Doctors have to deal with a lot in their profession. From difficult medical cases to long hours, it can be a very demanding job. What's even worse can the be patients at times. Especially when the patient isn't the brightest light bulb.
Doctors on Reddit share their "now that was stupid" moments they've had with patients. Content has been edited for clarity.
She Should Have Listened To Her Physician
“A patient I took care of many many years ago was absolutely the stupidest ever! Or foolish. It seems that she had discovered a lump on her chest.
She went to the doctor after a few months of doing nothing about it. The doctor did a biopsy and told her that it was cancerous.
She fled. She refused to speak to the doctor, who had called her for follow-up. The doctor telephoned her, went to her home, spoke to her husband, practically begging her go come in for a lumpectomy. He was nearly desperate, because he knew the biopsy-related diagnosis was severe. Finally, when the lesion reached the surface and opened a fistula, she listened to reason and went into the hospital. Stage IV carcinoma! By then it, had been a couple of years since she had found the lump.
They did a bilateral mastectomy and then treated her with heavy radiation to try desperately to save her. She ended up with a colostomy (the cancer had metastasized to her intestines!) and the heavy radiation treatments had caused a huge lesion on her back. The lesion was half the width of her back from shoulder to shoulder, and extended from mid-thorax down to just above her hips and her spinal vertebrae were thinly visible through the skin grafts!
The stupid part? She was, when I was treating her, suing her physician for not doing enough to get her in for surgery! And, she told me, she expected to WIN her malpractice case!
She died, of course. I don’t know if her husband followed through on the suit or dropped it. That poor physician had done everything he could to get her to return for surgery, short of camping on her front lawn! For two years!”
Maybe Stick To Goldish
“About 30 years ago, (when I was a paramedic) there were several guys in their late teens and early twenties fishing in a lake near town. This lake is a pretty large, man-made reservoir and a place for boating, sailing, camping and fishing. These guys were fishing from the shore, and I guess the fish weren’t biting all that much so they were able to spend more time on their other pastime; drinking. Well, as young boys will, they started thinking about what funny thing they could dare each other to do and of course one of them suggests eating their bait. Their live bait. Minnows to be exact. These small fish (about the size of a carnival goldfish) could easily be swallowed whole with a half can of one of their drinks. After one or two rounds, one of the guys decides to take it up a notch and he pulls out a red ear sunfish he caught a few minutes before.
These fish tend to deploy their spikes when they are alarmed or threatened. A good example of that ‘threat’ would be an 18 year old boy attempting to swallow you whole with a river of fluid. The perch made it about a third of the way down his esophagus before becoming lodged. He swallowed it head first (because he didn’t want to get poked by the fins…. Smart), but his swallow was too slow and the fish too large and it got stuck. The tail of the fish was visible in the back of the throat so his friends tried to grab it with needle nose pliers and pull it out. That was a mistake. The dorsal fin then entered the esophagus and the fish was incredibly lodged. And alive. Very alive. And the tail was flapping back and forth over the glottis causing a major airway issue.
He was taken by ambulance to the emergency and he nearly died. His friends succeeded in tearing most of the tail off the fish, but it was still alive. He ended up with a cricothyroidotomy and a trip to the operating room to have the fish removed surgically. As his friends messed around with the fish in the back of his throat, he vomited of course. Lots of fluid. This was even more of an airway issue.
So, if you’re thinking about swallowing a live fish of any size remember this. The surgery is a massive deal and fish are not sterile. Those fins often contain a deadly mix of bacteria (especially catfish) and occasionally even venom. After the acute phase of treatment, you are still facing a long road to recovery. Holes in your esophagus allow gastric contents through as well and that is a major problem for your lungs and heart. Better by far to stick to those little yellow cracker goldfish snacks with a drink.”
A Lot Of Eye Rolling For A Good Reason
“This elderly woman fell at a nursing home, they put her back in her chair, told her to wait for the doctor/x-ray tomorrow and promptly ignore her complaints. So she calls 911 from her cell phone. We show up, we’re assessing her, I send my partner to go get paperwork, and he comes back with an utterly baffled RN who wants to know what we’re doing. I tell her that we got a call for this person, she’s complaining of post-fall pain, and can I have the paperwork please? The nurse explains that they didn’t arrange the transport and didn’t have any paperwork ready, which was understandable. Then, she goes on and asserts that the patient cannot go to the hospital with us.
