Doctors never experience a dull moment. On top of dealing with very serious medical cases and traumatic situations, they also have to deal with patients who cry wolf and aren't even sure why they're seeking help in the first place. Be prepared to scratch your head in confusion—the following stories of doctors and their experience with not-so-smart patients will definitely give you second-hand cringe:
#1 Not An Allergy
I had to explain to a 17-year-old girl and her mother that she was not in fact "allergic" to adult beverages, but she was just hungover. She complained that on nights when she drank too much, usually on an empty stomach, she would feel nauseous, flushed and would sometimes hurl in the morning. But it didn't happen all the time, and there were no other typical symptoms of an allergic reaction.
#2 A Bad Taste
I worked at a pain management clinic. In an attempt to combat addiction, a lot of patients were prescribed a medicated cream. It looked a lot like sunscreen, and you just rubbed it onto the hurting areas. I watched the nurse carefully and slowly explain how to rub it onto the skin, using small, uncomplicated words and going through the motions of applying it several times... But every so often, patients would complain that their cream "tastes bad."
#3 But It Tasted Good
Oh yeah, I remember when I was a kid and when I secretly ate a whole tube of promethazine because it tasted so good. Then, I took a nap and my mom (who is also a doctor) almost had a heart attack when she checked up on me and smelled the air. My friends like to joke around and say I was living a SoundCloud rapper's dream.
#4 Two Magnets
I once had a child who swallowed a sizeable magnet that passed to the intestine and we were just waiting for it to pass in the stool. The next day when he came for follow up, we just found out that he swallowed another one that got stuck to the first magnet in the intestine through the stomach wall, resulting in intestinal obstruction. He was transferred to OR immediately to have them surgically removed.
#5 Avoiding The Talk
I had a mom bring her 12-year-old daughter to the emergency room because she was bleeding. Not from trauma mind you—the poor girl had started menstruating and the mom didn't want to explain what was happening, nor that it would continue to happen. On the upside, it was a very quick ER visit once they were actually seen.
#6 Surgery Processes
My dad is an orthopedic surgeon who does a lot of hips and knees. He cries with laughter every time he tells the story of a woman who didn’t understand how hip surgery works and thought they were going to take her leg off, fix the hip, and then reattach her leg. On a related note, I myself work in retina surgery—a solid 25% of people think this is how we fix their eye: take it out, fix it, put it back in.
#7 Bees And Burns
A woman came in because she got stung by a bee, not allergic and no reaction. It just hurt. A woman brought her kid in because he got stung by a bee, not allergic and no reaction. An entire family came in because they found a dead mouse in their apartment. A woman came in for a second-degree burn on her arm. That was roughly the size of a tic-tac. A woman spent like five minutes explaining to me that because of all the vaccinations we give dogs, we're seeing a rise in doggie autism.
#8 Cast Away
I had a patient come in stating that he couldn’t bend his knee.
I asked him to remove his trousers so I could examine his leg. After he removed his trousers, the reason that he couldn’t bend his knee was that he had a plaster cast around his knee. Checking his notes, he had been sent numerous letters asking him to come in for removal of this plaster cast and as he hadn’t attended any of the outpatient clinics the hospital had assumed that he had removed the cast himself.
#9 I've Got It
Paramedic here... I got a call for a stroke. The patient had facial droop and slurred speech, saying that it felt just like the last time she had a stroke (ten years ago). She said that the symptoms came on about "four days ago" and she knew the moment it was happening that it was a stroke, but didn't go to the hospital because she "thought she could make it go away on her own."
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#10 Just To Be Sure
I was in the ER once and a nurse asked me if it was possible I was PREGNANT. I told her no. She started prattling on about BC not being foolproof and asked what my preferred method was. When I responded "exclusively sleeping with women," she looked a little confused said she wasn't sure that was enough... so she asked me to go in a cup to make sure.
#11 Baby Teeth
Not a doctor, but a dental nurse. My favorite was a 30-something-year-old woman who came in for a check-up at the emergency low-cost clinic I worked at. The teeth were broken and almost black, and the gums are angry swollen, bright red and bleeding by just moving her tongue against them, needed multiple scaling appointments and a debridement.
