Doctors are responsible for taking care of their patients and ensuring that they get the best medical care for their health concerns. However, problems arise when the patients refuse to take the professional advice they've been given. Here are stories off when patients almost lost their lives because they didn't listen to their doctors:
#1 The Cheapskate
When I was in medical school, I had a gentleman in his late 60s come in for chest pain. He was found to have a large heart attack, yet he refused immediate cardiac catheterization. Instead, he took his car home and then planned on taking an ambulance back to the hospital to get the procedure done later. He was on the parking ramp and it cost $20/day to park. He came back by ambulance in full arrest (no pulse) and he lost his life. The doctor had to call his son and explain what happened, and he was like: "Yeah, that sounds like dad, he’s always been cheap."
#2 Delaying The Process
I had a throat cancer patient who we offered surgery to remove the tumor (it was a fairly conservative surgery). He left because he didn't want a mutilating surgery. He said his daughter-in-law had been studying magnet therapy and that "she was quite good at it." He came back a year later and was out of reach from any treatment. His cancer was so advanced that there was nothing we could do for him.
#3 Picky, Picky
A patient came in with syncope and general malaise. We found out she had a tiny patch of skin cancer on her ear, which she hadn't treated in over a year because she wanted to go to a different hospital to have it removed and just hadn't found the time. It metastasized to her brain (and I think other places). They gave her five months max.
#4 In The Nick Of Time
We had a college student come into the ER and he had a wonderful case of appendicitis. He needed to get surgery ASAP as surgery is way safer if it is done before it ruptures. He called his parents to let them know and they told him to refuse because he had a test upcoming in the week and they didn't want him to miss it. He left the ER against medical advice while we were all telling him the deadly risks. The kid luckily came back about 10 hours later after it ruptured. He got the emergency surgery, but the amount of time he had to spend in the hospital probably doubled.
#5 Siding With The Enemy
I had a roommate in college get yelled at by her parents for the ambulance ride to the ER after she had a seizure and couldn’t properly identify herself at the time. I was not a huge fan of that roommate, but I wanted to take that phone out of her hand and scream myself hoarse at her parents. Also, her boyfriend dumped her a day after the seizure because he was weirded out.
#6 Self-Inflicted Pain
"Please don't get up on your own," We told him. Then, he proceeded to get up on his own and he ended up pulling out the line that went into his jugular. That leads directly to the heart. He proceeded to bleed all over everything until he passed out and almost passed away. Again. Though I guess in some ways, it’s probably better than yanking out a femoral CL.
#7 Just Not Listening
I've read that the most common reason for a surgery to be re-performed is the patient not following doctor's orders during recovery. The doctor says: "Don't ride your bicycle for six weeks." The patient hears: "Don't ride your bicycle until you feel you can." It's almost like they just refuse to take the advice as it is.
#8 Rules Don't Apply
My aunt had surgery to one eye, the recovery part was simple: stay on your tummy with your head down. She had to redo the surgery THREE times, she wouldn't listen. When I asked my mother why she wouldn't listen to the doctor's advice, she told me something along the lines of: "Oh, I did listen, but I got tired of being on my stomach." Some people just don't think rules apply to them.
#9 Smart Thinking
I've had a couple of major surgeries and I hated the whole thing. My doctor could tell me to stand on my head singing the "Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" song for thirteen days and I would've done it, just so I wouldn't have to go through the surgeries again. The thing I had surgery for has a chance of recurrence and it's honestly my biggest nightmare that it'll happen again (though hopefully, they would catch it earlier this time).
Sign Up For Our Newsletter
Stories that matter — delivered straight to your inbox.
#10 Never Again
Crohn's disease here. I had a foot and a half of my colon removed. Guaranteed I'll have more surgeries in my life unless they cure it in the next five years. It was by far the worst pain I've ever felt and recovering was the most physically strenuous ordeal I've ever been through by a long shot. I'd have done nearly anything the doctor said to guarantee I didn't have to do it again. Thankfully, the orders were mostly: "Just don't move very much," which was really easy since I couldn't even if I wanted to.
