A lot of crazy cases come through the emergency room door, but we don't all know a doctor who can share those strange cases with us.
Here are some 'How Are You Even Alive' stories as told by doctors.
Many thanks to all the Redditors who responded. Check out more answers from the source at the end of this article!
In Brazil, you can do internships way earlier than in most of America and Europe med schools, so keep that in mind.
I was in my 4th year of med school and in the first day as an intern in a trauma hospital (after training). There was a bus crash right before, so all the staff was occupied when a woman came in screaming: - I AM GOING TO DIE! I GOT SHOT IN THE HEAD! When I look up I see a really thin woman, deep eyes, white as snow skin...with a bullet hole in the center of her forehead. She told us she owed money to a drug dealer and he put a gun against her head, shot and ran. Now, I believe because she has burn marks and gun powder right there in her skin (and a hole).
I am a student, and there was no available Doctors in the moment. So I run to my professor (that was with another patient) and tell her story....and also that she is lucid, with normal life signs...and get a order to do a CT scan.
The CT shows that the bullet entered the forehead through the first layer of the frontal bone, but not the second, and headed down through her pallatus, and stopped at a vertebra (c5 if I recall correctly). No brain damage at all.
So we intern her and a tracheostomy is put in place, along with emergency reconstructive surgery (only a first, not definitive approach), along with a cervical collar.
After she is stable, 3 hours latter in her room (3rd floor) we go down to see other patients. The emergency then gets a call:
-Hello. We are from the X hospital (20km away from ours) and we found a patient of yours in our emergency. Then the nurses on the floor realize she was missing.
She jumped a 3rd storage floor, broke her ankle and got in buses until the other hospitals. Why?
"I saw him in here, he came to finish the job."
And before you ask, yes, some people lost their jobs.
2. Cows are tough.
I'm a veterinarian. In my humble opinion, I believe that cows are capable of surviving just about anything. They're the most hardy animals on the planet.
One day, I walk into the clinic and stop by a stall to see a cow, completely calm and chewing her cud. The problem? Two legs protruding from her hind end. She had went into labor ONE MONTH prior and was unable to deliver the calf for whatever reason.
Turned out that during the delivery, the calf had perforated into the mother's abdomen and she was septic! With the removal of the calf, some heavy duty antibiotics, and lots of care from the staff, she survived. Cows are amazing.
3. Luckily you didn't say that...
I work at a trauma center as an anesthesiologist, so I see a LOT of crazy stuff. People surviving stabbings, gunshot wounds to the head, a freeway collapsing on someone during construction. But one case will forever stick in my mind. I got called down to the ER to help manage an airway. The call said there was a woman who had a difficult airway due to trauma, and there was a splintered piece of wood in the way. I walk down, ask what the story is. Little old lady lost control of her car, ran off the road into the side of a house. She ran into a wooden porch that was positioned almost exactly at the level of her nose. So I approach the lady to see what we're working with for an airway and she legit has a chunk of wood that has smashed her nose, is sitting right between her eyes. Thing must have been three inches wide, god knows how long, and about 1 inch from top to bottom. About four inches of board is sticking out of her face.
My immediate instinct is to say "holy crap". Fortunately I didn't because it turned out the woman was conscious at that moment. I intubated her, she went off to the scanner, and then to the OR. Last I heard, after a series of reconstructive surgeries she was doing pretty well. I occasionally think back to that moment and just wonder how that woman was alive.
4. Close call.
Had a patient who was shot in the back, the bullet landed just above his aortic arch, no more than 1 mm away. Guy actually did fine, but if he would've taken a slightly different sized breath that one time or was a tiny bit taller he'd have been killed on the spot.
5. The brink of death.
We have a young man who we see frequently in our ED/ hospital.
He's quite ill chronically including an impaired immune system, end - stage renal disease on dialysis, hypertension, etc, with underlying psychiatric issues to boot.
Well not long ago he picked at his AV fistula while in a room near our ER and it opened up, basically painting the walls with his entire blood volume. His heart stopped. He was resuscitated with blood and his wound was closed and he somehow lived, unaffected.
He still presents frequently on the brink of death.
6. VERY lucky.
Writing a case report about this guy but here goes the short version.
