November 18, 2020 | Casey Fletcher

Doctors Share The Rare Medical Cases That Shouldn't Have Made It

Doctors see it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. On top of constantly being under high stress, they also have to deal with the fact that they don't have the answers to everything. Sometimes that leads to sad moments, but other times it leads to complete miracles. The following stories are of the latter scenario, and they will leave you scratching your head in confusion:

#1 The Man Who Lived

We had a guy with a major aortic dissection one night. From the bedside ultrasound, he looked like he had already bled out. He had some chest pain, but he was alert and oriented, and we were shocked he was even still alive. He absolutely shouldn’t have been with how much blood we saw and the size of the dissection. We called the surgeon in and he was really blunt. He explained to the guy he was probably not going to make it in surgery.

He was a young guy, like late-forties. He was on a business trip, and it was completely unexpected. He kept trying to call his wife, but it was like 2 a.m. and she wasn’t answering. He just wanted to talk and tell her goodbye. It was actually pretty devastating to watch. Meanwhile, he was so coherent and alert it was as if he wasn’t actively bleeding out. Most patients we would get in the same situation wouldn’t be conscious or would already be lifeless.

They swooped him off to surgery before he could contact his wife, and the dude lived. Remembering that story got me through a lot of tough years in the ER because I think it just reminded me that hope and good outcomes are still out there.


#2 Made It Through

A fit guy in his 50s came in looking like he was having a STEMI but he had a normal ECG. I could see a dissection flap and got him to the scanner in about two minutes. The cardiothoracic experts came down. They told him he had an 80% chance of dying intra-op. He was calling all his family and some friends to say goodbye. It was heartbreaking. It also made controlling his BP impossible. Every time he started talking to a new person on the phone, it would shoot up. Anyway, he made it through surgery. Extubated the next day. I went down to ICU to see him and he was sitting up eating lunch!


#3 Still Going Strong

A woman in her 60s had a dissection from the aortic arch to the past renal arteries. There were 20-something centimeters of dissection. She was diagnosed when she had a collapse with no pulse in ED after thinking it was "just food poisoning." She had like two liters of tamponade, an ischemic gut, and a kidney supplied through the false lumen. She was initially considered for palliation but miraculously rallied. Somehow, she remained alive a year later and she's now training for her first triathlon!


#4 Sneaky Sodas

A lady in her mid-30s was in the clinic for a one-week follow-up post foot amputation. She was admitted straight from the clinic because her blood glucose was 600mg/dl (the normal is 80-120) and the wound was severely infected. We used super-concentrated doses of insulin to bring it back to the 200s. She was on strict diet restrictions and we couldn't figure out how it wouldn't drop any lower than 250. Turns out, her kids had been sneaking giant 64-oz sodas and candy bars into the hospital, literally one week after we chopped her foot off because of uncontrolled diabetes.


#5 A Lucky Fall

I work in trauma and once I had a guy fall off a roof. He said he remembered hitting the bars on the scaffolding on the way down. We originally thought he'd fractured his femur but nope, he just had a small hematoma. He was in bed next to a man who had broken his ribs and had a small C spine fracture when he fell forward picking up his keys.


#6 A Life-Changing Slip

A friend of mine had to get his entire leg amputated because he slipped off the bottom step of a ladder and bent his knee backward. It apparently pinched some type of main blood vessel and his entire leg eventually got necrosis when they had him in the hospital. They tried to helicopter him to some other hospital but there were high winds, so they had him sitting there with the necrosis spreading. Over a stupid one-foot slip.


#7 Code Blue

I was on a home call for the ER in a small town. I got a call from the ER nurse one night and she was like, "EMS brought someone in here and they think she might be dead?" I was like, "Well, IS she?!" She was like, "I don't know." This was a seasoned RN, by the way, so I was like, well, guess we're treating this is a "code blue" kind of situation, so without any further information, I jumped into my car and rushed over to the hospital.

Once I got there, I realized why the triage nurse was so confused. In the trauma bay, lay what appeared to be skeletonized remains under a blanket. The person felt warm to touch, so I opened her eyes, and a yellow, wrinkled, shrunken eyeball stared at me and then suddenly MOVED.  The backstory was extreme self-neglect and depression combined with caregiver neglect. She weighed in at 67 lbs at a height of about 5'5". We actually resuscitated her, very aggressively, and unbelievably, after about eight liters of fluid, she started speaking a word or two at a time and recognized her daughter.