#11 Going Into Hysterics
I had back surgery when I was 13, and I was on some VERY powerful medications so my thought process was a little messed up. I was convinced that if too many of the butterfly bandages came off, my incision would open and I would flip inside out. Anytime one came off, I would cry hysterically until my mom replaced it with a new one.
#12 Ignoring The Experts
"Don’t eat anything before surgery..." So often, people will eat and try and justify it. They'll argue against everyone’s expert opinion and then get extremely upset.
“Oh, my wife said I could eat before surgery, she doesn’t want me going on an empty stomach.”
“I’ll heal better if I eat.”
“I never throw up, I’m good.” “I’m not going hungry, freaking figure it out.”
#13 That's So Gross
Not a medical professional, but my aunt is and I'd like to share her horrifying story. She once had a patient, a young guy in his early 20s, who had very poor hygiene. He didn't shower regularly, he didn't brush his teeth, wore the same clothes for days on end... etc. One day, he came in with a nasty rash on his lower abdomen that was starting to show signs of infection.
She provided antibiotics and extensively stressed to him to improve his hygiene and keep the area clean, otherwise, it'll just keep coming back or get worse. Well, as the story goes, he didn't pick up the prescription and apparently choose to just keep putting A&D Gold ointment on the area. She later found out that he ended up in the ER after going into shock at work. It turns out, he ended up getting gangrene in the area. He needed to get everything removed.
#14 No One Else To Blame
My dad always tells the story of a morbidly obese woman who came into his clinic. After an exam, he told her simply: "If you don't make drastic changes to your lifestyle and diet and start losing weight, you are going to lose your life." She was lifeless within the week. Her family tried to sue because my dad was clearly "a witch doctor" and cursed her to death. It was sad all around.
#15 Saved By Logic
I had a post-cardiac surgery patient get out of bed naked and walk up to the front desk demanding to talk to who was in charge. I don't remember why. He unhooked his chest tubes from the suction. Surprisingly, there was no bloody mess because he actually clamped them off! When asked about it later, he said: "Well, I thought about pulling them out, but it seemed like a bad idea."
#16 Poor Baby
We had a mom in the NICU who would constantly kiss her premature baby on the mouth. Several nurses educated her around why that was not safe for the baby. This was during the cold and flu season and it became even more concerning when the mother was coming in with cold-like symptoms (coughing, sneezing and obvious congestion). She still continued to kiss the baby right on the mouth. The baby was almost ready to go home by this time but it got extremely sick. The baby ended up on a ventilator and had quite the extended stay with many, many close calls.
#17 Delaying Discharge
Family members can do as much damage as a non-compliant patient. I have had family members take the restraints off of an intubated patient, after copious education on why it wasn't safe. So yeah. Congratulations, you just ended your father because the restraints bothered you. I've also had family members cough right into the faces of immunosuppressed patients, giving them the flu... even after being told to wear a mask. It probably added a month to their ICU stay.
#18 A Rung Below
I remember when my grandmother had her 94th birthday. I was supposed to go to her care home for the party after school, but that morning in assembly, we got told that two kids at the school had been diagnosed with swine flu. I figured it would be a bad idea to potentially expose a building of sick and elderly people to some nasty germs, so I went home, called my mom and sang happy birthday to my granny on the phone. I was 12. I can't believe these people have less sense than a child. It's a rung below common sense.
#19 On The Floor
I've seen mother's on two different occasions place their infant on the hospital floor. The babies were directly on the floor. They got upset when I told them to pick their babies up, too. I was like, "Please think about the things that get spread around by foot traffic. We are talking bile, vomit, pus, etc. From SICK people." That shut them up at least. Helpful hint: never sit on a hospital floor. Ever. Gross.
#20 No Good Reason
I had a ton of patients who skipped dialysis for whatever freaking reason... Some would simply say they didn't feel like going, or that they had a fight with boyfriend and they weren't in the mood, etc... They would end up coming in with their electrolytes all messed up and they'd have to get emergency dialysis as an inpatient.
