One of my pals from growing up is an emergency room doctor in California and he has told me some pretty crazy stories over the years about patients who should have come to the ER much sooner than they did for a variety of reasons.
Oh, the things he’s seen…
And he’s not alone! All doctors, nurses, medics, etc., have crazy tales of patients who didn’t come into the hospital when they should have…and they’ll probably make you shake your head.
Let’s check out some interesting stories from healthcare workers on AskReddit.
1. D**d three weeks later.
“Had a 65 year old dude who was diagnosed with lymphoma 8 months before we saw him.
He lived an hour out of the city and didn’t want to drive in for treatment so decided he wouldn’t get treated at all and stayed on his little remote place in the country by himself.
Essentially, because it didn’t get treated, it spread along his skin and his neighbors called an ambulance when popping in on him. It had spread so far that it essentially went from his head to his knees. It had started to invade his eyes and mouth membranes.
He couldn’t drink and could barely see. His skin had started to slough off and he was so severely dehydrated because he was losing so much excess fluid from his open skin that we had to treat him like a severe burns patient and had plastics involvement.
The consultant said if he had received treatment, there was a chance he could have recovered. Instead he d**d 3 weeks later.”
2. Not shingles.
“Once had an older lady call in wanting a prescription for pain meds because she was sure she had shingles. Said her neighbor had them and she was sure that’s what it was.
She hadn’t been in for an exam in almost 2 years, so the doctor asked that she come in to be evaluated before a prescription could be given. She refused and called again the next day asking for a prescription. This went on all week. Her calling for pain meds, the doctor asking her to come in to be seen.
She finally agreed to make an appointment. It wasn’t shingles. It was a skin ulceration from advanced breast cancer.”
“Former medic here. Called to a patient who had cut their leg while chopping wood about a week prior and now it was really itchy.
Old gentleman, didn’t drive, lived alone. Got to his house, unwrapped the ungodly swollen leg to find that he’d tried to superglue the wound closed and maggots were inside.
The itching he was feeling was the writhing maggots under his skin.”
4. Happened more than once.
“This has happened a few times, actually…
But I had a gal come in on Monday after being discharged from the hospital Friday after giving birth.
So basically, we tell ladies to avoid intercourse until a doctor clears you, and well, her spouse kept insisting and insisting and insisting that Friday night she caved and let him go to town. He wound up tearing some stitches that were placed and bleeding like a stuck hog all weekend long.
Came into our clinic, blue in the lips and fingers, and her hemoglobin was 4 (normal should be 12 – 15).
She didn’t wanna be a bother, so she waited until she started feeling dizzy all the time. She got another trip to the hospital for transfusion and repair for that.
But…like I said, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen that, so for the love of God…if homeboy is begging for it after you just had a baby, maybe he needs a lesson in self control and a bottle of moisturizer.”
“As a medical student I remember an older lady that had a breast that was necrotic and falling off. It had been progressing over the last several years.
But, if she didn’t get diagnosed with breast cancer, then she couldn’t have it.
In the other category I’ve seen a few cases of Fournier’s Gangrene. Pretty much obese, male diabetics that had a pimple/sore that started in the pubic region.
By the time they come to the hospital it’s a raging infection where the treatment is basically to cut away everything in the pubic/ groin region down to the muscle layer. That little sore didn’t seem like much at first.”
“We once had a patient who went to Emergency for abdominal pain and they discovered a fungating breast wound (don’t image search that) that she’d had for two years and hadn’t gotten medical attention for.
A biopsy and a PET scan later she was diagnosed with breast cancer with extensive liver, lung and bone mets.
This was also in Australia so it wasn’t a money issue.
7. Not a good outcome.
“I am a doctor and while working in A&E we had an older chap, possibly in his 70s, who several days prior to presentation had a sudden onset severe chest pain and vomiting while loading the car with shopping.
He ignored it and struggled home. The next day he started to lose the use of both legs and by the time he came to hospital had been CRAWLING around his house for SEVERAL DAYS because he thought it would get better.
He had had a major cardiac event, developed a clot which his heart had pumped out, it went down his body, broke in half and blocked off the blood supply to both legs. He literally had d**d legs.
I don’t know what ended up happening to him, but there was no way to save the legs and I reckon the outcome was very poor, if not fatal.”
8. That’s bad.
“Children’s nurse here, my first week in pediatric ED we had a young girl (6/7) come in with a really swollen jaw/face.
Poor girl was unable to move her jaw without intense pain and hadn’t been able to eat for several days. Turns out she had only just started cleaning her teeth for the first time ever and managed to develop several abscesses and rotten teeth in the process.
