Everybody makes mistakes. It’s what makes us human. However, some mistakes can cost us more than others. When a writer makes a mistake, they have auto-correct and editors to cover their backs.
When a medical professional makes a mistake, it could cause someone their life. We took to AskReddit to find some real life horror stories as told by the medical professionals who caused them.
1. Missed GSW
“I missed a gunshot wound once. A guy was dumped off at the ER covered in blood after a rap concert. We were all focused on a gunshot wound with an arterial bleed that was distracting. The nurse placed the blood pressure cuff over the gun shot wound on the arm. We all missed it because the blood pressure cuff slowed the bleeding.
I was doing the secondary assessment when we rolled the patient, and I still missed it.
We didn’t find it till the chest x-ray. The bullet came to rest in the posterior portion of the thoracic wall without significant trauma to major organs.
The patient lived. But I still feel like I fucked up big time.”
2. Face Palm
“Not a big mistake but definitely awkward at the time. I was gluing up a laceration on a 14-year-old girl’s forehead. Anyone who has used Dermabond before knows that stuff can be runny and bonds very quickly. I glued my glove to her face. Her mum was in the room, and I had to turn to her and say “Im sorry, I’ve just glued my glove to her face”.”
3. Almost Got HIV From A Dead Guy
“Pathologist here. Biggest mistake I ever made was cutting myself during an autopsy on an HIV patient. Lucky for me, I did not acquire the virus, so everything had a happy ending. (For me, anyway. That guy was still dead.)”
4. ‘Tis But A Scratch
“I’m a nurse, but I was working in the ER when a guy came in for a scratch on his neck and “feeling drowsy”. We start the usual workups and this dude’s blood pressure TANKED. We scrambled, but he was dead within 10 minutes of walking through the door. Turns out the “scratch” was an exit wound of a .22 caliber rifle round. The guy didn’t even know he’d been shot. When the coroner’s report came back, we found that he’d been shot in the leg and the bullet tracked through his torso shredding everything in between. There was really nothing we could’ve done, but that was a serious “what the fuck just happened” moment.”
5. Caught In The Nick Of Time
“A few months ago, I accidentally ran a creatinine test on a patient when a comprehensive metabolic wasn’t ordered. It turns out that the guy was in renal failure, and no one knew. He was about to go in for surgery ( I believe it was a bypass, but could be wrong), but I got the results in time to stop them from putting him under. Shit could have been messy. I’m glad I screwed up, and I’m sure he has no idea that he could have died.”
6. Glad I’m Not Him
“My brother is a surgeon, and during part of his residency, he had to work in the pediatric unit. He was working with two newborns. One was getting much better and fighting for life. He was going to make it just fine. The other baby was hours from death. He wasn’t going to make it. My brother was in charge of informing the families. My brother realized about 15 minutes later that he had mixed up the families.
He told the family with the healthy baby that their baby wasn’t going to make it, and he told the family with the dying baby that their baby was going to be just fine. He then had to go back out to the families and explain the situation to them. How devastating. To be given a glimmer or hope and have it ripped away from you not even an hour later. That was most upset I’ve heard my brother. He felt destroyed.”
7. Fingers and Toes
“Fun story, while my wife was having her C-Section for our daughter she over heard one of the nurses say “there’s only nine,” and my wife thought they were talking about my daughters fingers or toes. So she’s freaking out that our daughter is missing a finger or toe, and I keep assuring her that our daughter was perfect, which she was.
We found out about 10 minutes later that the nurse was talking about the surgical tools that were supposed to be accounted for, and one of them was missing. So my wife got to spend the next 2 hours in x-ray because they thought they had left a tool inside my wife, and stitched her up. They found the missing tool, not inside my wife, a couple hours later, so that was a relief.”
8. All’s Well That Ends Well
“As a very young doctor in training I misdiagnosed a woman with epilepsy. Some years prior she had sustained a gunshot wound to the frontal area, damaging the underside of one of her frontal lobes and severing an optic nerve to one of her eyes, as well as some of the muscles that rotated that eyeball. Surgery saved her life but the frontal lobe was scarred and the eye was blinded and always pointed down and at an angle away from her nose.
A few years after that she began having spells of a bizarre sensation, altered awareness, a pounding in the chest, and she had to sit down, stop what she was doing, and couldn’t speak. These were odd spells and I assumed she had developed frontal lobe epilepsy from the scar on her brain. Increasing doses of anti-seizure drugs seemed to work initially, but then the spells came back.