#21 You Can't Cure Stupidity
EMT here. If I knew back then what I know now about healthcare... I wouldn't have chosen it. A large majority of my patients are sick for no other reason than themselves. These people are all of it. You literally can't cure stupidity... I was reading a report from a previous doctor once. The doctor put: "This patient is on a chronic pursuit of being unhealthy." That pretty much sums up most of my patients...
#22 My Hardheaded Father
This was my father. Uncontrolled diabetes, on dialysis but drank way too much water to the point his belly was leaking fluid. I was his sole caregiver for eight years and by the time I burned out, my sister helped the last couple of years. No idea how he made it through so many episodes of sepsis and blood sugars of over 600. No matter how hard you try, you can't make people comply.
#23 A Deadly Cycle
Not a doctor, but I have worked in the addictions field. Too many clients have died or will die because despite the repeated warnings from their doctor that they have almost no liver function, or that what they’re drinking is giving them all sorts of brain damage. But a lot of these guys do feel like they have nothing to live for but the bottle. It’s really heartbreaking.
#24 Vitamin K Deficiency
My wife is a labor and delivery nurse. When a baby is born, they give it some vitamin that the baby can't produce itself for the first six months of its life (or something like that). I think it's vitamin K, to help with blood clotting. It'ss potentially lethal if the baby doesn't get this, obviously, as they can bleed out internally.
Welp, one mother didn't want their kid getting vitamin K because she was an anti-vaxxer. The baby ended up dying in the NICU. There was no way to know if the lack of vitamin K contributed to death or not, but... I think most medical professionals would point to it being part of the reason the baby died.
#25 Misinformation Kills
Doctor-in-training here. I have already had three children die during my pediatric rotation from preventable diseases and their complications. Their parents opted out of vaccination, and all three pairs regretted it after the death. It's become harder for me to have polite discussions about immunization because of the conspiracy theories about vaccines killing children. I get so furious every time it comes up.
#26 A Good Tip
If you have old people in your house (or you are regularly in the house of an old person), pay attention to (and get rid of) small area rugs, carpet runners, etc... They are terrible trip hazards, and a broken hip is generally the beginning of the end for anyone over the age of 70. Literally, this can save someone's life.
#27 The Price Of Ignorance
I was the assistant manager of a group home. We had a resident who had epilepsy and was also very reclusive. He would get agitated if we came into his room or even knocked on the door. However, the policy said he had to be checked on every 30 minutes because of his seizure risk. That wasn't being done, so I brought this up to the manager.
She said she was aware but it was okay to bend the rules because he would get really upset when we checked in on him. I really wasn't comfortable with her answer, but I was young and assumed she knew better than me. When I was on duty, I checked on him every 30 minutes and he would yell at me, but I didn't let it bother me. About six months later, after I had been reassigned to another group home, he had a seizure alone in his room and was found lifeless.
#28 Fasting For A Reason
The patient was supposed to have starved for eight hours for her morning-scheduled breast surgery. During the procedure, she regurgitated what can only be described as a partially-digested English breakfast, with identifiable sausages, egg, beans and possibly black pudding, up into her unprotected airway. She attempted to inhale the lot. We managed to prevent the majority of it going down, but she needed HDU care for a day or so for her lungs to recover from the stomach acid.
#29 A Little Too Late
A patient had vague abdominal symptoms and I recommended a CT scan. He refused because he was afraid of radiation. He also refused a colonoscopy, so all we could do was an ultrasound, which found nothing cause he was fat and abdominal ultrasound is a horrible examination anyway. A year later he was admitted again, and this time he couldn't refuse a CT. That's when we found massive colon cancer. He's probably dead now.
#30 A Late Discovery
My ex's dad refused to go to the doctor when he hadn't had a bowel movement for over two freaking weeks. When he eventually went, they, shockingly, found a big old tumor obstructing his bowl. It turned out to be benign, but there was so much backed up in there that the doctors said it was basically a miracle his colon didn't rupture and end him with septic shock.
