January 24, 2020 | Daniel Swift

Doctors Share The Most Mind-Boggling Cases They've Come Across


When we have a health issue we aren't sure about, we go to our doctors in hopes that they might have the answers. Unfortunately, while most doctors have a wealth of knowledge, there are just some cases that make even the smartest of them scratch their heads in confusion. Here are some of the most mind-boggling cases real doctors from around the world have come across:

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#1 Too Late To Treat

I work in the ED as a medical student. I had a guy the other day who let a leg infection get worse for years. When he finally came in, his infected leg was at least four times the size of the other one and it was draining copious amounts of foul-smelling pus. If the infection had been seen earlier, he would have just needed antibiotics... but because he waited so long, he’s going to lose the leg, if not, his life.

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#2 A Regret For Life

My dad's best friend stepped on a nail a few months ago and waited two to three weeks before going to the hospital. He had to get it amputated and he has been depressed ever since. We all feel bad for him, but he also waited so long before listening to his wife. It's a tough situation and I really feel for the guy.

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#3 Dangerous Dancing

Working in the ER, we had some interesting ones, but the simplest and most intriguing one I've had was a man who came in complaining about chest and side pains. After a few tests to rule out heart issues, we discovered through an X-ray that the man had NINETEEN fractures throughout his rib cage. When I asked him if he had been doing anything dangerous he replied with: "Nope, just dancing." Needless to say, I'd recommend NOT trying to do leaping flops into the worm on repeat on concrete, which is the only way I can fathom this occurring. And no, he didn't explain what kind of dancing.

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#4 A Horrible Fate

I had a lady come to the morgue in pieces for several days. She had fallen off of a catwalk runway and into an industrial fan that had no guards. They were being cleaned at the time in that area of the factory. They were having trouble finding all of her... it wasn't explained to me until three days after the first piece showed up, so I thought there was a sadistic criminal out there for a bit.

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#5 A Gross Situation

Back when I was a medical student on a urology rotation, we had a guy come in after butterflying his "little guy" with a filet knife. This occurred after he had become super tipsy. It was his third time doing it. You'd think you'd steer clear of the old Bolivian drinks after the first two times. The guy is doing fine now though, so hopefully, he's learned his lesson.

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#6 Anything To Get Out

I’m a nurse and I work in endoscopy. From time to time, we will get inmates from the nearest prison come in because they swallow whatever weird stuff they can get their hands on to get “a day out.” We have removed broken lightbulbs, parts of pens, toothbrushes, springs from beds or lamps, batteries, and lots of other things that need to be removed straight away. They always lie on our gurneys with a sly smile until they realize they have to be completely awake for the procedure...

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#7 A Bad Recovery

My mother is an emergency nurse and a while back, a 90-year-old woman came in the department complaining of pain in her leg below the knee. After an examination, my mother suggested an X-ray. The X-ray came back and it turned out, the leg had been broken several months prior, snapped clean across both the tibia and fibula.

She had somehow ignored what must have been excruciating pain and continued about her life and then the bones had healed but not straight. The top of the bones was to the left and about two inches below where they were supposed to be and they had fused to the lower parts at the side like that. In the end, there was nothing that could realistically be done as to sort the leg out would require rebreaking it...

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#8 The Bath Is Too Hot

My cousin was always arguing with his parents. One day, he went upstairs and drew HOT water in the bath. His mom called him in and I'm not sure why (I was a kid at the time), but she pushed him in. He ended up with third-degree burns over most of his body. Some of his internal organs were messed up too. He had to go on dialysis after that. He made it a number of years but he did pass away early from that.

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#9 Pushing Through The Pain

Nurse here. We had a patient come in due to pain in her chest four months after having a mastectomy. When we changed her dressings, the site was so infected that I could see her lung inflating when she took a breath. She passed away a week later. I still don’t know why she didn’t come in earlier.  I can't even begin to imagine how painful that had to be. It was heartbreaking that she lost her life.