This is where it gets dumb. I rack my brain trying to think of a legal reason why an alert and oriented adult couldn’t make decisions about their healthcare.
‘Is she on a hold of some kind?’ I ask. No, she is not.
‘Is she conserved?’ I ask. No, she is not.
‘Does she have dementia that prevents her from making care decisions?’ I ask.
‘So why can’t she go?’ I inquired, completely baffled.
‘The doctor said he didn’t want her sent out,’ the nurse said.
‘Okay, well, she’s an adult, and unless she is legally detained in some way, she can make her own care decisions. We’re taking her to the hospital now, can I have paperwork on her please?’ I said.
Obviously exasperated, the nurse tells us to hold on and runs off. My partner and I roll eyes at each other, we and the patient roll eyes at each other, everyone rolls eyes at each other, and we load the patient onto the gurney. As we’re heading out the door, having given up on paperwork, the nurse catches us and says the doctor is allowing us to take her, and hands us the papers.
Nursing homes are ridiculous, and usually the most generous sources of absurdity in the EMS world.”
Not Really A Fool Proof Plan
“About 20 years ago while occasionally covering ENT on-call shifts, I was called to the emergency department to see a patient with a ‘foreign body in ear.’ Fairly common in kids, but this was a grown man in his thirties who should really have known not to stuff substantial amounts of cotton wool in his ear, but that was even the stupid part: after poking around for awhile and not succeeding in getting in out himself (but likely just pushing it in even further, rather than going to seek medical care he had a real brain-fart….and somehow decided the best next step was to put yet more cotton wool….into the other ear?
Now I can only assume that he must have thought he could somehow push the cotton wool all the way through and out (didn’t ask his reason at the time, was too busy trying to keep a straight face), however while he clearly did not have much brain between the ears, even for him this approach was hampered by anatomy.
So I had the joy of trying to get cotton wool out of both his ears, all the while having to listen to his rather inane rambling about the delay of the urgent care he thought he should have received ( as he was not unwell as such he was a rather low priority in a busy emergency department that night and had to wait for some time).”
He Gave Them A Good Laugh
“I was asked to schedule an urgent emergency room follow up appointment for one of our male patients. I double booked the patient in to see his primary care physician ( who is female) about two hours from then. Since I was her Nurse, I hurriedly gathered the patient’s chart info and requested the emergency notes via fax.
Scanning the emergency report to get an idea of his problems, I felt both great amusement and deep shame for this unfortunate fellow. Well actually, unfortunate is not the right word! This was truly self inflicted. Apparently he and his wife had had made love through the back door sometime in the recent past and she was not to keen on it. They agreed that last night she would unlock the back door only if she was allowed to use an adult toy to show him how it felt first. Assumedly he didn’t mind too much because the activity escalated quickly into vigorous and deeper motion until, you guessed it, the toy become lodged inside his rectum.
At this point I assume panic must of set in. I don’t know what recovery methods they chose, but someone decided that he should sit on the toilet and try a pair of scissors to snag the offending device! Hence off to the emergency room for lacerations to his rectum, butt cheeks and perforations to the distal end of his Sigmoid colon. Wow, that is determination. I can’t even imagine it.
OK honey, one more try and if we don’t get it I’ll go to the Hospital
I’m pretty sure I would not have used scissors as my ‘go to’ in this case. Maybe needlepoint nose pliers or salad tongs. I probably shouldn’t say, but we had many laughs at his expense, in private of course. He was the ‘Butt’ of many puns and jokes among us nurses and doctors (discreetly of course). I will never forget the look on the couples faces as they made their walk of shame. The good news is he recovered completely without surgery, and everyone maintained professionalism. Wonder though, he never scheduled the follow up appointments the doctor requested.”
