctor (yet) but I have been an ER tech for about two years. A mom comes in with her baby plus two more older kids. She complains that the baby hasn't pooped in a while and won't stop crying. As I'm settling them in with one of the nurses, the baby is bawling, like opera singer lungs bawling. Suddenly the mom whips out a white plastic shopping bag and sticks an end in the kid’s mouth.
She says, "This is the only way she stops crying". The nurse and I share a look horrified look. We immediately order an emergency x-ray on the kid's stomach. Turns out she had ingested a good amount of these bags and it was blocking up in her stomach. Big deal, potentially life-threatening. When we confront the mom about her baby feeding habits her only words of defense are "Well I checked all over the bag and I couldn't find anything that said "non-edible".
21. Not Just Butterflies In The Stomach
When I was an internal medicine resident I came across a very nice 50-year-old Dominican lady. She was well mannered, but one could tell she was not the sharpest tool in the shed. As I was prepping her chart for our first visit, I noticed that she'd been seen by every single digestive disease MD in our hospital system. Not only that, she'd had EVERY SINGLE PROCEDURE IN THE BOOK.
Ranging from endoscopies up both holes and culminating in an exploratory laparotomy (you're opened up to basically look inside you when we have no clue what's going on). All of this because for years she had one single complaint: She reported severe gnawing pain in her stomach. At this point, I should mention that she was Spanish speaking only.
Not only that, she had a very heavy Dominican accent, and I was the first Hispanic doctor to ever see her. My first language is Spanish and even I had difficulty understanding her. So she comes in and after exchanging some first-time pleasantries I politely ask her how she's doing. Sure enough, although she was smiling and said she felt well she pointed at her belly and said "it" was biting again, and asked for the cream to kill "it".
At this point, I got intrigued. Her medication list only mentioned a cream used for herpes breakthroughs. The previous fellow only mentioned in his note that during every single visit, she only asked for the cream and nothing else. I asked what she meant by the biting and what she intended to do with the cream. The answer made my jaw drop. She very calmly told me she intended to stick the cream up her rear end in order to kill the bird living inside her.
After delving more deeply into her story, it turns out she didn't have a medical condition. Ever since she was a little girl, she believed that after eating a whole quail egg, the bird had spawned inside her and gnawed away in her insides whenever she was very hungry. After a short visit to psych, she was diagnosed with a somatic type delusional disorder.
No amount of medication or psychotherapy will cure her, but she was still a fully functional mother of two who paid her taxes and had two part-time jobs. I reached out to every digestive disease doctor in our hospital system once more, to make sure she never receives an inappropriate invasive intervention. I've been following her now for three years and she's happy as one can be, considering she has a bird living inside her…
22. Open Wide
I am a student doctor and on placement at a small town doctor's office. I had a 70-ish-year-old woman come in with complaints of a small but painless growth that was visible at the back of her throat. I took a look, and had to try really hard not to burst out laughing. It turns out it took her 70 years to notice her uvula.
23. Born That Way
During residency in an urban northeastern US city, I was in the clinic. A very pleasant 50-something lady came in for a physical. Everything was going fine when she casually asked if there were any new vaccines out. She was up to date with everything so I asked if she had any specific concerns. She was casually asking to see if she could vaccinate her gay adult son against his particular orientation.
She was very nice, and always had a smile on her face, even when I broke the "bad" news to her.
24. Stomach Ache
A patient comes to the ER, a 19-year-old male. I'm getting his history. "Why are you here today"? "Every morning when I wake up my stomach hurts". "How long has it been hurting"? "All my life". "Well what is different today that's made you come here"? "My girlfriend doesn't think that is normal". More questions, exam by ER physician, lab tests. The abdominal pain always goes away after he eats. Always.
He wakes up hungry. He thinks it is pain.
25. Just Some Soreness
I was working in GP and had a patient scheduled for an appointment. I looked through his notes to gain an idea of why he may be seeing me and saw he'd been seen a few times with knee pains/shoulder pains and the like. The guy is in his 70s so probably just arthritis. I'm thinking I'll do an examination of his sore joints and ask a few questions, prescribe some painkillers and it'll be a quick one.
I call him in and he walks in, sits down, and is cheery as anything. "What seems to be the problem then, sir? I notice you've had some issues recently with sore joints", I ask. He then proceeds to tell me about this sore knee. So I check his knee and take a history and it all seems fine. Ask anything else and he's like oh actually my neck is sore too.
So I check his neck and nothing untoward to be found there either. At this point he's like, "Ok well thanks doc I'll be off then". I say to him, "Oh good glad we could help. And you have no other pains at all before you go"? Thank god I asked that question. He then sits back down and tells me he's been having central, crushing chest pain radiating down his left arm and into his jaw since last night and has been feeling breathless, and when it happened he had "an impending sense of doom".