The X-ray showed she had all but her wisdom teeth and 10 fillings. She also had root canals to try and save some teeth and extractions. I explained everything and did the usual explanation of proper oral hygiene. I asked her if she had any questions to which she replied, “It’s okay if I lose this set of teeth, my others will come through.”
#12 Improper Use
A 20-year-old girl came in with abdominal pains. We did a pregnancy test and she was pregnant. She acted surprised because she was on the pill. I asked her how long she'd been on it and if she had been taking it daily, as prescribed. As if it were the most logical thing on the planet, she said she did not take it daily because she did not need it daily. I looked at her trying hard not to laugh. "Only a couple of times a week," she quipped.
#13 Taking Initiative
Maybe the guy who had previously had an anaphylactic reaction to foodstuff, but wasn’t sure he was ‘really allergic’ so thought he’d test it out by bringing some to the ED waiting room and eating it. Spoiler: he was really allergic. I mean, an oral food challenge and observation with emergency equipment is a legitimate diagnostic test. Although initiation by a doctor is preferable, good on him for taking initiative.
#14 Holding It In
My one patient used to hold in her farts to the point of being in antagonizing pain because she thought that there was a certain amount of air inside a person, and if you let too much out you'll deflate. If that were true my irritable bowel should have turned me into Christian Bale in The Machinist, instead of a pink Homer Simpson.
#15 Sweet Tooth
A patient had recently been diagnosed with diabetes. We needed to adjust her blood sugar levels but she kept eating sweets. So we had a talk for like 30 minutes with her about not eating sweets and so on, and she seemed to understand. Five minutes after the conversation, she went around drinking a soda. She really didn't understand.
#16 The Cheesesteak Calzone
I'm not a doctor, but I work with them. The episode I can't forget is the time a patient with established coronary artery disease and current chest symptoms was in having an imaging cardiac stress test, and he sent out for a large cheesesteak calzone to be delivered to him between the stress and rest portions of the exam.
#17 Just Routine
An irate mom wanted to speak to the doctor because we took an "unauthorized" pregnancy test on her 16-year-old daughter just before X-rays. "I never consented and now she's traumatized," I explained to her that it is a standard procedure in females of child-bearing age and that consent to treatment was signed upon entrance to the facility. Not good enough. They were rich southeast Asian and I suspected that this routine standard was perceived as an insult to their status.
#18 Blame The Beets
I'm that patient. My dad is a doctor. As a kid, I called him in a panic because I was seeing blood whenever I went #1. Mind you, we were in Africa at that point and he was doing development work. He told me not to flush and rushed home. Just to clarify, my dad was in the middle of a meeting with a bunch of big kahunas from FAO, UN MSF, etc. and I ruined that instance for him. I'd eaten beets.
#19 The Sweater Lint Illusion
Not a doctor, but when I was in college this girl I was dating called me all freaked out that her skin, "was turning black." This was mid-day during the week. She said she was going to the hospital. My house was across the street from the university hospital, so I decided to head over to see what was up. She was distraught. I went into the examination room with her and she explained her situation to the doctor and showed him her arm. The doctor just rubbed her arm. Turned, out she was wearing a brand new black sweater and some of the fibers rubbed off on her.
#20 Puberty Problems
I never got “the talk.” I’m 62, we didn’t have health classes back in the Jurassic. Mine started at school and I thought I’d done something wrong. I kept going to the bathroom to check. Finally, my 5th-grade teacher (a man, by the way), took me aside during recess and gently asked me why I kept asking to be excused. I told him I was seeing blood. He NOPED out of the conversation and sent me to the school nurse, who called my mother to pick me up.
Mother must have been slightly prepared because after she brought me home, she handed me the Kotex sample pack and the book explaining what menstruation was. No talk, just “Read this.” Once I did, I begged her not to tell my dad because I was so ashamed. Don’t ask me about the training bra debacle in 6th grade.
