Some of us dread going to the doctor's office, but keeping up with your checkups is important. You wouldn't want to have a sudden health emergency would you? (Keeping up with appointments is kinda difficult to do in a nation where so many people are uninsured, but that's a topic for another article...)
Redditor Chevyp43 provided today's burning question when they asked the online community: "Doctors of Reddit, what's your best "they came in for a small check-up and ended up needing surgery" story?"
Doctors, patients, and other medical professionals weighed in.
"Turns out I had a cyst..."Giphy
I went to my doctor thinking I had a bladder infection. I felt like I had to pee every 5 minutes. Doctor found nothing but sent me for an ultra sound.
Turns out I had a cyst the size of a grapefruit on one of my ovaries that was resting on my bladder. 5 days later I was in the hospital having my ovary removed.
"As a tech..."
Not a doctor, but I worked in an emergency room in nursing school. I was sitting out in triage late one night, my nurse had ran to the back for a minute and a guy comes in, only complaint was a sore throat. Nothing else at all. Just a sore throat. But something was off, he had a slight grayish tone.
As a tech, I figured why the hell not. Told him to follow me and took him to our EKG area. Few minutes later, my nurse comes back and is looking at me like I'm nuts because I'm doing an EKG on a sore throat.
I handed her the printout and she had an 'oh sh!t' look, he was having a STEMI (massive heart attack.)
My charge nurse came out later after the dust had settled and asked me what made me check him, I told her I didn't know he just didn't look right. Intuition can be a funny thing. Poor guy, he was slightly confused about the whole thing, he just wanted something to fix his throat irritation.
"I teach an EMT class..."
I teach an EMT class on the side and we were going through rare medical conditions that you can identify with little to no equipment.
Your aorta is the biggest artery in your body and if anything happens to it, it's a big problem. It can develop an aneurysm (think a semi-failure of the wall, causing it to balloon out to the side, pending full rupture). I'm explaining the ways you can identify this in the field, one of which is to take both the radial pulses (wrist) simultaneously. They should beat together. If they are beating off-tempo, that can be a sign of an aortic aneurism.
I tell everyone to partner up and take both their partners pulses so you no what 'normal' feels like.
A hand is raised in the rear of the room.
"U/sam_neil! My partners pulses are wrong."
I start by joking that students need to be more diligent in practicing taking vitals etc etc until I take the students pulses. Hers are indeed "wrong". The head instructor and I go into work mode and do a barrage of other tests. She shows additional signs in a couple, but not all the tests.
We advise her to go to the hospital immediately. We explain that if you have an aortic aneurysm and it ruptures while you are on the operating table of the most skilled surgeon in the world your odds of survival are around 2%. She refuses and finishes class after we do CYA paperwork. She follows up with her doctor from childhood who, as she tells it, drags her by her ear into the ambulance he called.
It turned out to be a very minor aneurism, and she had a procedure to repair it and takes medication to keep her blood pressure low, but otherwise has a completely normal life.
When I was a brand new medic we got a call Sunday morning for a twenty something year old male vomiting, with a small amount of blood in the vomit. I speak two languages, my partner at the time was from a former soviet-bloc country and spoke about 5 fluently. Believe me when I say this guy got cursed out the entire ride to his house in 7 languages. A twenty something year old called because he was throwing up? On a Sunday morning? Dude. You have a hangover ffs.
We arrive and are met downstairs by his girlfriend who is panicking and confirms they went out drinking the night before. We roll our eyes, grab our gear and head upstairs.
As soon as we see the patient our tone changes. Guy is Asian, but is paler than printer paper, soaked with sweat, is cold when I touch him and is barely conscious. I look next to his bed and "a small amount of blood in the vomit" is in reality a medium sized garbage can, almost 1/4 full of straight blood.
His blood pressure is low, around 70/30, his heart rate is compensating by beating at about 160 times per minute. We get a big IV in him and replace about a liter of fluid. His vitals improve, he comes around enough to answer questions. He says he drank 2 beers last night and smoked some mary jane. He says he has never been able to have more than a few beers without getting sick for days.
I ask about his medical history and he says he has had general digestive issues his whole life but never anything like this- just has to have a low fat diet or else horrific diarrhea. Bad hemorrhoids, low grade abdominal pain constantly that has never been given a clear diagnosis. Nothing on paper to go from.