I know a lot of you won't be doctors here but I'm sure you all recognize signs of an MI (heart attack) there. He had all the classic textbooks symptoms. I called an ambulance and he was rushed to the hospital for PCI (Percutaneous coronary intervention. They thread a catheter up the arteries into the coronary artery to find and then treat the blockage).
26. Name Game
I'm a paramedic. I delivered a baby in the back of the ambulance and placed it on the mother’s chest. I asked her what its name was (can't remember if it was a boy or girl) and she looked at me with a confused look and said, "I thought you named it". I really should have run with it but I was too surprised that she actually thought that.
27. Minty Fresh
I saw a patient for a follow-up after three ER visits in as many days for asthma. He was from another country, so this was the first time I ever met him. His lungs sounded absolutely terrible, but he swore he was taking the
every two to four hours with no relief. This raised suspicion to me, as the same meds were working in the ER. I asked him to show me how he was using it. He held it about a foot away from his mouth and did two puffs like a breath freshener, then swallowed. I felt really bad, he had never received any education about his illness or medications.
28. The Math Checks Out…
I was working in a rural OB-GYN clinic. I told a patient to try vitamin B6 to help with her nausea and morning sickness. She called back a few weeks later complaining that there had been no improvement. I asked about the vitamins. Her response was my favorite thing ever: She told me that Walmart did not have vitamin B6 so she bought B12 and has just been cutting them in half.
Here in México we have something called social service (Our college education is free in some institutions, so we have to pay for it with one year of free work in a rural area). So, during my first month, a woman in her 30s came to consult because she she always felt "weird" in the mornings. I asked what her symptoms were and she told me that every day she wakes up with a dry mouth, but that the feeling disappears in about one or two hours".
Well lady, how much water do you drink a day"? "Hmm, one or maybe two glasses, one at breakfast, and one in the middle of the day". "Do you know what thirst is"? "Yeah, when you drink water so you can pee". So I had to have an hour-long conversation about what thirst is and how it feels. Also, I had to tell her she needed to drink more water.
30. Hormone Imbalance
I’m a pediatrician. I once saw a teenage boy (around 13 years old) who was referred to me (for something unrelated, can't remember what). When I asked him if he was on medications, the boy's mom pulled out some birth control pills. I couldn't believe my eyes. Apparently, his family physician suggested birth control as a way to treat his acne. Yes, you read that correctly. A licensed doctor told a teenage BOY that was just going through puberty to take female hormones as acne treatment. I think he had been taking them regularly for the past year.
31. Follow Directions
When I worked as a nurse in urgent care, we had a guy with a bad abrasion on his leg stemming from a fall down a flight of steps. He was prescribed a topical cream, among other things. Directions on the tube: apply to the affected area. Sounds simple enough, right? During the follow-ups, we noticed the wound was gross and not healing at all. He insisted he put the cream on the affected area and it just wasn't working for him!
The doctor suspected something, so he had the patient demonstrate how he applied the cream so we can maybe offer some further help. The patient says he can't, because we're not at his house. And that's where the stairs are. This man was rubbing the cream on the stairs he fell down because the instructions said to "rub on affected area".
32. Brothers Who Herniate Together…
When I was a medical student, a patient and his brother came in together. The patient was just a post-op visit after a hernia repair. I found out he had another, baseball-sized hernia. His brother, on the other hand, literally had a FOOTBALL-sized hernia visibly coming out of the left leg of his shorts. It looked like an inguinal hernia, and he was able to use it as an armrest. I asked him if that bothered him at all, and he straight up said, "My brother's hernias were painful but this isn't, so I thought it was just a quirky defect". I hope he was lying to save face, but we recommended he get it taken care of.
I’m doing my internship, and one night I was attending at triage in the ER (triage is the area where you check the patients and decide how urgent the attention they need is). Context here, I’m in a third-world country and I’m at a public hospital that attends to an uncovered population, and instead of one hospital with all the specialties we have three: the "main" one, the OB-GYN hospital, and the children’s hospital.
So I had this woman in her late 30s, and she started telling me that she had extreme pain (ten out of ten) in the lower abdomen. No other sign that food could be involved, neither kidney stones nor urine infection. I proceed to ask about the last menstrual cycle. She doesn’t recall the exact date, but she says that was like four months ago.
Without hesitation and without asking more or anything else I told them (she and her familiar) to go right away to the hospital that was across the street, because if it was something obstetric we didn’t had any OB-GYNs in this hospital, and if it was something of general surgery they had general surgeons there. We got a call like 20 minutes later. That woman delivered her baby in the triage of the other hospital.
34. Bodily Tricks
A patient was asking why she gets rib pain so often, and literally reached under her own rib and jiggled it with her fingers. I'll never forget that sight... Turns out there were a lot of other things she could do that she shouldn’t ever be able to, and she had a variant of Ehlers Danlos. Literally, I was so distracted by the popping in and out of her rib I didn’t even notice how horrifying it was that she could get her hand under there to begin with, until I retold the story to a coworker.