Definitely Some Flawed Logic
“My dad was an OB/GYN who practiced for over 30 years. In the mid-1960s, he had a young patient who had come in for birth control. He prescribed an contraceptive that was taken by mouth. As he did with all of his patients, he spent at least 15 minutes discussing the pill and instructing her about the way to use it effectively.
Several months later, the woman and her husband came in with a problem. It appeared that the woman might be pregnant. My dad asked the woman if she had been using the pill every day, had she missed any doses, was she taking the pill at about the same time each day, etc. He noticed that as he asked his questions, the woman would look at her husband who would then answer my dad. Puzzled, my dad asked the woman if she was the one taking the pill.
‘No, my chest became tender so my husband has been taking the pills for me,’ she replied. He then spent some more time with the couple attempting to explain to them why that just wasn’t going work as an effective means of birth control.
This was far from his only ‘now that was stupid’ moment with a patient. He had a lot more patience than I would have had.”
Not That Kind Of “Lady” Doctor
“Patients always surprise me with ‘now that was stupid’ moments but this one beats all of them. So, this young lady comes into the clinic with an anxious look and wants to know if I am a qualified ladies specialist. Despite telling her that I was a physician, she continues with her complaints.
She had two months of amenorrhea and upon enquiry she said she was intimately inactive. She had some non specific complaints like weakness, heat(apparently!), etc. I explained to her possibilities of hypothyroidism and PCOS and the need for investigations. She said she was not ready to get them done.
I wrote some hormonal pills and said, ‘Alright, if this problem repeats, we shall go for the tests. Take these tabs for now.’
She again said, ‘I have taken them. They don’t work for me’, followed by, ‘My urine pregnancy test shows two lines.’
Me: ‘But you said you were intimately inactive.’
She: ”It’ happened just once. I ate papaya immediately. I thought you would anyway know about my intimate status when you tested me.’
Me: ‘It doesn’t happen that way. Anyhow, let’s go for investigations pertaining to pregnancy now.’
She: ‘Now just give me strong tablets to have periods. I have a pooja to attend next week.’
Me: ‘You need abortion pills, not period tablets. I don’t prescribe them. You should go to a gynecologist. There are a few clinics two miles away from this place.’
She: ‘But you are a ‘lady doctor.’ You should have known about period tablets. I doubt if you can even diagnose pregnancy. I will have abortion later, if need be. I am scared I would get into periods during the pooja.I want them now. Will you give me the darn tablets or I go to the other doctor on the next road?’
Me: ‘You are free to leave.'”
He Wanted To Be Safe, But Was Actually Sorry
“I worked in an academic medical center as a rheumatologist, and had a patient with an IQ down in negative numbers. But, he had a job and he’s finally married the mother of his three children so he wasn’t all bad. He had a ‘strange’ case of sarcoidosis, something that can be very hard to diagnose. But our ‘team’ had managed to do this, and had him on a minimal dose of just a few medications that were causing no side effects. I’d try to tell all of my patients at the first visit if they ever wanted a second opinion the only way they could go wrong was by not getting one, or getting a bad one, so if this occurred they should ask me and I’d tell them who I’d go see.
This genius disappeared for about eight months then he showed back up one day, swollen up like a toad from high dose steroids. I asked him what happened.
He looked at me and said, ‘You know that I trust you guys, but I wanted another opinion so I went to another hospital’s emergency room (not one of the better ones in our area) and had them check me out.’
I asked him what they’d done then, at which point he said they’d done a lot of x-rays, blood tests, spinal taps, etc. then he lifted up his shirt and showed me the huge scar he had from having his chest opened up for a big open lung biopsy, which was how they’d made the diagnosis. A really big scar! He said they’d kept him there six weeks then finally sent him home on huge doses of medications he didn’t need.
When I asked him why he hadn’t asked them to call us for our records, since our pulmonologist had gotten lucky and by sticking a tube down his throat, gotten a minute piece of tissue that had confirmed this diagnosis, something that doesn’t happen very often.
He then got a ‘real crafty’ look on his face and said, ‘Doctor, I didn’t tell them anything! I didn’t want them to know any more than you guys did when you started out.’