#8 Back To Dust

As a med student on my emergency rotation, I had a guy brought in who had fallen off a 7th or 8th-floor balcony and landed on his head. Essentially DOA and we couldn’t get a blood pressure when he got to the hospital. As a student, my job was to basically stand to the side and squeeze the bazillion bags of blood that went into this dude. His cervical spine was essentially dust on the initial CT scan we got. I figured he probably wouldn’t have made it but about a month later I’m now on my ICU rotation and I see this guy awake and conscious. Pretty crazy.


#9 The Cockroach

During residency, my ICU patient had to have his chest reopened less than an hour after a 6-hour open heart CABG surgery. He needed 12 units of blood and his heart was massaged then shocked four times. A cardiothoracic surgeon in the ICU started operating because there was no time to go back down to OR. Nurses called him the "cockroach."

I checked in on him for four weeks. He was unresponsive every day. On week two, we had to consult ENT... To take maggots out of his nose. I was sure he was a goner after that. Week three passed, no change. Then, week four, day 24 I believe, at 6 a.m., he opened his eyes. I was shocked. He has a permanent trach and ostomy now but he is somehow alive.


#10 Through It All

My dad is 87. He had prostate, liver, bowel, colon, and skin cancer. For skin cancer, he had lots of reconstructive surgeries (his whole tibia region and the back of his hands). Every year, he has to have at least one skin lesion removed. He had a couple of heart attacks and then a sextuple bypass surgery. He also had pneumonia, a huge abscess, and a small stroke. His doctor wants to see him every six months. I think just to be amazed that he's still walking around.


#11 Grandma's Resilience

My grandma was reclusive so she never saw a doctor. By dumb luck, she managed to break a leg and was forced to go to the hospital. The doctor outright told me and my mom that my grandma shouldn't be alive. She weighed under 70 pounds for over a decade. She was in her late-70s. Her diet consisted of basically Ensure shakes.

She ignored most of the doctor's advice and never got above like 85 pounds. Somehow, she lived to her mid- to late-80s. She spent the last half-decade of her life making life as miserable as possible for everyone around her. Apparently, spite can keep you alive. Her final year was spent watching the 2015 primaries and raging about both sides. Like seriously? This election doesn't impact you. Play Candy Crush or something.


#12 I Am Not Dead

When I was born, my heart stopped, and they couldn’t find any brain activity for a solid two minutes, so they pronounced me dead. I am not dead. There was another time when I had an anaphylactic reaction, and my heart once again stopped and my brain didn’t show any activity, This time I was pronounced dead for five minutes. I am not dead. There was one time where I fell down half of a cliff and lost about half to A little bit over half of my blood, and they thought me to be dead for the entire ride to the hospital. I am not dead.


#13 A Crazy Surprise

They examined my mom because they just saw a mass right next to where I was so they opened her up. They took me out, set me aside, removed the mass and then put me back and sewed her up. The mass (I'm not sure what else to call it) had hair, fingernails, and some features... It turned out to have been my mom’s twin that had never caused her problems before. When she got pregnant with me though, the hormones caused the twin to grow so that it was pressing on me. Crazy to think they did that in 1981.


#14 A Medical Miracle

A couple of pictures of my before-and-after brain surgeries were on the front page around this time last year. The mortality rate for acute subdural hematomas is 50-90%. Of those who live, approximately 20-30% regain any brain functioning. Due to the subdural hematoma, the bleeding in my skull was so severe that I also had cranial herniation.

My brain tilted five millimeters, causing my brainstem to compress into my spinal cord. That I not only lived, but woke up, and recovered well enough to go back to work, get married, travel the world, and return to baseline physically is a straight-up medical miracle. I’m still in touch with the neurosurgeon who was on call at the hospital that day, and he says the same thing.


#15 The Immortal Man

My mom's a doctor. When my mom was in her ER cycle during an internship, a man with police officers behind him came to the ER. The man was perfectly fine and walking, so my mom and her colleagues were confused. The officers showed them a picture of a crumpled metal piece, which was a car. It didn't look like a car at all, just metal trash. The officers told my mom and her colleagues that they rescued the patient from the car, which was lit on fire only a few seconds after they rescued him. The patient didn't have a single scar on him; he was perfectly fine, and got his name around the hospital for being "immortal."