A couple years after my diagnosis her endocrinologist, who treated her for diabetes mellitus, checked a thyroid. It was super-high. The spells were manifestations of hyperthyroidism. She drank the radioactive iodine cocktail which ablated her thyroid, got on thyroid replacement therapy, and felt well thereafter. No permanent harm done and she was able to come off the anti-epilepsy drugs.”
9. “Oh, Shit”
“Not me, but my mom. She just retired as an OB/GYN and she told me about a time early on in her career when, while not a real medical mistake, she still almost ruined the operation. She was performing a C-Section I think, and she dropped her scalpel on the floor. Before she could think, she blurted out “oh shit” as a reaction. The mother, thinking something was wrong with the baby, started panicking. It took a team of nurses, the husband, and the mother of the patient to calm her down.”
10. Literally Shot Up The Ass
“When my dad was a resident he had a guy come in with a GSW to the shoulder. The guy had been caught with another man’s wife and had been shot while running away naked. In addition to the shoulder, the patient kept saying he had been shot in the gut. Dad searched all over and couldn’t find a wound. But the guy kept complaining about excruciating pain in his lower abdomen. X-ray revealed that, indeed, there was a bullet in the abdomen. Took a while to find, but my dad finally found the entry wound… The guy had been shot directly in the asshole. Swish.
A few years ago, I saw something very similar on ER. Guess if enough people get shot, there are bound to be a few one-in-a-million shots.”
11. Self Care Is Just As Important As Patient Care!
“My parents are nurses. They knew a doc who’d been on a 36-hour shift. Patient came in with a punctured lung (I think) and the doc had to collapse the lung to fix whatever was wrong with it.
Through tiredness he collapsed the wrong lung, and the patient died. Doc ended up killing himself after being fired.
Don’t burn yourself out.”
“When I was a student rotating through OB/GYN, I wrote an order for a woman’s postpartum continuation of magnesium sulfate, as she was preeclamptic antepartum. I was super careful, because I knew what could happen with magnesium toxicity, and double-checked the order with the resident afterwards.
The nurse, instead of hanging one bag of mag-sulfate and another of I forget what, hung two bags of mag-sulfate, one of which she slammed into the patient over a minute, instead of slow-infusing over 12 hours.
The woman told the nurse she didn’t feel right, and the nurse poo-pooed it. I happened to be walking by, and stopped in to see what was up. There they were, two bags hanging, both marked in a bright red warning label. We called for the fast response team.
They, and my team, got there in time and took over, but she still went into respiratory depression and ended up in the ICU.”
13. Overly Medicated
“My grandmother has had diabetes for about 20 years, and takes a handful of meds to help control it. About 10 years ago, she developed a persistent cough. It wasn’t bad, she said it felt like a constant tickle in the back of her throat.
She went to her doctor to find out what was going on, and he ordered a battery of tests concerned that she was developing pneumonia, lung cancer, etc. All the tests came back negative, so he prescribed a cocktail of pills to help combat it. Over the span of 5 years, she had tried about 35 different meds and none helped.
One day when she went it for a routine check-up, her normal doc was out and she saw one of the on-call residents. He looked at the barrage of pills she was on and asked why. When she explained, he replied, “Oh, the cough is a side effect of this one particular drug you’re on to regulate your insulin. If we change you to this other one, it will go away.”.”
14. Time For A New Doctor
“I went my entire life seeing a single family practitioner who apparently missed a (relatively minor, thank god) heart murmur. For upwards of 10 years.”
15. Knowledge Is Power
“Several years ago, my sister and I were in a car accident. I had visible injuries, she did not and was walking around without any problems, so we thought. Nine days later, she was preparing dinner, began to feel ill, vomited, and then passed out. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital. After talking to my brother-in-law for only a couple of minutes, he rushed my sister into surgery and they removed her spleen immediately, it had ruptured in the accident but was a slow bleed.
My sister was in ICU for a couple of weeks but survived and is in good health today. Later, the admitting trauma surgeon said he recognized what was happening because of a mistake his college professor told the class she made as a surgeon years earlier.
A teenage boy had fallen from a cliff and hit rocks below, other than being bruised he was fine so did not seek medical help. Seven days later he was brought unconscious into ER, where the college professor was working as a surgeon at the time. She and her team were not able to quickly identify his symptoms of a ruptured spleen that had happened 7 days ago. The teenage boy died about an hour later.
She was always sure to share this particular incident with her students, thus saving my sister’s life when one of her former students (my sister’s doctor) showed up to class that day!”
16. Shit Happens
“As an ICU nurse, I’ve seen the decisions of some doctors result in death. Families often times don’t know, but it happens more than you’d think. It usually happens on very sick patients that ultimately would have died within 6 months or so anyway, though.