We get him to the hospital and drop him off in critical. In one of my only true Dr House moments, as I'm walking out I tell the triage nurse exactly what the issue is.
From the deepest depth of a half slept through lecture during paramedic school, I remember all these symptoms. He has an undiagnosed liver issue, which is causing bloodflow through his liver to get backed up. When the liver doesn't work properly, you can't digest alcohol or fat effectively. When blood starts backing up it causes portal hypertension which causes hemorrhoids and basically hemorrhoids in the esophagus, called esophageal varices. One of these varices has popped and he was bleeding out through his esophagus.
One of the only times I have correctly diagnosed a problem beyond "hey this drunk guy has been drinking alcohol!"
"Went in for a recurring pain..."
I'm the patient. Went in for a recurring pain in my throat. Quadruple bypass a week later.
"Teenager comes in for ear pain..."
Teenager comes in for ear pain and turns out there is a hornet stuck in the ear biting the crap out of his canal and ear drum — had to have it surgically repaired
Kid comes into ER for cough for a couple weeks, parents are very worried and the kid looks "off", so I order a chest xray. His mediastinum (the white part between the lungs) takes up almost the entirety of his chest. Massive tumor.
Kid with belly pain and vomiting for 12 hours. Belly exam is hard — not like she is flexing but like rigid as a board. Ultrasound for appendicitis shows a massive kidney tumor that went from right lung to bottom of the right pelvis. Wilms tumors are crazy!
Most recently had a little one in for a regular check up that parents had kept postponing. Kid can't sit up alone and parents still have to feed — not normal for a 9 month. Ultrasound of the head shows too much water in the brain and the kid gets surgery within 24 hours.
"I was the patient."
I was the patient.
I got into a 60mph motorcycle accident a year ago. I slammed into a guardrail. It seemed like there were no serious injuries than some scrapes and a pain in my back. I was transported to the ER anyway, they did an X-ray, told me I had bruised muscle, and attempted to send me on my way.
Except when I sat up I couldn't lift my ass up to put on my pants before stepping off the gurney because my back hurt so bad. They run another X-ray, do an MRI, and a few minutes later the room is flooded with doctors and nurses.
I had a fracture-dislocation of vertebrae T2-T8. Basically my spine was in half and parallel to itself. On top of this, they missed the fact that my lung had collapsed and was filling with blood. Hemopneumothorax. They had never seen someone like this who could still walk. I had basically won the medical equivalent of the lottery that day. I was life-flighted to a level 1 hospital in my state and 5 hours later had 14 inches of titanium put in my back. I was only in the hospital for 9 days and required no rehab.
"This one is completely on me..."
This one is completely on me because I did some questionable things as a kid.
I was 12. And growing up in Maine. I had a pellet gun that was advertised as shooting a .177 projectile at 1200 FPS. I had been shooting it for a few years so my parents would let me shoot it on my own out back as long as I wore safety glasses.
That afternoon during the summer I found a small piece of piping along the road in the front yard and brought it out back to shoot.
I took the first shot and instantly felt something hit me in the head.
I have a younger brother so I thought it was a pebble or something, And put the gun down to investigate. I think the only reason i didn't immediately think I got hit by ricochet was because it didn't hurt at all. The only thing I felt was a bump, like a small rock hit me in the head.
I didn't notice the blood till I wiped my face to clear what I thought was sweat. I was greeted with a completely red hand. At this point it didn't click that I got hit by a ricochet and I didn't feel anything when I touched the cut so I didn't worry.
I couldn't stop the blood with anything outside and I couldn't find my brother so I assumed the bullet just hit me but didn't stick, because the cut was so long. so I had to open the front door and yell for my mom.
As soon as she passed the corner she turned white, And started freaking out. At this point the blood was covering the whole front of my shirt and was starting to drip onto the ground. I told her a total lie because I didn't want them to take my pellet gun away, so I told them I hit myself with a metal pipe while flipping it in the air. She looked at my cut and could immediately tell I needed stitches and they rushed me to the urgent care in the next city.
When I got there the towel my dad wrapped around the top of my head was showing a lot of blood. When the nurse made me take off my towel, her eyes opened wide. You could see my skull in the cut. They took me within like ten min.