With that I literally beat my head on the wall for a few moments before I started to lower his doses of everything he was taking and within about two years he was back almost to the way he’d been. He’d even gone back to work on the same simple medication he’d been taking, something that doesn’t happen very often.
Darwin occasionally lets us down but at least this ‘genius’ seemed to be done reproducing by the time we saw him.”
They Tried Something New
“I was just getting started in practice, maybe two years in, and someone called complaining of constipation and abdominal pain. After he and his wife were placed in the exam room, I went in, and the gentleman was perched on the exam table by one half of his right butt cheek.
The true history was he and his wife were messing around with an adult female toy, and it slipped out of her hand while probing his area. The natural response of the rectum if something lubricated and streamlined is inserted is for it to rise up to the first sharp turn, about 17 cm in. I had nothing in the office to get at it, so we went to the hospital emergency room and I used a rigid sigmoidoscope ( tube of about one cm diameter, with a magnifying lens on the viewing end, totaling about 24 cm long) to visualize the device. I tried numerous forceps and grasps and loops to get it, but it failed to budge.
I sent him to a nearby tertiary facility with GI docs on staff. The letter I got in follow up was something like, ‘Thank you for the referral of *. We were able to remove the adult object with a flexible scope and biopsy loop.’
For me, the only high point was the end cap of the battery opening said, ‘Beverly Hills’ on the upper curve, and ‘California’ on the bottom. Really. Then there is the old med school joke: When someone comes in with an adult toy stuck up there, you first ask, ‘Do you want the thing removed, or the batteries changed?’ Those things need a loop and a chain on the end, if you ask me.”
That Poor Child
“I was in the Pediatric Nephrology Outpatient Department with my Professor. A lady turned up with her son, who was around four or five years of age. He looked plump, his face was swollen, his neck had a fat cushion and, he looked red. He had the classical presentation of Steroid overdose.
This child was on steroid therapy for Nephrotic syndrome. In Nephrotic syndrome, for the initial six weeks, steroids are given everyday and then it is tapered to alternate days. This lady decided to follow her own protocol. She gave her son steroids on every single day, and did not taper it down to alternate days after the first six weeks as instructed. She was of the opinion that more the substance intake, quicker the recovery.
How wrong she turned out to be!
My profession gave her a long lecture. I had to control my laughter, because, even though he did not openly mention it, but indirectly he implied she had been stupid.
Steroids, even if they cause toxicity cannot be stopped suddenly, so the poor child had to be tapered off slowly. I did not follow him up, but I hope he is doing well now.
Some people think they are way smarter than necessary.”
Not Quite How That Works
“This particular case was in the early 1970s; a woman in her late 50s had an unusual set of symptoms, which included facing ulcers in her gum and cheek, all the way through to sunshine. The nature of the ulcers, and their proximity to a recent dental procedure had baffled five dentists, each of whom referred her to me, since they each felt that the ulcer was directly related to the tooth, but could not figure out why or how. Yet she would seek a ‘second second opinion’ from yet another family dentist, rather than go to a specialist at a medical school.
A few questions revealed the depth of this woman’s ignorance.
Long story short: she had a toothache. She had a dental procedure to fix the problem. After the procedure, she got a headache, so she took some aspirin to get rid of the headache. This made her remember the time she had a broken wrist many years before; she had taken aspirin for that pain, and it worked. She also remembered when she had pain from a bruise in her leg; she took aspirin for that too, and it worked!
So she got thinking; if your foot hurts, you take an aspirin, and it knows to go from your stomach to your foot. If your wrist hurts, you take an aspirin, and it knows to go from your stomach to your wrist, if your head hurts, you take an aspirin, and it knows to go from your stomach to your head.
Well, well, well…
She figured that if she put the aspirin pill directly over where it hurt, the pill would not have to waste time getting from her stomach to her mouth.
Yes, she put acetylsalicylic ACID in between her cheek and gum.
The acid deadened her nerves, so she thought it was working… so she continued doing it for several months, until she had a hole in her cheek and could not ignore the problem any more.
I have seen some really dumb things in my practice, but none quite stick out quite as much as the Case of the Smartest Pill on Earth.”