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#10 Eaten Alive

Not a doctor, but a post-surgical nurse. I had a guy with necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating bacteria) on his leg. He had a wound vac that kept leaking. I had to change it and it was not pretty. By the end of it, we were both traumatized. I’ll never forget the agony that poor guy had to go through. But, on a good note, he healed up eventually!

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#11 A Clumsy Consequence

My doctor was very confused about how 9-year-old me managed to completely rip my big toenails out at 3 a.m. I tripped running down the hallway on the way back from the toilet (because, you know, monsters), and slid along my carpeted hallway. The friction between my toe and the carpet ripped it out. It was a grizzly sight and it stung like crazy. I had to wear a protective bandages for a bit.

#12 Not A Pretty Sight

Lady with very poorly controlled diabetes and morbidly obese came in via ED with a gaping hole on her thigh... like, so deep you could put your whole fist through it. It was oozing a ridiculous amount of discharge, so much so she had to be transfused. Her blood levels were rock bottom. Apparently, she accidentally cut herself while trying to wriggle into jeans. Meantime, the wound just kept getting bigger and bigger, and she attempted to just sort it by packing the wound with socks! The single worst thing I've seen.

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#13 Unknowingly With Child

My neighbor was an ex emergency room nurse. Whenever we would ask her about strange cases, most answers were: “You don’t want to know.” The only story I have is really strange. One day, a morbidly obese woman rolled into the emergency room (her legs couldn’t support her weight anymore), and she complained about mild stomach pain.

After letting several people with mild ailments get treated before her, she sat up and rolled to the staff-only water cooler behind the counter. My neighbor told her about how the cooler was only for staff, and she started to go away. Midway, she stopped and from under her skirt, a baby fell on the floor. Apparently, this woman was pregnant and didn’t notice because of her weight. How the heck didn’t she feel giving the excruciating pain of giving birth?

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#14 Under The Skin

My mother-in-law was a doctor. We asked her this one day. 99% of the time, she wouldn't tell you anything... But then one day, we got her tipsy, and loose lips sink ships... She told us the story about the son of a "huge celebrity" who came in. He was something like eight years old and he had a crazy hard weird spot on his leg. There was a scar over top. The kid couldn't or wouldn't give any explanation except that it hurt, and the celebrity wanted it "taken care of right now." She was a great doctor and accompanied them to the ER because that's where you go for insanity, not your family doctor. It was a dinky car, under the skin, and it had healed over.

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#15 The Hoarder's Problem

Just last week, I had a guy over 400 lbs (BMI 60). He was a hoarder and kept getting cellulitis in his legs because his house was so cluttered that he kept hitting his legs into things and getting cuts. When he came in, we had to remove his socks with scissors because he hadn’t taken them off in over three months. His socks had embedded into his skin and somehow become one (I didn’t learn in medical school how that happens).

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#16 Self Snack Storage

My cousin is a doctor and she once had this 300-lb lady who came in with a horribly smelly skin rash. After some initial inspection, they found a twinkie under one of her skin folds. It turns out she and her boyfriend play a game where she would hide various snacks in her body and her boyfriend would have to find it. The game in question was two months prior to her hospital visit. I guess she won the game.

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#17 Luck Of The Spleen

Doctors were surprised when little third-grader-me was brought in with a lacerated spleen and lungs gradually filling with fluid. I tripped and fell off of an eight-foot bridge into a creek on my dad's property, and a rather large rock caught my fall, hitting my ribcage just right. My dad thought I was just being a wimp and told me to sleep it off, but eight hours later, my mom found out and rushed me to the hospital. Thankfully, spleens are very good at regenerating and I made a full recovery with some physical therapy.

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#18 Lit Up Like Christmas Lights

I had a patient come into the ER once with a tumor on his neck that was partially obstructing his breathing. It had been growing for YEARS and he’d ignored it. The only reason he finally came in was an old friend came to visit and was basically like “What the heck?!” He tossed him in the truck to come to the ER. Too late, though, his scan lit up like Christmas lights and he had mets all over the place.

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#19 Overgrown Hair

A very tame example but here's one my mom, an ex-nurse told me. One day, a patient came in who had basically no social interaction whatsoever, so he looked like a complete mess, with hair nearly down to his hips. As the nurses cleaned him up they noticed his hair was quite thick around his head, and they couldn't cut through it. Turned out, the guy had been wearing a beanie for the last ten years and his hair had just grown through it and over it.