The doctor took a look at the wound and made me tell the story again while stitching up the inch long gash which started at my hair line at about 11 o'clock on my face.
The doctor decided to take an X Ray. I waited for them to come back with the results with my dad and after like 15 min the doctor came back in. He asked me to tell the story again. His next question was what kind of pipe shoots metal four inches under your scalp. He made me tell the real story and showed my dad the x ray and my dad was visibly pissed.
The next thing I knew I was in an ambulance on my way to the OR. Those guys didn't even put me to sleep while they cut into my scalp. And pulled out a perfectly circular saw shaped piece of mushroomed lead That was almost 5 inches from the entrance point. They couldn't remove one of the fragments because of its location and it was small.
My pellet rifle still got taken away.
"Fellas, check ya nuts."Giphy
I was/am the patient. I work construction for a living and was working a job removing some very heavy laminated glass. Strenuous lifting all day long. During the course of the gig, my left testicle began to swell and hurt, and wasn't getting any better. I told my supervisor I suspected I had given myself a hernia, not unheard of in my field, and went to the occupational healthcare clinic in town. The sweetest grandmotherly physician did the whole turn-your-head-and-cough deal. Awkward, necessary, but yielded nothing.
She recommends I check myself into the emergency room and get an ultrasound. Well, when the ultrasound tech finished the session by saying "good luck to you, buddy" I suspected something amiss. Well, one removed testicle, a round of chemotherapy, and an abdominal lymph node removal later, testicular cancer hasn't beaten me down. I'm awaiting my four-month post-surgery CAT scan now. Fellas, check ya nuts.
I had one a few months ago sent into the hospital by his primary care doctor with 'shoulder pain'. He said he felt absolutely fine, just a really uncomfortable right shoulder pain that hadn't gone away for a couple of weeks. He maybe felt a bit more tired than usual and oh, come to think of it, had lost quite a bit of weight recently and none of his clothes fit him any more.
I went to examine him and had what we describe in the profession as a "heartsink" moment. He was jaundiced, and his abdomen was absolutely solid in the right upper zone from a huge, craggy liver.
Get him in the ct scanner and he is just fulllll of cancer. Everywhere. Couldn't even work out which was the primary.
The shoulder pain is what we call "referred pain" and is commonly caused by diaphragmatic irritation, in this case from all the liver masses pushing against it.
Bless him. I think about him a lot.
"I went to my doctor..."
I'm the patient. I went to my doctor because I was tired. I asked to get my hormones checked, but my doctor is thorough and did a full exam and workup.
During the internal exam (I'm a lady) she said she felt something weird and referred me out for an ultrasound.
I had an external ultrasound and a transvaginal ultrasound that took nearly an hour with the tech snapping pictures the entire time.
Unfortunately the ultrasound didn't show anything clearly. Whatever was wrong with me wasn't an issue with my uterus.
My doctor referred me out for a CT. I went in, drank the gross goop, and they took a bunch of pictures of my pelvic region.
I get a call from my doctor who says I need to meet with a surgeon right away. I get an appointment the next week. If you haven't had a CT scan done before, it's a series of images that are slices of your body shown as contrast in black and white. As the surgeon scrolled through the images, they showed the inside of my pelvic region slowly becoming full of white as he scrolled up and down my body.
I had a tumor the size of a football in my pelvic region.
And the only symptom that prompted me to go in was feeling so tired I couldn't finish a normal gym workout.
Looking back I also realized that I still felt like I had to go to the bathroom sometimes even though I had just gone because it was putting pressure on my bladder.
They scheduled surgery for a few weeks later. Because it was my entire pelvic region, they weren't sure what they would find when they went in...like, what was tumor, what wasn't, and what it was attached to. There were at least 3 specialists in the room with my general surgeon.
It was actually much better than thought. Took about two hours to remove. No major organs involved other than a few internal lady bits, and only minimal side effects. The biopsy showed it was benign.
"It was bad."
Not a doctor yet but a student. I haven't seen the worst kind of stuff yet but this was a "fun" one.