A Bit Of An Overeaction
“Working in the emergency room surely gives you a lot of interesting experiences, it’s like riding an emotional roller-coaster. From the most tragic one that makes you devastated, to the silliest one that makes you have to resist the urge to roll your eyes so hard to the back of your head.
The most recent one was an 18-year-old girl who ate an insect repellent (in this case, mosquito coils) because her mother asked her to do the dishes. She went on a temper tantrum, shoved a handful of crushed mosquito coil into her mouth, and managed to swallow most of them before her mother came to interrupt.
I wanted to laugh but kept reminding myself that it would be unsympathetic because her mother told the story with tears streaming down her face. Talking about teenagers and their drama.”
“Well, I told a patient he didn’t have one kidney anymore and he started bawling and crying, ‘What will I do now! I’m not even married!’
So one fine day in my surgical internship in the ER, we had some members of a gang brought in with weapon wounds. One of them was a young man about 17 years or so, heavily built and extremely unpleasant. He belonged to one of the most impoverished and violent neighborhoods of the city, He had two wounds in the abdomen, and we immediately rushed to assess him and give first-aid. But as soon as I tried to examine him, he gave me an extremely filthy look and told me to keep my hands off of him and get him a real doctor, not a nurse. It upsets me off to no ends when I’m treated like this by misogynistic idiots in this age and time. Anyway, I simply called over a male colleague of mine who handled his case and took him to the ER. Long story short, he had perforating trauma to the bowels which were repaired, but his left kidney had to be removed.
After his operation, he was shifted to the ward, where he proceeded to insult and make life nightmarish for any female doctor or nurse by being lewd, passing derogatory comments, and sometimes even threatening them. Most people were generally afraid of him and his companions, so no one (not even my seniors) tried to keep him in check.
3-4 days after his admission to ward, I was the doctor on call at night. I was dreading going to check up on him, as I had already heard about his reputation and experienced it first hand, but my job had to be done! So finally after finishing with all the other patients, I went up to him. As soon as he saw me coming he started off on how dissatisfied he was with the level of care he was getting at the hospital and how us doctors were discriminatory towards him because of his race (totally not the case). Apparently us doctors chose to hurt him while doing our basic job of taking vital signs, like blood pressure and checking his wound dressings! Once he got better, he would make sure he got even with them! Now I usually have a high threshold of patience, but all this talk of thinly veiled threats got me completely fed up. I stopped, looked him squarely in the eye, and said, ‘Yeah well, if we are discriminatory, why didn’t you just go to the hospital in your own area? Oh, yeah! That’s because your gang scared off all the doctors there and your people are too busy fighting among themselves to get basic education! Well you should be thankful that you are alive and healthy. Do you even know how badly you were injured when you came? So many people die due to these injuries, and yet you survived because we took prompt action! We operated on you for 5 hours, I myself ran to get the blood for you and kept standing for five hours in your surgery! You had two bullets inside you that had created holes all over your intestines! Be thankful that its only your kidney that was so badly injured that it had to be removed, but we still managed to repair the rest and save your life. Show us some gratitude!’
My outburst was met with a stony silence. I assumed that my words had affected him positively. But then I noticed his eyes were getting misty. He actually started crying! It was like a dam had burst!
Now I was standing there completely baffled, when through his loud crying I managed to decipher these words ‘You people took out my KIDNEY! I’m ruined! I was engaged, but now what will happen to me! I’m so young! I’m not even married!’
Well as it turned out, his family had not yet informed him and neither any of the doctors before me. But the funny part was that the poor guy seemed to have no idea of the actual function of a kidney, and was horrified of all the repercussions facing him from its absence. I felt incredibly sorry for him and (I’m ashamed to say) amused in equal measure (to see that tough-pretending, loud-mouthed gangster crying like that).
Anyway, I sat down and consoled him for a long time that it was actually not that a big deal, his daily life wouldn’t be affected that much, until he started feeling better and calmed down. Incredibly, this entire episode had a very positive effect on him. He started respecting me a lot (calling me ‘doctor’ instead of his usual derogatory terms), being nice to the other female staff, and actually greeting me respectfully whenever he spotted me in the wards!”