Doctor PatientHealth

#16 A Well-Fought Life

I'm currently in residency, but this was a patient I saw in medical school: This one has more to do with a patient's past medical history instead of anything acute. I had one patient in one of my internal medicine rotations who was admitted for hip surgery. She was one of the nicest sweetest people I've ever met. Her surgery was pretty routine and there were no complications.

In her past medical history, she was diagnosed with stage IV endometrial cancer that had spread to her brain. Apparently, she had undergone chemo, radiation, primary tumor resection, and surgery to remove the brain met. She remained cancer-free since that period. The fact that she had undergone that whole ordeal and appeared to be mostly healthy and was in remission from her cancer really blew my mind.


#17 A Positive Attitude

A guy, now passed away who had incurable lung cancer from Agent Orange exposure during infantry service in Vietnam and his wife had recently died. The guy was pretty positive glass-half-full about chemo considering the double-whammy. I asked him how he managed to keep it on the positive. He said he was returning to base with just days left on his enlistment.

A rookie pilot had a mechanical failure of some sort in their Huey. They were going down, and not in the controlled kind of landing either. He assumed he was about to die: said everything got really slow and really bright. He had a sense of acceptance and peace washed over him. The rookie pulled one out at the last moment, landed their bird with no casualties. The patient told me he felt he should have died that day, and every single day since was a complete gift. Maybe being alive has a lot to do with attitude!


#18 Dodged A Bullet

Obligatory not a doctor, but my dad is and he liked to tell us about the crazy things he saw. Once, he had a huge guy, linebacker build, come into the trauma ward with a wound in the dead center of the chest. He could breathe fine and he had a pulse. So they did a chest X-ray and found that a bullet had spent all its energy getting through the guy's sternum and was just resting on his pericardium.


#19 Buttery Pierogi

My great-grandma went to hospice because she was no longer ambulatory. She needed help using the restroom and started losing weight. A month in, her nurse came in to find her in the restroom on her own steam. This was paired with a marked weight gain. Turns out,  the nursing home food was bad so she just wasn't eating enough, but the hospice facility let her have salty, buttery pierogi and kielbasa again, so she started eating.


#20 Brittle Diabetes

My father’s doctor couldn’t believe that a) he didn’t need to amputate his feet, and b) he was still alive. My dad had “brittle diabetes.” His pancreas would kick in and out due to a congenital deformity. At 82, he had significant heart issues, including angina, an enlarged heart, and clogged arteries. One day, his feet went black (Not just bluish, or grey; black as charcoal).

He was rushed to an emergency. We were told they would amputate, but “to say our goodbyes.” Dad refused surgery. He said he’d rather be dead, at his age. Hours later, his feet were pink. We took him home that morning. The doctor actually apologized for upsetting us but said he’d never seen anything like it.


#21 Whatta Good Boy

Veterinarian here. A dog got hit by a train. It severed the dog’s leg and the dog carried its own leg home. The owner brought the dog and leg to the ER. The leg could not be reattached due to significant damage to the limb. Dogs do great as tripods though. Imagine seeing a three-legged dog running with a leg in his mouth, I guess I would think something like, "Dang, the catch is getting extreme."


#22 I'm Here For Mom

Patient here. When I was seven, I had horrible asthma. My mom often lied in my bed with me and listened to my breathing. One night, she fell asleep and jerked awake in the wee hours of the night. She found that I was not breathing. She brought me to the ER immediately because it was only like 10 minutes away. Not sure what happened while there or what tests they did, but I was declared dead.

In the morning, I woke up, asked who I believe was a nurse where I was, and she started crying and called in my mother, who hadn't slept all night. The doctors said they didn't know how the heck I was still alive. Now I'm 16 and haven't had any hospital-worthy complications since. My mom is the most amazing and loving person on this green Earth.


#23 Five-Story Miracle

I’m not a doctor, but I did meet a patient who fell from a five-story building, landed on his upper back, woke up in the hospital the next morning, and got up walking around like nothing ever happened. Barely a scratch on him. I think about it every time I’m in a building with at least five stories, just looking down, like... How in the world did this guy walk away from that as if he fell off his bike? Actually, I’ve seen worse injuries from someone falling off a bike.