#31 Wasting Brain Cells
A patient came to see me after having a stroke due to a blocked brain artery. I’d activated the Code Stroke team. Everyone was ready in the ER to get the clot out of her artery: nurses, the anesthetist, the technicians—but she insisted on updating her Facebook status and “checking in” before allowing us to treat her. Shee wasted three to five minutes and six to ten million brain cells (if she had that many to start with).
#32 Over The Handlebars
I worked in ER admissions throughout college. A teenager and his parents came in because he went over the handlebars on his bike. The staff wanted to keep him in observation overnight, but his parents refused, even after they offered to put him in a recovery room that was near the ER and normally only used during the day for outpatient surgeries.
They came back the next day, and he was white as a ghost. It turned out he had punctured some part of his digestive system and, I think, had some internal bleeding. It's the only true emergency surgery I saw in the four years I worked there when the staff actually ran to the OR with a patient.
#33 Frequent Flyers
Honestly, many of the patients I come across are admitted related to non-compliance with their medication regimen or suggested lifestyle changes. There are many "frequent flyers" that return with the same complaint over and over again. You can only educate them on their disease process, and how to minimize the effects of it. After that, it's up to them. As stated in almost every other comment, many of these people are diabetics or have COPD.
#34 Blurred Vision
I didn't almost die, but I got scarring on my eyes after surgery because I didn't follow the instructions for my eye drops. The eye drops had a thick translucent quality, and it felt disgusting to have this white gooey substance in my eyes, so I kept postponing putting them in. I can still see well, but I could have avoided getting unclear stripes in my field of vision. I beat myself up for it for about two years but was at last able to forgive myself.
#35 Cough Evolution
Not a medical professional, but my dad had a really serious cough that I told him he had to get checked out. He ignored me for weeks and coughed and coughed. Eventually, he coughed up blood and I essentially forced him to go to the doctor. He was diagnosed with TB (I am vaccinated luckily) and if he had left it any longer, he would have died.
#36 Made It To The Lobby
A PT just signed out AMA from my ICU a few months ago. He had just gotten extubated and he had been on CRRT for about a week. He was generally non-compliant, obese, COPD, DM Type II, etc. He was very belligerent to the staff and his family. He made it to the lobby before he coded. We got him back and brought him right back to the unit. The family withdrew care because it was obviously "not what he wanted." He was 42.
#37 Walking Death
I am a psychotherapist who has worked extensively with addicts. Most of them don’t take the advice to quit their substance of choice, but one particular case comes to mind with this question. Not only did I impress upon him how important it was for him to stop drinking, but so did his psychiatrist, and PCP. His PCP eventually fired him as a patient because he wouldn’t listen. The guy was jaundiced, in liver failure, and looked like walking death. He lived longer than any of us expected him to, but he finally passed last year because of the damage he did from his heavy drinking.
#38 Gone Away
This doesn't exactly fit the prompt, but I was advising a patient to go to the ER because of his blood potassium levels. They were way off, which can cause a lot of problems. He argued and argued with me about it, but in my position, you can't force anyone to do anything. Long story short, he didn't go to the ER. He's no longer with us.
#39 Listen The First Time
Animal hospital professional here. At least once a week, we have to re-suture up a spay because the owners don’t want to keep the cone on their dog or cat. Their organs are right there!!! Keep the damn cone on!!! I don’t care how “sad” Luna is with it on. Then, they yell at me because it costs money to sedate and re-suture an animal.
#40 For The Thrills
He didn't lose his life, but he did lose an eye as a result. A young kid in his 20s with bad diabetic retinopathy had eye surgery to remove blood and scar tissue from inside the eye. We told him to take it easy for a few weeks. He went to Six Flags. Rollercoasters are bad. His retina got completely detached, and his eye got soft. He said it was so painful. His eye had to be removed.