Procedurally, I have seen a physician kill a patient by puncturing their heart while placing a pleural chest tube. It was basically a freak thing as apparently the patient had recently had cardiothoracic surgery and the heart adhered within the cavity at an odd position. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he came to the realization of what had happened. You rarely see people accidentally kill someone in such a direct way. Heartbreaking.”
17. Double and Triple Check Your Shit
“I’m a nurse. I’ve given an anticoagulant (blood thinner) to the wrong patient. Over the the next day his red blood count dropped. He ended up in ICU.”
18. Poisoned A Guest On First Day Of Work
“My first day as a camp nurse for people with intellectual disabilities I gave 9 pills to the wrong guest. I didn’t know who I was looking for and asked my friend to send out the guest. His hypochondriac roommate walks out, tells me he is the person I’m looking for. I asked my friend for confirmation who THOUGHT the correct person had come to me and confirmed from afar that it was, and I administered the meds. He had a LOT of drug allergies. Stomach dropped when the actual person I was looking for came out 12 seconds later.
Luckily, we called poison control and most of the pills were vitamins and the ones that weren’t were either similar to ones the guy was already taking, or in therapeutic low-dose form. He was fine and still continued to ask for everyone else’s pills at all times.
Worked there two summers and thankfully had no other disasters like this one.”
“I did a FAST ultrasound on a trauma patient. Thought it was negative, but in retrospect had a small pericardial effusion. He coded about 30 minutes later after said effusion expanded. Had so much head trauma everyone told me he wouldn’t have lived anyway…but still feel awful about it.”
20. Worst. Day. Ever.
“I had a 9 year old girl bought in one night with her parents complaining of fever and respiratory distress, presenting with coughing and wheezing. The kid was really out of it and the parents were very upset. I thought it was Bronchitis, but I admitted her and ordered treatment for her fever and cough as well as throat cultures.
I was with another patient when the kid started hallucinating, sobbing, and spewing everywhere. I figured it had to do with the fever, so I packed her with ice, but she died maybe a half hour after that. This wasn’t my first death, but it was one of the worst. I couldn’t tell she had a stiff neck since the kid was out of it. She also couldn’t tell me anything else that would point to simple or complex seizures.
She died of Neisseria Meningitidis. Completely wrong diagnosis. To make matters worse, we called in all her school mates and anyone else we could wake up just in time to see three other kids go. The rest got antibiotics quickly enough.
Probably my worst day in medicine.”
21. Nurse To The Rescue
“Nurse here. I was assisting during a vasectomy. The doctor found the testicular artery and thought it was the vas deferens (the sperm tract) and was about to tie it off and cut it. In a very diplomatic way, I told him to double check the anatomy.”
22. Learn From Your Mistakes
“My brother had a mic-key put in stomach so that he can be fed through a g-tube due to aspiration risks secondary to cerebral palsy. During the surgery, the surgeon accidentally perforated his bowel and it went unnoticed. This is probably due to my brother’s unusual anatomy as he has severe scoliosis and kyphosis. My mom started to notice my brother appeared to be in pain. He, however, had no way of telling her what was wrong (non-verbal and no control of muscle movements). She then noticed the smell of feces coming out of his incision site. His medical team assured her he was alright and she was overreacting. It was soon discovered that he was going septic as his digested food was going back into his stomach and poisoning him. By this time he was in life-threatening condition and had to be air lifted to a city a four hour drive away.
The perforated bowel was repaired and my brother made a full recovery. His surgeon now does that procedure differently to prevent the same complication and I’ve been told it’s been effective. I believe he does an endoscopy before closing up, and that adds 5-10 minutes to the surgery. My parents had no interest in suing and are glad my brother is healthy and his situation helped advance medicine/possibly save others.”
23. Fatal Mistake
“When I was a medical student, I was on a vascular surgery rotation, and a patient came in with aortitis, a rare and extremely severe infection of the aorta. However, he was doing pretty well and we were treating the infection conservatively with antibiotics, and hoping we wouldn’t have to operate. My job in the team was to go to the patients and take their vitals a couple of times a day, and examine them to see how they were doing.
When I want to examine this guy, he was lying flat on his back, so I said I would sit him up in bed to take his blood pressure. I raised the head of the bed, and a few seconds later he started to complain of severe pain, and passed out straight after that. He was taken straight to surgery and opened up, and it became apparent that his aorta had ruptured due to the increase in abdominal pressure when I sat him up. He was bleeding out all over the table, and when the senior surgeon tried to clamp his aorta to control the bleeding, the tissue was so friable that the clamp cut straight through it. There was essentially nothing we could do as this guy bled out his entire blood volume within about a minute.”
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