35. Below The Belt
This guy in his 20s came into the hospital. He had a lot of conditions where he wouldn't make it past 40 and he currently had some infection. We kept giving him antibiotics which helped, but not as much as we would have liked. After about a week of being in the hospital I walk in and I'm talking to him and he tells me that he got a medically necessary circumcision on his last admission to the hospital.
I ask if it's okay if I take a look to make sure it's healing okay. I wasn't prepared for the horror. It was black with all kinds of infection. I'm just not sure how a married man in his 20s (or his wife) never thought to tell anyone about this for the past week.
36. Stroke Of Luck
I admitted a guy last week who came to the ED with a chief complaint of some right-sided numbness for the last few days (presumably had a stroke). Turns out he also had a rapidly progressing gangrenous infection of his scrotum/thighs/perirectal areas which required emergency surgery. He wouldn’t have even sought out medical attention if it wasn’t for his stroke?!?
37. Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
This lady has long-lasting heavy periods, and had itching and discomfort. She thought maybe it was from the bleeding, and in a way it was. Thought maybe a yeast infection. The itching wasn’t getting any better after a couple weeks so she came in. Then a true nightmare came to life: Maggots. Maggots fell out of her during the pelvic exam. She was morbidly obese so she didn’t check herself.
She changes pads, probably not often enough, and didn’t look close enough to notice anything odd. She might’ve been able had she thought to use a mirror, but in general didn’t check. Ladies, gents, and in between: get a mirror and check your junk and crevices in the regular. Yeast, cellulitis, vaginitis, boils, hemorrhoids, epididymitis, testicular cancer, etc. affect young people on the regular. Even if nothing is going on, check yourself. Know your normal. That’s how you know when something changes.
38. Not Pregnant
I was doing an OB-GYN rotation and this woman presented to get a hysterosalpingogram to determine why she could not get pregnant. Reading the conclusion of the report showed that they began the process and terminated it, simply saying "IUD is in place". She wanted to have another child but forgot she had something stuck up into her uterus to prevent pregnancy...
39. Second Skin
Healthcare worker here. I was completing a screen in a falls and balance clinic. I asked the patient to take their shoes and socks off. The shoes came off alright, but they were struggling to get the socks off. I let them flail around for about five minutes and finally offered to remove their socks, whilst asking how they normally got their socks off.
In the process of pulling the socks off they told me they can't remove their socks, those socks had been on for a couple of months. As I peeled the sock back there was a plume of necrotic skin. I had to be firm to pull the sock off and the skin had actually started to grow into the cotton pattern of the sock. Their nails were so long they had curled around the toes and were digging into the underside of their toes. The skin had started to break down. Safe to say the socks were binned and burned with a very hot flame.
40. Not Normal
Oncologist here. This was in medical school. I was examining a patient for foot pain. I rolled up the patient's pants and saw a huge tumor called a basal cell carcinoma. I asked him why he did not come to another doctor when the tumor started growing. He said that he thought it was normal. A RED TUMOR RED GROWING ON YOUR FOOT IS NOT NORMAL!
41. Putting On A Show
Nurse here. A 67-year-old woman thought she was pregnant. I have to say, she looked pregnant in that it was all in her abdomen, like some pregnant women who look like they're carrying a basketball when they are at the end. But she was 67. It turns out it was a 37-pound ovarian cyst. I asked if I could watch the surgery.
That thing came out all in one piece; I'll never forget the sound it made. This was at a community hospital many years ago, before HIPAA, so naturally, the lab announced that anyone who wanted could come down to the lab and view this incredible thing before it was dissected by pathology. The line at lunchtime was so long you'd think they were giving away free concert tickets.
42. Checking In
I am a medical assistant in a pediatrics office. Like two years ago, a lady came in with a gash in her heel. She'd had the gash open for weeks. I undid the wrapping the lady put on her foot and there were maggots eating at the lady's flesh inside her foot. The lady thought that the tingling was a bad sign and that she should get a checkup.
She said that she thought the tingling was normal and just wanted to check. Me and another MA had to dig out six maggots from this lady's foot. I was dumbfounded by how stupid this woman was not to go to a doctor once she got the gash.
43. Free Vitamins
I'm not a doctor, but I am a Spanish medical interpreter. Basically, I help doctors, nurses, techs, social workers, etc. to speak with a Spanish speaking LEP (Limited English Proficient) to communicate. I don't only get to witness a lot of weird and straight-up dumb stuff, I get to Interpret it in a first-person manner, which sometimes can be rather traumatizing.