#21 Maybe Try A Nutritionist?
Not a doctor, but I work in a pharmacy and the first person that came to mind was a very overweight lady (with an absolutely toxic personality, she always treated whoever was with her terribly). She would come in every few months with a new ad from Dr. Oz for a new product to help her lose weight that she made me place a special order for. Know what? She never shed any pounds.
#22 White Frosting Mask
I'm a paramedic. One time, I was called in for a diabetic. I got there and the patient was an older gentleman who was laying on a bed with what looked like a white mask on. I asked what was going on, and the family went on to explain that he was a diabetic. The doc told them to give him frosting if his sugar got low because the sugar content would perk him up. Turned out, he didn't explain that they should put it in his mouth. That's right. They put a white frosting mask on this poor guy. Shocker: It didn't work.
#23 The Power of Denial
Ob-gyn doctor here with 40 years of experience. About once a year, I would take care of someone in full-blown labor, full-term, who did not know she was pregnant. It's very hard to wrap my head around that, but I guess the denial power of the mind is substantial. It sounds bad, but maybe they were just overweight... I couldn't imagine not knowing I was pregnant.
#24 Fair Question
My wife is an RN who works at an outpatient surgery center. Cataract surgery is one of the common surgeries that they do. Patients are told that after the surgery, they should put eye drops in four times a day for one week, so 28 drops altogether. One patient asked if it would be okay to just put the 28 drops in all at once so they didn’t have to deal with it for a week...
#25 Eighth Times A Charm
One guy had a benign arrhythmia, which means the heart beats irregularly. He knew that he could get the arrhythmia from time to time, but as long as he didn't faint or get any pain in the chest, he could just take a beta-blocker and let it pass. But he went to the ER like six to seven times before he understood that we couldn't do anything.
#26 Allergic To Oxygen
Respiratory Therapist here. I was working in the ER and was told we were getting a patient in respiratory distress. When she got in, she was having problems breathing and needed oxygen. I was placing an oxygen mask on her and she yelled, "I'm allergic to oxygen!" I heard the doctor laugh behind the curtains.
#27 Deathly Hardheaded
There was a patient with multi-vessel coronary artery disease who came in with a heart attack. He was in dire need of a coronary artery bypass graft, yet he was only interested in hearing about EDTA chelation for treatment of his disease. After I spent an hour making sure he had at least the appropriate medications for risk reduction for the condition, he left them in the pharmacy.
#28 Totally Uncalled For
I’m not a doctor but I’m a medical admin. The other week we booked a male patient for an abdominal ultrasound. He kept saying he didn’t need it because he “wasn’t pregnant." Unless you know someone who is in the medical field, the only time you hear about ultrasounds is when someone is pregnant. I get it. But still, it was such an unnecessary comment.
#29 Double Time
The patient was given a small camera the size of a large pill to look for GI bleed. It is disposable and the pictures are stored on a belt-like device. Upon reviewing the film, the pill had taken two trips through their GI tract. The patient ate the camera, let it out, then ate it again because "it went through too fast the first time."
#30 Low Blood Glucose
I'm a paramedic. Clearly the man was having a stroke—it looked like the patient had something large in his mouth. Thinking maybe this guy had some sort of oropharyngeal cancer or mass, I asked his wife if this was indeed the case and she looked at me with a very puzzled look. She said no and then I asked, "What is in his mouth?" His wife then replied that it was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that she shoved in there. When her husband's symptoms started, she thought it was just that his blood glucose was low, so she tried to force-feed this poor man an entire sandwich before she called 911. Ah, job security.
#31 Poor Mom
There was the power-of-attorney who kept her mother intubated and refused to talk to doctors to at least allow us to give substandard care. Instead, she tortured her poor mother for days on end until lawyers had to intervene. This was due to the magical thought that her mother would just get better on her own. I guess you could call that hope?
#32 Not A Pimple
I had to explain to a nurse that what she was seeing inside her daughter's ear on an otoscope was a normal (cone of light) and NOT a pimple as she had thought initially. I told her she should NOT pop it with a needle as she had originally planned. I called her immediately, told her to leave it alone, and to bring the child in the next morning for me to look at.