#20 Goodbye Eye

A friend of mine saw a lady in a dermatology clinic with a basal cell carcinoma that she'd left alone for so long it had eroded into her orbit (the bit of the skull which houses the eye). The slow-growing skin cancer that could have been cut out in a single visit to the doctor now meant she had to lose an eye through a massive skull surgery, and all because she didn't want to bother anyone.

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#21 A Private Matter

Not a doctor, but my grandpa was a heart surgeon and also an ER doc for a while. He told me this story about his time in the ER: "So I was there in the office when a man came in with a look of absolute pain. I asked was wrong and he said it would be better discussed in... private. It turned out that he got caught in his zipper. All I could do was give a good yank. Cue me cringing at the thought of that and grandpa with a big grin on his face. I love you, grandpa.

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#22 Roller Coaster Catastrophe

Not a doctor, but a witness to something. My family went to Disney World a few years ago and we met up with some family friends. On the Space Mountain ride, the husband raised his hands and his wedding ring got caught on something above him. It ripped his finger almost completely off. It was hanging by a piece of skin. Thankfully he got into the ER soon enough to save his finger, but he can’t move it and doesn’t have any feeling in it.

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#23 Thumbtack In The Lungg

I had a healthy 20-something guy come in coughing up a ton of blood! And I mean a ton. He was in the ICU, getting unit after unit of blood. He was intubated and bronchoscopy was performed. What do they find? A thumbtack! They successfully removed the thumbtack and the guy recovered. We asked the guy how the heck a thumbtack got in his lung. Turns out, when he was eight or nine, he played a game with his neighbors where they would see who could hold the most thumbtacks in their mouth... he must have inhaled one but it didn’t cause problems for 10+ years. Then he got bronchitis and was coughing a lot. It must have moved the tack and caused it to puncture his lung.

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#24 Two Weeks Too Late

Not my story, but a former EMT friend of mine was called to a house where an older lady hadn't been answering calls or her door for about two weeks. After searching the house, they could smell someone was lifeless. They saw the ladder to the attic. He went up and saw she had been decomposing, in the hot, humid Georgia summer, in her attic after having a heart attack.

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#25 The Trichotillomaniac

When I was a med student on trauma surgery, I assisted a case for the removal of a trichobezoar, which is a hairball in the stomach. Nastiest smell ever, the surgeon had me take a picture of it after putting it back in a stomach shape. Imagine when you pull wet hair from the drain but infinitely worse. The lady had trichotillomania, which is a compulsive need to eat hair, it was her third surgery for the same reason... I have yet to see Rapunzel syndrome, which is when there is hair from the stomach all the way to the colon!

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#26 Unlucky Fall

Not a doctor but a medical technician. This definitely isn’t as graphic as some of the other stories but the interesting thing is that it happened yesterday. We had a patient who was on a ladder (I believe he was trying to change a light bulb) and he fell off the ladder. He broke every single one of his ribs and gave himself a hemothorax (that’s when blood gets into the pleural space making it difficult to breathe). He was rather young too, the 40s to 50s.

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#27 Animal Instinct

My mother in law is a paramedic who this year attended a scene where an older person has suffered a heart attack and passed away in their home, leaving two cute little poodles alone in the house. The neighbor called in with concerns as she hadn't seen or heard from the neighbor in a couple of days. When she arrived, the two cute little poodles had eaten the woman.

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#28 Not Just Skinny Fat

My friend is a doctor. About a year ago a woman came in complaining of terrible stomach problems. Turns out she, was in labor with a relatively large baby. Now, this would potentially make sense if she were obese. But she was thin. When asked if she noticed the signs of pregnancy, she said yes but had not connected the dots. This confused my friend, even more, when she learned that this woman was college-educated and middle class.