To make it worse her mum told us she was recovering from the same procedures to remove most of her teeth because of almost the same thing… they didn’t want to bother as they thought she was just messing about to get out of school.”
“My grandpa ended up passing away because he waited too long before going to the hospital. This was about 17 years ago, he was tending to one his mules when something spooked it and he got kicked in the gut.
He was in a lot of pain, could barely move due to the abdominal pain so decided to take it easy and lounge on the couch for a week, he refused to go to be taken to the hospital.
Unfortunately, that mule kick ruptured an unknown tumor in his intestines. The doc said it was huge, like volleyball size huge, and he may have survived if he came in sooner. By the time we got him to the hospital he had a severe case of gangrene.
His leg needed to be amputated within a day of him being there, he passed away a week later.”
10. Take care of your feet!
“Had a guy whose foot was completely broken sideways at the ankle. He had it still wrapped from when he left the hospital. He would use the stumpy part to move around on his wheelchair and leave little blood sponge prints on the floor.
Another guy with bad ankle and foot wounds decided to stop going to wound care, and was afraid to take the wraps off even after his foot started to stink. By the time I saw him his skin had kinda liquified.
Earlier on in my career I saw a guy with necrotizing wounds to both legs that had eaten to muscle in multiple places below the knee. I asked him how long they looked like that and he said about two years. Next time I saw him he was bilateral above knee amp.
Stump wounds. Just… Stump wounds.
Take care of your feet people. If you’re diabetic and can’t feel the bumps and scrapes please check your feet regularly.”
11. D**d leg.
“Guy came in with a d**d leg.
Waited until it turned black and then decided to head to the ER. They tried an angiogram to open up blood flow but it was way late for that. Guy had several clots in his lungs and legs.
Undiagnosed atrial fibrillation. He couldn’t believe we were going to amputate, kept asking me what else I could do.
Go back in time a week ago and come in. Kinda around when it turned blue.”
12. All the problems
“Years ago as a nursing assistant on an oncology floor we had a guy admitted because he had had an erection for several days and had lost the ability to pee. His bladder was close to bursting and his poor junk was… think microwaved hotdog. Really bad.
But NONE of that was as interesting as the fact that this guy had untreated skin cancer on his nose for several years that had over time become infected, developed MRSA, and spread across his face. He had no nose, no cheek, and no eye on one side of his face, and was starting to lose his other eye.
You could see part of his skull. I dont know why he chose to leave it untreated and I have no idea how long it took to get that bad, but I will never ever forget the smell and texture of his rotting face.
On the upside, we were eventually able to convince him to have reconstructive surgery. He ended up getting a skin graft that covered up his eye, nose and cheek.
So, if you ever meet a very grumpy dude with nothing but a mouth and one eye, know that this is way better than the alternative.”
“Had a patient brought in by her son who “took care of her,” when she arrived to our unit I performed a skin assessment…took off her socks and found a fallen off gangrenous toe.
Seems fake and I wish this was but it was by far the nastiest thing I’ve witnessed. Son said he had no idea when his mother’s foot became “that bad.”
“Elderly woman fell at home and broke both femurs.
Son thought she just needed to rest so he carried her to her bed. She laid there in her own filth for 3 days before anyone called 911.
The son lives with her, and there’s family next door as well. HOW. WHY?!”
15. That’s really bad.
“ER doc here. Just had a recent one that was pretty bad.
Homeless dude who was in a tent fire and waited a week to come in. Thighs, stomach, and pen*s covered in maggots.
I don’t get squeamish about much, but yeesh.”
16. That’s gotta be painful.
“My cousin is a Pathologist Assistant and was telling me how about how she had to dissect a testicle that was 11 pounds.
Turns out it was testicular cancer.”
17. Boggles the mind.
“My number one “why didn’t you come in sooner?!” moment was getting a call from a patient who had broken their forearm two months ago and never followed up.
I got them scheduled, they no showed their appointment. Rescheduled, they no showed. Second reschedule, they arrive with a very obvious deformity to their arm due to the fracture healing incorrectly.
If they had just come in, it wouldn’t have been an issue at all. Blows my mind that they went almost three months without care.”
“I was working as a surgical junior when my team was called down to A&E to see a patient who had come in with a complication from a recent hernia operation.
When we came down, we saw that the patient was holding a plastic bag over their abdomen. When this was removed, we found that their wound had opened and their intestine was visible to the air.