#33 Generational Cluelessness
After my sister helped to deliver a baby boy, she had to explain to the mother, the grandmother, and the great grandmother what the private parts were. They were all pointing at it and acting very confused. Maybe they had never seen a newborn boy before and they were surprised at the size... But the odds of that happening for three generations? And none of them acquiring outside knowledge of male parts... For three generations?
#34 A Fake Objection
I had a patient who was paralyzed from a low back problem that was reversible by surgery. The night before surgery, his blood glucose was getting up pretty high, like 500-ish and climbing. I told him we had to start an insulin drip to control it. Wound healing and infection risk are greatly affected, and no surgeon would do this surgery with BG this high.
He then drops this line: "It is against my religion." Okay, in fairness, I get religious issues all the time, so I try to be a good doctor and ask. He states he is Catholic. It took me a freaking hour of my life at 3 a.m. to get him to take his insulin. He was so close to spending another day without the use of his legs because he made up a religious objection to insulin.
#35 Children's Dentures
The youngest person I’ve dealt with for dentures was a six-year-old. All her baby teeth were broken down and rotten that we had to extract them all and give her dentures until her adult ones came through. Once she started getting adult ones, she had to have partial dentures made. I’ve not seen her in a while but I know she will need extensive orthodontic treatment. Parents don’t realize that messing up baby teeth actually affects adult ones.
#36 Poor Dog
Vet here. I had to explain to a client what a uterus was. It is "where the puppies are when the dog is pregnant." He still didn't understand and left, even though his dog had a serious and life-threatening condition (pyometra). You can treat a pyometra with antibiotics but only if you catch it early enough. Most times they're not caught till the infection is advanced which is why surgery seems to be more common. I felt so bad for the dog.
#37 What A Waste
I put a very expensive implanted device in a patient with government-funded care. She came to the follow-up appointment with a gaping wide infected wound. She said she thought it would help the healing if she had her dog lick it. The device had to be removed and discarded. It ended up being a waste of time, money, and resources.
#38 A Brain Game
Not a doctor or nurse, but a patient care assistant. A guy came in for a traumatic brain injury because he tried to rob a taxi driver and the taxi driver ran him over. This man had to wear a helmet at all times but he went outside to remove it, and then proceeded to lay on the concrete ground. He had a piece of skull removed to alleviate pressure so any amount of pressure directly to the brain would end him.
#39 Hot And Cold
A young adult male comes to the ER complaining that he lost sensation in his feet. It's cold outside and he's working outdoors. I take a look at his legs and there is no sign of frostbite whatsoever. "Oh wow, my feet are feeling a lot better now that I'm in the warm building." I just advised him to wear thicker socks. What a waste of time
#40 A Bad Drink
There was a 24-year-old patient who was brought in from a jail in a rural county. He was working roadside cleanup when he found a bottle in a ditch that he thought contained whiskey and he quickly chugged it down. To be fair, it did look like whiskey. It wasn’t.
It turns out it was a substance that contained sulfuric acid. Its pH was less than 2.5... it just ate up the litmus paper. So, shortly after he got to the ICU, he was in excruciating pain and vomiting blood. The gastroenterologist took him to do an EGD (basically a procedure where they can look at the esophagus, stomach and duodenum with a camera attached to a flexible tube) and the pictures were horrendous. You could literally see his stomach and esophageal mucosa eroding away.
He had to be sent off to another hospital where they had an esophageal surgeon who could repair the mess. He, of course, needed multiple surgeries and had a very long hospital stay. I saw him a few months later for another issue. He was down to 90 lbs (from about 150) and was getting fed through a PEG tube. He was very lucky to be young and otherwise healthy (but obviously not very smart).
#41 Fruit Stickers
I work in an ER and my favorite was the guy who came in because he thought that when he ate an apple a few days ago, he may have eaten the sticker on it. He wanted an X-ray to see if the sticker was still in him. FYI, the material used to make those stickers is food-grade and edible. It was a bit of a dumb request but he was so genuinely curious it was hard to be annoyed at him.