I'm shadowing a GP at her office and a guy comes in for a routine check-up a few weeks after surgery on his toe for an ingrown nail. Doctor asks how he's doing, guy is like "fine I guess, a little tender." She says ok, how does it look when he cleans it? Guy says he doesn't know.
Turns out he was still in the same dressing they gave him at the hospital after the surgery, never even opened it. Had just been walking around in the filthy thing for weeks. Even the experienced Dr was struggling to keep a neutral face when she opened that dressing and the Smell came. It was bad.
"14 year old cancer survivor..."
14 year old cancer survivor comes in for his routine post-chemo screening echocardiogram. His heart was barely moving. I don't remember the EF, probably in the low teens. We sat him and mom told for some bad news, put EMLA on his arm for a PICC and walked him to the cardiac ICU. A few months later he has a heart transplant. Kids, man. They can look great on the outside when compensated. Then you look at the images and just get nauseous for them. Scariest thing about pediatrics and #1 reason why kids need kid doctors.
"As part of our medical course..."
As part of our medical course, we need cannulas ticked off. Another medical student and I went to the ED, where many patients need cannulas. We found a fantastic nurse willing to supervise us, who recommended a patient with easy veins e.g. young, no urgent problem. Young woman with vague, 3/10 abdominal pain was triaged low down on the list, so she was perfect.
It was the other medical student's turn, so she begins rummaging through the drawers for equipment. It's apparent she doesn't know what she's looking for, the nurse helps. Student sets out an enormous needle, 14G, the kind you'd use for a blood transfusion. Nurse gives her a weird look and replaces it with a smaller one.
It becomes apparent this is the student's first cannula. After poking several random areas, she enters the vein. And then she....does nothing. Doesn't release the tourniquet, doesn't put a bung (cap) on it. Does nothing, while looking at the pathology tubes blankly.
The nurse is telling her to put the cap on it, but the student is still obviously trying to figure out whether to attach the pink or the yellow tube. Blood is gushing out. The nurse tries to hand her a cap, student doesn't notice. Patient finally looks down. Blood everywhere. Over her arm, the bluey (towel placed under the arm), chair, reaching her pants.
The patient's face goes ghost white. Even her lips turn white. Her eyes roll back into her head. Before I know it, she's passed out. The cannula still isn't capped.
The nurse is desperately trying to hurdle over the student and the trolley to cap the cannula or take it out. Student is still standing there, not moving out of the way. Flummoxed, I grab another nurse and we find a bed to transfer the patient onto and elevate her legs. The patient is rolled into resus, where there are bigger bays. There's so much blood on the floor that the wheels of the bed left a long, red trail across the emergency department.
In handover later, I heard she was hypovolaemic and they were keeping her for awhile until her red blood cell count was returned, to confirm she wasn't anaemic from all the blood loss.
TL;DR - woman came in with vague abdominal pain, ended up admitted for violent blood loss.
Afterwards, I heard the student asking the nurse if she would tick her off for the cannula.
"Lady came into the ED..."
Lady came into the ED with substernal exertional chest pain that she'd had for a day or so, but she had never had it before prior to this episode. She was active, shoveled snow regularly over the winter, etc; it just came on out of nowhere. In the ED, had a mild trop elevation of 0.06, I thought ok, indeterminate trop but whatever, we'll throw her on a heparin drip, ASA, etc, and we'll see if she is cath in the morning vs stress test.
Her chest pain stopped, and I figured it would be non-cardiac since she had been tolerating serious exertion without pain up until yesterday...but her trops didn't stop going up. They went up and up, peaking later that night in the low hundreds, and her EKG clearly showed NSTEMI. She went for cath, and had horrible multi-vessel disease with tons of collaterals; stenting would be insufficient, but there weren't any good targets for CABG either. She ended up getting listed for heart transplant.
"Once a little old lady came in late one night..."
Internal medicine resident - as the other doctors in this thread, there are loads of stories;
Once a little old lady came in late one night with altered mental status. During the initial work-up she was a bit off (oriented for space, not time etc). When I palpate her abdomen it is unusually hard, but not at all tender. When her bloodwork is done her liver enzymes are sky high - turns out her liver was basically just a tumor at this point. Turfed her to surgery and they ended up moving straight to palliation. Hadn't seen a doctor in years and ignored most of her (probable) symptoms, probably due to an unrecognised dementia.