#41 What A Bloody Trooper
I am a nurse and I had a very polite patient try to remove all manner of chest tubes and IVs after a motorcycle accident. He was obviously delirious from the pain meds and the head injury, but he was very nice still. I left him in the care of my coworker for my lunch, then ten minutes into my lunch break, I saw him stagger past the break room door like something out of The Walking Dead. Blood was trailing everywhere.
He collapsed a couple of seconds later and said he needed the bathroom! I don't know how the heck he pulled his own chest tubes out. Removing them always makes me cringe, and this guy did it himself!!! He was put back to bed, this time in the ICU, and he got some more sedation. He was the happiest delirious patient I ever had. What a bloody trooper.
#42 Worst Idea Ever
I'm not a medical professional, but I used to get allergy injections to build up my immune system because of the crazy amount of allergies I had. I would get these injections every week and I was instructed by my family doctor and the allergist to wait in the waiting room 30 minutes after the injection in case I received a reaction.
Well, one day I decided I didn't want to wait anymore (also because it had been a few months without a reaction) and left immediately after my appointment. I went into anaphylactic shock not even 10 minutes later. It was crazy because I didn't even know what was happening at first and I didn't even know how to use an EpiPen.
#43 Back And Forth
I wasn't there that day, but we had a patient who had been non-compliant with his leg pumps—these inflatable Velcro things that force blood to continue circulating so that clots don't form in the legs. He didn't want to wear them, and he had the right to refuse, so we couldn't force him. Lo and behold, when therapy finally got him up to walk the halls, he immediately keeled over from a massive heart attack. They coded him right there on the floor and got him back, but he passed later that night.
#44 No Room For Error
I had a patient on a centrimag, which is basically a pump with hoses that draws blood from your heart into a pump next to the bed and brings the blood back to the heart through a different hose. As you could imagine, there is little room for movement since they could dislodge and you'd have blood squirting inside your body or outside. This guy was adamant he had to sleep face down. Well, he did, and then he died.
#45 Right Vs. Wrong
I had the snip and my doctor told me to take a week off, wear tight-fitting underpants and not lift anything heavier than a cup of tea. I did exactly that and had no problems. My best mate thought that was all nonsense and went back to fitting kitchens the day after his vasectomy. And the day after that he was in the hospital.
#46 He Survived, Though
I was assured by a patient who underwent major head and neck cancer surgery that he had a safe home plus family help awaiting him after discharge. He’d need it, with new medicines and wound care. He was found unconscious in a shed with no electricity and no running water in—get this—his cousin’s back yard. It was just really sad. Some people suck.
#47 Some People Never Learn
Not a physician, but I'm part of a Facebook group that reviews most restaurants in the city. Someone posted: "I just had a heart attack, but the doctor said I'll be okay. I'm supposed to be on a low sodium diet, but I'm really craving a Reuben. What's the best place for my wife to get one to sneak into the hospital for me?"
#48 Gambling With Life
I'm not a doctor, but my fiancee's grandmother was in the hospital for surgery and shared a room with a man that had some sort of tube in his gut. He wanted a drink so badly that he said he was leaving. They kept telling him, "YOU WILL DIE IF YOU TAKE THAT TUBE OUT." Apparently he didn't care and he left anyway. Not sure what happened to him. I bet he died.
#49 Hardcore, Dude
A young 20-something was a heavy drinker with cirrhosis and esophageal varices. He came in with massive GI bleed plus hypotension. His HGB was 3.9. I was doing a massive transfusion protocol and found the guy shakily ambulating to the in-room toilet with melena draining down his leg. If he pulled his line, it would have been over. I couldn't believe that guy... I've never met a more hardcore young person than that immigrant field worker.
#50 Bad Decisions
I am a medical professional but this is about me, not a patient. I got into a car accident and was put on an NSAID, a muscle relaxer and hydro: all uncoated meds. Each one of them said to take with food, but I had to take the muscle relaxer four times a day and taking them with food wasn't always an option. I ended up giving myself gastritis. Now, I can't take any meds that are uncoated. I lost 30 lbs and I'm still having digestion issues.