#42 Dr. Google Strikes Again
I had a young woman with a sinus infection... After telling her as such and offering a prescription for Augmentin, she demands to be tested for HIV. Basically, she was concerned because she’s had two colds this winter, and that’s unusual for her. So, she put her symptoms into Dr. Google, who promptly told her she might be immunocompromised and have HIV. No amount of reassurance convinced her, so after much crying on her part, I ran an HIV test, which was shockingly negative.
#43 Toilet Numbness
I work in a vascular office. I had a middle-aged woman come in with complaints of numbness and tingling in her feet and legs. It happens frequently and it's very painful that you can’t even walk. Me: “Do you notice these symptoms more when you’re lying down or walking?” Her: “Neither. It only happens when I’m sitting on the toilet. I like to play games on my phone but my legs and feet go numb after I’ve been sitting a while. I’m afraid I got poor circulation.” I took everything I had to continue that conversation with a straight face.
#44 It's A Miracle
I saw an elderly woman in the ED who had a nosebleed for like one hour. She showed me three towels drenched in blood and told me that the bleeding wouldn't stop. I asked her what she had already done to stop the bleeding.
"I just held these towels under my nose."
"And did you pinch your nose?"
"No, why would I do that?"
So, after she was instructed to pinch her nose for 10 minutes, the bleeding miraculously stopped.
#45 A Mean Shrimp Sandwich
One patient came in and when we ran a test, we found that he had a pH of 6.97! That is on the border of what the body can have (really, he should have been dead). But he was awake and clear. We wanted to admit him to the ICU and adjust it with the utmost care. But he needed to go home... To eat a shrimp-sandwich... Yes, a shrimp-sandwich. We sat down and talked to him and his mother for 30 minutes that no shrimp-sandwich in the world is worth a life... But nope, he left. He came back a couple of hours later and we cured his acidosis. That must have been a mean shrimp-sandwich.
#46 What A Crybaby
Not a patient, but a fellow classmate in graduate school. He separated his shoulder and had to wear a sling. He was not supposed to put weight on the arm at all. We'd regularly see him resting, putting full weight on the arm, while in the sling. He was later kicked out for repeatedly failing tests and underperforming. He tried to sue the school, after the expulsion, for racism (I believe he was of South Asian descent). Needless to say, not a very intelligent individual.
#47 So Many Issues
A patient came in because she bought a jar of tomato sauce from a store which she opened by herself and cooked by herself in her apartment where she lived alone. She then tasted this sauce and decided it was contaminated with human blood. She brought the cooked sauce to the ER for testing and wanted to get tested for HIV herself...
#48 Another Doctor, Please
My daughter is a psychiatrist and she’s told me many a story. She has a mother bring her eight-year-old son in and insisted he had an oppositional defiant disorder. She said she diagnosed him with being a regular seven-year-old who didn’t want to do things he didn’t understand the benefit of or sit still when he could be running and playing.
She basically said it was because she didn’t want to be judged as a bad mother for having a poorly behaved son, and wanted to be able to attribute his behavior to an illness. She came back again after two other doctors refused to diagnose him. So my daughter explained to her there were parenting classes she could take and that the answer was not to have her child formally diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder on a record that would follow him the rest of his life. She asked if she could see a different doctor at the hospital.
#49 Bite Down
Not a doctor, but a stupid patient. I was at a local clinic because of an ear infection. I was instructed to bite down on a wooden spatula so he could see if had any pain in my jaw. Directly after that, he was going to feel the inside of my mouth with his fingers, and I bit his finger out of a reflex from the wooden stick before. Not one of my proudest moments to say the least. One of the dumbest things I have ever done.
#50 Always Read The Label
My brother is a pharmacist in a hospital. One patient got tar (I think) on his privates and, in trying to get it off, he used something highly corrosive. He read the warning label to wear protective gloves and so he did before applying it directly to his privates. It may have happened to him while he was working construction.