Another old lady came in with intermittent «weird» feeling in her left arm - usually too non-specific follow up, but due to a history of cancer and low staffing we ended up keeping her overnight for an MRI in the morning. Turns out she had had repeated cerebral infarctions, and one ultrasound exam of her right carotid revealed a straw thin occlusion and she was cleard for vascular surgery the next day.
Oh and most cases of thoracic aortic dissection (tears in the layeres of the main artery in the chest) only present with pain, usually severe, but this one guy only had light, but persistent stomach pain. No other complaints, all vitals stable. We did a CT scan, and his aorta had split from where it left the heart, all the way down to the groin. Within 20 min he was in a helicopter on the way to a thoracic surgeon.
"This is almost my everyday..."
This is almost my everyday in my field (optometry in the US). So many patients come in for an seemingly minor eye problem, or with no complaints at all, and I end up catching something serious that needs further evaluation or treatment.
Here's a couple of example stories:
- Patient is really nearsighted and just wants a new prescription for contact lenses. She hasn't been dilated in a few years and I convince her to let me dilate her eyes. During the exam she mentioned that she noticed a little floating thing in her vision. Sure enough, upon dilation I noted a tear in her peripheral retina. Miraculously, her macula was still attached, so she still had 20/20 vision. She was sent immediately, same day, to the retina surgeon for repair of her retina.
- Patient comes in complaining of some headaches. Vision is 20/20, but I wanted to dilate to take a look at her nerves. Turned out she had bilateral papilledema. No insurance, no primary care doctor. Had to send her to the hospital for an MRI and LP. Diagnosis ended up being idiopathic intracranial hypertension/pseudotumor cerebri.
- Patient comes in thinking they have a scratch on their eye. They are a contact lens wearer....or shall I say, a contact lens abuser. They are not wearing their lenses properly. Sleeping in them, throwing them away "when they feel bad". Two ulcers, one eye. Sent immediately to the cornea specialist, needed compounded antibiotics.
- Patient comes in just wanting a new pair of glasses. I check pressures and they are in the 40s, I dilate and his optic nerve is nearly completely cupped out. Advanced glaucoma, completely undiagnosed. Poor guy was only in his 40s, so I sent him to the glaucoma surgeon because honestly, we need to do everything we can to keep his pressure low because that's pretty young to have advanced glaucoma.
- Guy comes in, knowing he has glaucoma, but just wants glasses. Despite being on 3 glaucoma drops, his pressure is in the high 30s and he's got no vision in one eye (basically, super high risk patient, when you only have one good eye, we have to be extra cautious). That's another one that went straight to the glaucoma surgeon as well, he ended up getting a tube shunt that lowered his pressure down to 14.
- Guy comes in with uncontrolled diabetes for a routine eye exam. Had clinically significant macular edema and had to be sent to the retina specialist for intraocular injections.
If you're reading these stories and thinking "holy shit that's crazy I had no idea eye exams were so important/could uncover so much" well, yeah. That's kind of the point. Don't skip your eye exams!
"They didn't believe it so much..."
I'm a nurse, we had a schizophrenic patient who swallowed a toothpick, which caused an abcess in her stomach. Doctors removed the abcess and biopsied it- turned out to be adenocarcinoma. They didn't believe it so much that they biopsied her a second time to confirm it. She had to have major surgery and had most of her stomach removed.
"I was the patient."
I was the patient. I went to the dentist because of a blister in my mouth which just wouldn't go away. It turned out to be ab abscess. After my dentist removed it she made an x ray to make sure everything is fine. It was not. Part of the bone structure of my lower jaw was gone and she wasn't sure if this was really cause by the tiny abscess I had. So she insisted that I see another doctor to investigate this. It probably saved my life because it turned out to be cancer. The tumor was still very small so they just removed it and everything was fine. I lost two teeth but I will get my dentures soon. Without this abscess they would never discover my cancer and I could have died because of late treatment.
"Man came in..."
Man came in A&E for some laceration wounds after a fall, noticed he had a putrid nasty dead toe. On further questioning, he admitted that the toe had been like this for some time, but it didn't worry him because it didn't hurt. He was admited for an amputation and possibly sepsis.
DQ: What was your most sudden health scare?