It transpired that this was not something that had happened over night, it had taken several days. The patient had started using plastic bags and newspaper to dress the wound when they ran out of dressings.”
19. All yellow.
“Worked as a doctor’s office assistant.
A regular patient, who was very sweet but unfortunately had an ongoing battle with al**holism, was brought in by his roommate and I knew instantly that he would be d**d soon. I’d seen some jaundiced humans in my time there but this man was a yellow I never knew was possible.
His roommate said, through tears, “I’ve been telling him to come in for weeks!” and the patient kept telling roommate to relax, that he was fine. Majorly in denial. I helped him to the exam room and when the doctor entered the room, he immediately asked me to go call an ambulance.
A few weeks earlier wouldn’t have helped, but perhaps the end could have been made bit easier for him. He d**d 7 days later in the hospital.
Hit me very hard because I’d known the guy for a few years. Sometimes he would be sober when he called, and sometimes he would be slurring and completely incoherent, but he was ALWAYS kind.”
“My girlfriend is a care worker and she recently told me that she slipped off a patient’s slippers and remarked “I didn’t know you had lost your toes” to which the patient responded “Well I hadn’t till you took the slipper off dear”
Sounds like something from a grim sketch show, god bless anyone who can do jobs like that.”
21. Waited too long.
“Story from my SIL who is a nurse.
Young man was brought in to the ER. He had a sinus infection that he had let go to the point that it had eaten through the skull and into this brain. She was told that it had started several months before. He didn’t want to go to the doctor for it.
All it would have needed was 10 days of antibiotic pills. Instead, he was not brought in until he was unconscious, and d**d within a few hours.”
22. Farmers are tough people.
“A farmer in his 70s reluctantly came in with his wife after falling over outside while wrangling a sheep one WEEK earlier.
He did not want to be there but had been “forced” to come by his wife who was worried about him. On questioning/examining he was pale, short of breath, and clearly in pain all over the right side of his chest but not wanting to show it!
X-ray and bloods showed he’d broken loads of ribs, punctured his lung and bled profusely into his chest and was now very anaemic!”
23. I can’t see…
“I had a patient come in saying he couldn’t see. How long had it been going on? For five days.
The man had been blind for five days and didn’t come in because he thought it might be “like a cold Or something”. During the exam when I asked him to move his legs he said “oh, I can’t do that”… (??) I asked how long he’d been unable to move his legs or walk?
Wife chimes in- about two years. Never saw a doctor about it- They just borrowed a friends wheelchair and kept it rolling. Turned out he’d had multiple strokes with multiple risk factors he never addressed.
Given how little insight he appeared to have into the condition I honestly felt sorry- he didn’t have insurance so I’m sure that played a role In Him avoiding seeing anyone.”
“During the pandemic, a guy with a history of heart issues had a heart attack, with classical chest pain. Then he had symptoms of heart failure, which he recognized, because it had happened to him before.
But he still waited a few days because he was worried about coming to the hospital during the pandemic. Finally it got so bad (he couldn’t breathe from the fluid backed up into his lungs) that he came to the ER, when he was obviously hospitalized.
My professor also said he recently had a patient with an aortic aneurysm who was misdiagnosed because she only had a telehealth visit (no imaging) due to the pandemic. She ended up with an aortic dissection. (Edit: She was first seen at an Outside Hospital, but went to our institution for a second opinion. She did all the right things. Outside Hospital made the error to not do imaging.)
The covid19 pandemic is hurting people who get sick, but also all the people not getting the treatment they need because they are avoiding hospitals.”
25. Nonchalant about it.
I work in a very rural hospital, and we have a patient population that seems to avoid the hospital at all costs. I have had so many, usually related to diabetics with foot sores- almost always resulting in amputation of a toe (or more).
However, my favorite was an elderly farmer who came in with chest pain that, ‘Wouldn’t go away’, as he put it. When we asked him if he had it before had it before- he had said that he had been having chest pain on and off for years, but it would typically go away after he grabbed his electric fence.
Apparently, the first time he had the pain- he was standing out near an electric fence on his farm, and he reached out to steady himself and accidentally grabbed the electric fence, which shocked him, and made the pain go away. So after that, whenever he would have the pain, he just went and grabbed the fence and it made him feel better.
He had literally been cardioverting himself for years.
He was fixed up and sent on his way- but we all still chuckle about it now and then because he was so nonchalant about it.”
Now it’s your turn!
In the comments, tell us about a time you or someone you know probably should have gone to the hospital wayyyy earlier.
We can’t wait to hear from you!