#24 Gutting Through

Not a doctor, but I was the patient. When I was in boot camp, I developed an upper respiratory infection during the second phase. I didn't want to get dropped back a platoon, so I gutted through. I got back and went to sick call where they treated me for a host of things. When they X-rayed my chest, the doctors came out with my films and literally asked, "How the heck are you still alive? Your lungs are so full of mucous you should be dead!" I turned into walking pneumonia at some point. I also had an athlete's foot problem that turned into cellulitis and my last wisdom tooth was yanked. So the combination of meds they had me on was enough that I don't even remember that week at all.


#25 Denial From Grief

I'm a funeral director and I received the body of a 90-something man. I could tell he had been sick for quite some time just by looking at his face. Another funeral director did the embalming, so I hadn't seen the rest of his body. Seeing that he was so old and just looked sick, I was surprised when I met with his daughter and she inquired about an autopsy.

I asked her my usual questions and discovered that this man, for 40+ years, had unregulated diabetes. He was shot on three different occasions in his life. He had a history of strokes. He had bedsores, deep ones. He was in and out of the hospital for sepsis, pneumonia. His vision was going and he couldn't keep himself awake, horrible jaundice, cirrhosis. He also had an infected kidney removed. The list goes on and on. I don't think this man lived one healthy day in the last 20 years.

I ask the daughter, "So, you want an autopsy because...?"

She tells me that her father was not an ill man and it was not "his time to go." She was furious I even questioned her request. I'm baffled that this man lived for 90+ years. The denial people can experience in hand with grief is astounding.


#26 High Score

We had one of these at an eye doctor's office of all places. The patient was complaining about how her new glasses weren't working, so the doctor took her in back to check to see if the prescription needed tweaking. The doctor came up with a completely different prescription. The patient was overweight but claimed she was not diabetic.

The doctor convinced her to let us take a blood sugar measurement with a staff member's personal glucose meter. All the meter displayed was "HI." With some arguing, we were able to get her to go to the local hospital right away. I don't remember what her blood sugar level was, but I remember it was the hospital's "high score" for a while. She should not have been conscious let alone functioning normally.


#27 Three T-Shirts

My friend in nursing school was in charge of checking in and out a habitual patient that also was seen by a full nurse and doctor. At the checkout, she noticed a bandage on the guy. "Oh, that's for my hole!" The guy had an open sore that kept getting bigger and bigger and he had stuffed three t-shirts in it. He had been having repeated health problems and they just listened to his lungs.


#28 That's Gross

My mother. We use to live in East Texas and my mom had this lady come in who had a huge infected wound in her leg; like massive to the point they had to amputate it. My mom had asked her why she waited so long before coming in when it was obviously festering. Well, it turns out this woman was letting her dogs "lick it clean because their mouths are clean" and she was soaking it in Dr. Pepper because she thought the carbonation would help... Needless to say, my mother looked at her like a deer in the headlights when she said that.


#29 Team Effort

I had liver failure when I was eight months pregnant. My baby had stopped moving for several hours, so they did a C-section. They found out during bloodwork that my liver had failed. I almost needed a transplant. I bled so much that my body used up all its clotting stuff. I was in ICU for three days and in the hospital for two weeks. My liver recovered and I went home with my son. We could have both died. The hepatology department and maternity department were working together, which is not a usual thing for them.


#30 Against The Odds

I had a patient who was literally cut in half at the pelvis after a car hit him and pinned him to a telephone pole. Paramedics carried his legs separately. He was wide awake and talking to me as we quickly put in a central line and he got all the bleeders ligated by like five different surgeons. He declined pain meds repeatedly, what a legend. He was in the OR five minutes later. Luckily, this was at a major academic center with an exceptional trauma surgery team. Apparently, the guy lived, not sure what his quality of life was after, but pretty crazy.


#31 Full Recovery

This happened to a patient of mine while I was out for my own surgery. The temp provider filling in for me diagnosed her with bronchitis. She was my first patient back after surgery. I sent her in for a CT immediately and the radiologist called me to marvel about how this woman was still walking around. Her appendix had been ruptured for about a week. She had to have multiple surgeries and had a drain in place for about four months but made a full recovery. That temp did not get invited back.