I have a lot of stories, but here's the wildest one I can remember: A young female LEP once came to a fertility clinic to see why she couldn't get pregnant. Doctor: "So I understand you're here because you can't get pregnant, is that right''? Patient: "That is correct, I already have a four-year-old child and for some reason, since I came here to the USA, which was a year ago, I have not been able to get pregnant, please help me, as far as I know I am not infertile, so what is happening? Please help me".
Doctor: "Sure thing, you're in the right place". He proceeds with some general medical questions. Doctor: "Ok, now let me check your medical record, Hmm...funny, it says here that you are taking a birth control injection treatment also known as Depo-Provera every few months, is that correct"? Patient: "That is correct. I've been taking it for a year now, since I came to the USA, I just had my last shot last week".
Doctor: "Well no wonder you can't get pregnant, you're under a birth control treatment, as long as you keep taking it you will not be able to get pregnant. That's why it's called 'birth control'". Patient: "Ohhh so that's what it's for, well I didn't know it was for that, how was I supposed to know? I just saw it was free and accepted it. It's not my fault that all treatments have such unclear and complicated names. I thought it was some kind of vitamin". Things like this slowly make me lose my faith in humanity.
44. Special Elixir
When I was a med student we visited a clinic in the country where I studied. Lots of people would get horrible injuries and use the local elixir of dirt/motor oil/saliva from the local old lady to patch up an exposed arm bone, or whatever. I had one woman in her 20s come in with a fungating mammary cancer that looked like a hard mushroom/mold growing through the skin and to the outside world, that constantly bled anytime you touched it. Her family shamed any injuries or "impurities" and she thought she just needed to keep it covered until it got better. Ya…not true.
45. Lucky Break
A patient came into the ER. He and his wife were messing around and he chased her through the kitchen, took a hard left turn and lost his footing. He fell on his side. He’s a big dude, so falling is a bit more harrowing for him. He couldn’t put pressure on his leg and knew immediately he was hurt pretty bad. He told me that he was able to crawl to the couch, and once settled said he wasn’t in too much pain.
He decided to sleep on the couch that night so he wouldn’t have to go upstairs. They made an appointment in the morning for the ER so they wouldn’t have to sit there all day, but we didn’t have an opening until two o’clock, so they just hung out at the house. He was in a decent amount of ambient pain, but it didn’t seem emergent.
Once they got to the hospital, we examined him and discovered that he had broken his hip, in this case breaking off his entire ball joint from the top of his femur. We couldn’t believe that he was conscious, let alone able to sit up. He'd even slept on it! We told them that they should have come the night before (and probably by ambulance). It required surgery with some hefty bolts to put it back into place.
But the crazy part is that apparently a healthy 30ish-year-old man breaking his femur from standing is highly unusual. After several tests and an MRI, it turned out he was in the early stages of osteoporosis due to a pituitary tumor in his brain. So we discovered a benign brain tumor all because the dude was wearing slippery socks.
46. Chipped Tooth
I work at a dentist’s office. A patient presents for an exam, concerned that part of her tooth has chipped off. On examination, it is not in fact a tooth that chipped off, but rather a piece of calculus, which is a buildup of hard tartar that covers your teeth over time when you don’t brush them. It can be small deposits, or in this case, an entire "bridge" covering her actual teeth. She thought the calculus was tooth material and was quite shocked to learn we were actually unable to see her real teeth and she’d need an extensive cleaning to remove it all.
47. Broken Body
A patient complained of thigh and hip pain. They couldn't lie on that leg for more than 30 seconds without pain. They thought it was muscular, but I thought it might be radiating back pain. They had several x-rays and learned that they had broken their hip sometime in the past, had a floating bone chip in their hip, degenerative disc disease, a birth defect in their spine, and mild scoliosis. Surprise!
48. Heroes Don’t Feel Pain
I intercepted a young woman who was just hit by a car. Her boyfriend was standing with her freaking out. I did a basic physical exam and got a history, and made her comfortable as we waited for the ambulance to arrive. Once the ambulance arrived they asked for the same information, and that's when I realized what REALLY happened.
Turns out, the boyfriend was actually the one who was actually hit by the car, and was shielding his girlfriend's body. The entire car's windshield was cracked by the impact of his back. He was just freaking out and worried about her, and was in shock and hadn't begun to feel any pain yet.
49. When You Can’t Go…
Emergency radiologist here. I see plenty of people presenting with understated symptoms that turn out to be mind-blowingly advanced diseases. There's one that still breaks my heart, though: The four-year-old boy who presented with a rigid abdomen for a few months. Was told by their pediatrician it was constipation months ago but his parents never followed up when it didn't resolve.
When I imaged his abdomen I found his entire liver was replaced with a mass consistent with hepatoblastoma (tumor). I asked the parents why they waited so long to work it up. They said they were satisfied with the diagnosis of constipation. That one left a mark on my soul.
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