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#29 Covering Up The Issue

A guy came in with the whole front of his skull gone and his brain showing. He was kind of autistic. He'd had a basal cell carcinoma on his forehead and just wore his hair in bangs. Then, when it started to bleed, he would just keep bandaging it as it grew and it ate into his skull. He had a job this whole time and finally saw a doctor once his insurance kicked in. I have no idea why it didn't get infected. We finally treated it with radiation and surgery and covered the brain with a fat and skin graft from his buttock. It was not a good match to the surrounding skin.

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#30 The Steak Blade

This story was told to me by a doctor. A 38-year-old man came in complaining of terrible headaches. The doctor ordered an MRI and found a steak blade embedded in the guy's head. The entryway was through his eye. Apparently, the guy had been in a bar fight 20 years before but didn't realize he'd had a steak blade... in his head... for 20 years.

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#31 Playing Host

Not a doctor but a witness. When I was a kid, I entered the doctor's room and I saw the doctor literally rip out a freaking giant leech from a boy's throat. Apparently, he had the habit of drinking "natural clean waters" from a spring and from there a cute little leech entered the boy's throat. It lived here for a few months until it became so big that a swallowed gum got stuck on its head. That was the end of my dreams for becoming a doctor.

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#32 A Job For Animal Control

I had a cop come in asking for a rabies medication. Apparently, animal control was off for the weekend so he exterminated a rabid raccoon himself and pieces of it exploded onto his face. He was concerned some blood may have gotten in his mouth. He had to come in multiple times for doses of medication. Heads up: let animal control do it. It ain’t worth it.

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#33 An Unpleasant Surprise

Not a doctor, but an auxiliary nurse. A patient had come in with learning difficulties and was not coping at home. As is the policy for all newly admitted patients, we do a full-body check for pressure sores, etc. She literally had no bum—the entire area had rotted away. Fast forward a bit and we were cleaning it out, getting ready to dress it. We noticed a metal flap hiding under one of the cavities under the skin to the side. We pulled it out: a pot noodle beef and tomato flavor foil lid. I can't look at pot noodles now without thinking of that cavernous wound.

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#34 Unrecognizable

Not a doctor, but my best friend’s older brother came into the hospital with all his teeth gone. His face was unrecognizable and nearly every bone in his body was broken. What happened? Snowmobiling. He slammed into a tree while wearing a helmet and basically got obliterated. It was even sadder because he had one kid and a daughter was on the way. The moral of the story is to be careful with any vehicle.

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#35 Elder Neglect

ER: a lady came in and her toes on one of her feet were black. They had little to no flesh on them to the point where the bones were showing. The nursing home staff brought her in—apparently, she had been a resident for over a year so the answer to why her toes were in such bad condition is definitely elder neglect.

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#36 Goodbye, Glass Eye

Not a doctor but my friend had a dramatic fainting spell while playing games at a party a few weekends ago. We took him to the ER and while we were in the waiting room, we saw some crazy stuff. We were right near the check-in counter so could hear what people were coming in with. There was a guy who was missing an eye and his eye socket was all bloody. The paramedic told the check-in girl that his "glass eye shattered." What the heck...

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#37 Random Foreign Object

My friend had a case... I think it was for abdominal pain. They stuck a scope down in the stomach and suctioned it out to get a better look. Then they found a weird looking flat white thing. They used a net to take it out and my friend looked at it. He saw numbers, a date two weeks earlier. He cleaned it off and realized it was one of those clips that come with bread loaves... How the heck??

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#38 The Angry Wife

When I was a scribe in the emergency room, a man came in with the hilt of a steak blade sticking out of his left eye. He was fully conscious and speaking. The very tip of the knife was coming out of the back of his cheek. All he told us was that he made his wife mad and she did that to him. To this day, I wonder what in the world he did to make her that angry.

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#39 The Maggot Leg

I had a homeless guy with wounds throughout his entire left leg come into my ER. He had a tall sock that was clearly soiled going over the whole thing. When we removed the sock, hundreds of maggots came pouring out of his leg and sock. They were EVERYWHERE in the room... And even trying to crawl out the door. An exterminator recommended peroxide and irrigation of the wounds to kill and remove the maggots. I hosed the guy down until the maggots were all gone. Or so I thought... After moving him to a clean room, I watched a maggot crawl out of exposed bone.