#32 Uremic Frost

ER doctor here. Oh my goodness, so many patients. Too many to tell. One good one: I once took care of a guy in the rural South who came to the hospital because people said he was growing salt. And he was—totally covered in what looked like snow. Uremic frost! The guy had been in renal failure for three months and had been vomiting every day which kept his potassium low enough that he didn’t die! But it was still 9.7, his ECG was a sine wave, and he definitely should have been dead. Google uremic frost. It’s a good one.


#33 The Impossible

My sister was the patient, but every doctor who's gone through her whole file has had this reaction. When she was nine, she fell around 35 feet off a bluff and landed head first on bedrock. Shattered every bone in her skull. A very well known neurosurgeon took a look at her when she was brought in and said: "Sorry, there is absolutely nothing I can do for her, I'd say she had a 10% chance of surviving the night, say your goodbyes now." Three weeks in a coma, three months in an ICU, and six months as an in-patient, she's still alive today. She has permanent damage of course, but holy cow can kids' bodies recover from a lot.


#34 Seeing Red

I went to the doctor who said I had the flu. A week later, I was passing out. I was told to go straight to the hospital after a blood test revealed my hemoglobin was below five. They were so shocked when I walked in there and was standing, chatting with everyone. I was due for another period in a few days and if I hadn't gone there it probably would have killed me. Not many pills work and I still get bad periods 10 years later. I'm still not allowed a hysterectomy though in case I want babies in the future.


#35 An Open Skull

I had a patient in the emergency room who had been involved in an awful car accident where firefighters and paramedics spent an hour trying to get him out of his car. Reportedly, he attempted to walk to the ambulance and when he arrived he was awake and talking. Confused speech, but still. Then paramedics signaled the back of his head to me. His skull was POPPED OPEN on the back so much that I could see inside. We paged the brain surgeon immediately and the patient was taken directly to the operation theatre. Months later I heard from my colleague that he was still alive and had no damages other than some occasional balance problems.


#36 Accident Prone

I almost died three times as a kid... first for illness, second, because I had the bright idea to eat a poisonous office plant, and third, because I managed to fall from the stairs cutting somehow my left wrist. As a bonus, I could add a fourth time, when I had my sister saving me by catching me from the heels while I was going to fall off a window after my attempt to call the dog outside. I still ask myself how I managed to stay alive for 27 years.


#37 In And Out

This kid hit up a convenience store near the hospital where I was working. He ended two people, one a kid. He had been beaten to and his car was wrecked. Thanks to the magic of CCTV and video monitors, it was all recorded. That was his last free day. My job was to get him in and out. We got him up and running, and the real hard part was seeing a 19-year-old realizing life as he knew it was over.


#38 Still Kickin'

My grandfather is a medical anomaly. His doctors hate him so much. He cut out a cancer lump with a pocket knife (I was like nine and held the paper towels).  He cut his thumb in half, and also the pointer on the adjacent hand (the long way, looks like a claw). He cut a hole in his middle (I was young and helped clean and bandage). He survived a stroke, has had a brain aneurism, a hernia, and only has like, four teeth. He's a freaking mess. But still kickin'.


#39 Still Alive

My dad served during the Gulf War and said he had to work on a guy whose head got run over by a tank. What happened was a Marine fell asleep against the treads and the tank drove over him; I guess the fact they were in the sand and wearing a helmet saved him, but only barely. My dad said the guy was still incredibly messed up, but he never went into specifics.


#40 Back To Life

Not a doctor, but my cousin was in a terrible motorcycle accident a few months ago. She had to be life-flighted to the hospital where they found out her ankle was broken, her hip was shattered, I believe there may have been a tear in an artery somewhere, and the big one: she was internally decapitated. She was rushed into surgery to reattach her skull to her spine, and they had little hope she would ever walk again. It's now been less than 6 months and she's back to work as a nurse.


#41 Never The Same

My old roommate's wife came to our apartment one night after working in the ER. She is an NP now in a practice but she worked in a hospital for a while. A patient had jumped off his THIRD story balcony and landed in a bush and was totally fine, so naturally, he tried again. In the second attempt, a branch got lodged in him. When they removed said bush, he lost the elasticity of his muscles. Toilet time will never be the same for this guy again.


#42 Half-Brained

I had an adult patient who was missing the right half of the brain. He had a severe brain injury, likely a stroke during infancy. Most infant brains are amazingly plastic. They do a great job in recovery. He had mild to moderate cognitive impairment. I saw him when he was in his 40s. He got a CT scan of his head for some unrelated reason. I had a similar reaction to most of you around. Then I remembered, the brain is a brain. It’s weird.


#43 My Unexpected Twin

Patient here. When I was two, I was being treated for asthma due to wheezing, labored breathing, etc. One night, it got exceptionally bad so my mom took me to the ER. They laid me face down to do a CT scan and when they were done, they turned me back over and I was blue... I had stopped breathing. The CT revealed a volleyball-sized mass in my chest.

Emergency surgery revealed what was supposed to be my twin. It kept growing inside my rib cage and finally had nowhere to go in my toddler body, so it cut off my airway. It had fingernails, hair, appendages... everything but major organs. I made a full recovery. I am a healthy 31-year-old now. Zero asthma. The only remnant of that night is a scar that goes from the center of my chest to the center of my back.


#44 That's Odd

I was walking around for a few months with a hemoglobin reading of 6.1. Docs said that's generally what they see in patients bleeding out in the ER. A couple of interesting things were that I was doing a lot of HIIT at the time—I thought my conditioning was bad because every time I walked upstairs, I'd be out of breath. I also had a strange desire to eat and play with sand for like three months.


#45 The Lucky Lebanese

I work in an ER in Lebanon where the construction safety regulations are a bit "lax." A few years back, I remember that construction workers were falling off buildings like dominos. One guy came in having fallen from a few stories up and got impaled by an iron bar that went through the back of his neck and out of his left eye socket. The guy was alive and talkative when he got to our ER. He got rushed down to surgery. Apparently, it had missed every vital structure somehow and the guy didn't even lose vision in his eye.


#46 The Baffled Doctor

My dad had aortic stenosis which was so severe he had been fainting and falling. He left the hospital he was in because he wanted to go to the cardiac surgeon who had done his triple bypass 5 years earlier. He left the hospital on a Friday but made an appointment on the following Tuesday. I went with him and we took the train into the city.

My brother met us and wanted to take the subway but I saw my dad was really winded so we grabbed a taxi. When we saw the surgeon, he looked at my dad's scans and said "How did you get here today? Did you take the train? Are you kidding me?" His stenosis was even more severe than the size they normally operated on. I think the surgeon was surprised my dad didn't drop dead on the train!


#47 You Just Don't Know

Not a doctor, former EMT. One time, I got called to a guy who had been struck by a sharp object in front of a bar. 30 odd wounds.  It was an absolute mess, but the dude apparently survived. Three days later, a different guy walked out of a different bar and tripped on a curb, hitting his head on a patio table. He was talking to us on the way to the hospital but died two hours later from a brain bleed. Sometimes you just don't know.


#48 A Persistent Heart

A cardiac surgeon here. I had this happen... twice. It's called an infarct aneurysm. After a severe heart attack, the dead heart muscle balloons outwards with every beat. Not completely compatible with life with the progression of time. What was shocking was, the aneurysm ruptured in these two patients and was resealed by the pericardium spontaneously. It was literally a hole in the heart wall on the outer side being patched by a thin membrane. Ticking time bomb. One of the patients got operated, is now fine. The other one refused surgery. He walked home.


#49 Almost Saved

A lady walked in with a hematocrit of 5 (normal is above 35 for adults and transfusion usually happens when you drop below 21g). She had been bleeding internally for a while. Most people get short of breath or weak or light-headed. Unfortunately, her heart stopped shortly after she arrived and she died before we could give her any blood. This was in a developing country and no blood immediately available.


#50 Serious Sarcasm

Med student here. We had cardiology practice. I went to a patient on a bed, started asking around. He was chubby, with glasses, and bad teeth health. Turns out he had type 2 diabetes. I asked whether it was treated. He said, "Yeah, I treat it with eight bakery goods a day (doughnuts, chocolate bread)." I didn’t even know what to answer to that.




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