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#40 Holding It Together

Not me, but my best friend is a nurse. She said the worst thing she ever saw was a guy come in after a motorcycle wreck. He was still moving and breathing in the ambulance but once he got to the ER, they had to cut his helmet off. Apparently, the helmet was the only thing keeping dude alive. Once his helmet came off, everything spilled out everywhere and he was lifeless on the table.

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#41 Hardheaded

I had a guy who ran over his own head with his truck come into the ER as a walk-in. I thought the story was being exaggerated by his wife until he walked in with huge tire treads across his face. Weirdly enough, an F250 did nothing to this guy. It was miraculous! We kept him for quite a while just to make sure no weird bleeds started.

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#42 A Cheekless Outcome

Nurse here. I once had a patient in a rehab who had to have a large portion of one of her glutes removed. She had been very athletic but, hurt herself when she thought she had pulled a muscle. It got worse she said, until it was some sort of giant, blood filled cyst. The doctors had no choice but to remove dead tissue which ended up being the whole cheek. It was crazy to look at while changing the dressings. I've never seen such a gaping wound.

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#43 MOI: Pinata

I am not a doctor, I'm just a dispatcher; but feel like this fits. I have a LOT of stories but my favorite was a case that came in as a "laceration to the forehead." Nothing unusual, but the method of injury was the best part. It involved a pinata. I can't make this up. I've since learned that pinatas are sometimes made out of clay but after probing the nurse, I confirmed this one was indeed paper-mache! (which makes this story infinitely better) Also, this was NOT a child.

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#44 Funny How Life Works

I work in orthopedic surgery. MVA, woman had a shattered hip, bilateral distal radius fractures, multiple rib and lumbar fractures and right sided bimalleolar fracture. Her husband was driving and had a head on collision on HIS side. She somehow took the complete impact of the crash, while he was able to walk away with a few bruises.

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#45 Eye Problems

I'm currently a medical assistant in Comprehensive Ophthalmology, working mostly with cataract surgeons and specialty eye surgeons for a wide range of medical issues. A lot of both patients and physicians are from overseas. I work with a tough as nails doctor from the Philippines, and I once asked her what was the most messed up case she had ever seen in her home country. Without missing a beat, she said it's common to see infections in the eyes that are not common to the eyes.

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#46 A Close Call

Not a doctor, but I was working in the Emergency Department one day. After following a trail of blood into a trauma room, I found a man whose thigh looked like hamburger meat. Apparently, he forgot the first rule of cutting anything: don't cut toward yourself. He cut through a tree and into his leg with a chainsaw. Happy to say he lived after that blunder because he missed his femoral artery by a few inches.

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#47 Unknown Cause

It was my brother's case. He was a student there for some practices. A guy came to him at seven in the morning. He was looking normal he was dressed all good seemed no problem to him. But the issue which came next horrified my brother for days. That man had an infection in his left ear because of which there were thousands of blue dots in his ears. They were like fungi. His whole ear would turn blue. I still dont know the cause. But he showed me a picture of it and said that it happened to hin because he 24/7 used earphones. I know it was to scare me but now I only use earphones for 20 minutes tops.

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#48 A Disturbing Infection

Not a doctor but my grandma was radiologist. Working in a small rural town means you are only a few on at certain times. Well, she had a farmer come in complaining about itching in his leg cast. Going on two weeks. She had to help the nurse get the cast off and they found the problem. His entire leg was infected with maggots. So calmly they worked to clean it and recast it. Apparently when grandma came home, she stripped quickly and went to shower.

#49 Bad Parenting

The ones that really infuriate me are stories about negligent parents who deny their injured children prompt medical attention because of laziness, cheapness, narcissism, and toxic masculinity...

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#50 Deny, Deny

The human capacity to deny the undeniable is amazing. As a radiologist I've seen an 8- lb ovarian tumor, a hand-sized facial malignancy neglected until it eroded an underlying artery, numerous neglected breast cancers (eroding through the skin). People will refuse to see what they really don't want to see.

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