Guy falls drunk down a flight of stairs and wakes the next morning and goes to the ER. They do everything they should, head and neck radiographic studies, physical exam, everything seems fine except for the laceration on his forehead. They have him lean back in the gurney and inject anesthetic so they can stitch his laceration. He starts having trouble breathing (allergic reaction right? That's what they thought.) Before long they have to intubate him and they send him over to our trauma center, but not before mistakenly intubating (putting the breathing tube) into the esophagus (not where it belongs) and (since it didn't work to keep his oxygen up) they cut the front of his neck to put a tube in there.
We get him at this point, repeat the radiographs, find air in his abdomen (which suggests bowel perforation or some other trauma below the diaphragm) and head into surgery. He's in a neck brace this whole time which is good because we get the new radiographs back and it turns out he has a broken neck. It was missed before supposedly because he has ankylosing spondylitis and it messes with X-ray images by making your spine look weird at baseline.
Regardless of the broken neck though, we have to find out where that air in his belly came from. And it was a lot. We thought this guy was just large when he came in but it was all air. Turns out when they accidentally intubated his esophagus, they pushed so much pressure in trying to get air in that they perforated the esophagus with a bunch of little holes. Too small to stitch so all we could do was make him NPO (nothing por os - (by mouth)) and feed him directly into his stomach while he was with us and let the neurosurgeons fix his neck as best they could. When they open up the neck they find the real reason for the difficulty breathing was the huge collection of blood in front of the break was compressing his airway. Once it was out the swelling was gone and with the plates in place on his neck all we could do was hope that he wasn't paralyzed from the broken neck, and that the perforations in his esophagus hadn't infected his mediastinum (the part of the chest with a bunch of your vital structures in it) because trying to treat those with antibiotics is a beast and has a high mortality.
He wakes up, not paralyzed. A few days later, not dead of infection. Lucky SOB that one.
7. "...seemed like such a human thing to do for someone that had no reason to still be alive."
3am on a Saturday. I was working in the emergency room of a level 1 trauma center and we had 3 people coming in after a gun battle. We only had 2 beds designated for severe trauma, so there was the typical discussion re: which 2 people to try to stabilize and which person to delegate to the make shift trauma bay. Do we focus on the most severely injured or the 2 most likely to survive? After what seemed to be a nearly comically drawn out and shakingly quiet/still wait, the first 2 victims arrived and the stillness flipped to chaos.
The first person wheeled in...just didn't seem to have a head. There was this bloody mass at the top of his neck but it didn't look human. I remember being so confused that we were using one of the bays for this person/body, who just could not still be alive. I was looking him over and I noticed his left thumb was was calmly and repeatedly cracking the knuckles on his left hand. It would squeeze one finger and rhythmically work down the other 4 and start over. He didn't have any anatomy left that we could easily intubate and yet he was cracking his knuckles. I still can't make sense of it. He didn't stay alive much longer, maybe a couple of hours, but that knuckle cracking seemed like such a human thing to do for someone that had no reason to still be alive.
8. Something they'll never forget.
Guy came in about 10 minutes away from death. He had been run over by a car. By the time we prepped him, he had passed. But per the doctor's moral code, we tried to save him anyway. After hours of constant work, we gave up.
We declared him dead and were packing up when he woke up. Like some horror movie type stuff. He just sat up straight and inhaled loudly, my assistant and I just looked at each other. It's been a couple of months, and he's still in ICU, but this memory will always give me goosebumps.
When I was a resident we had a guy who set the bar for achieving "cockroach status" (i.e. just can't kill them): he came into the ED complaining that his dialysis catheter was bothering him. He had been picking at it to the point it was crumbling, he had only a small local abscess there, the kicker was that he hadn't gone to dialysis in over a year.
Typically people who are dialysis dependent (as this guy had been) die 10-14 days after stopping dialysis.
10. This one blows my mind...
I remember when I was an intern in the Emergency Department (Interns here have to do rotations in various departments), when a 30-something year old guy came in with simple URTI symptoms, essentially coughs and the flu.
However, the paramedics at triage found that his spO2 - the oxygen concentration in his blood - was low and there were some crepitations in his left lung. Pretty standard, early stage pneumonia.
I didn't like the sound of his crepitations, however. It was way too loud and far in between and I don't hear any normal breath sounds. The patient was very comfortable, otherwise. So, off he went to do some x-ray.
I got my answer and the shock of my life when he came back. His left chest cavity was filled with bowels. The crepitations that I heard were bowel sounds. Simply put, the guy had no left lung. Judging from his comfort level and his own shock, we suspected it was congenital.
We diagnosed him with a simple URTI and sent him home after routine observation.
A couple of months after that, there was a middle aged, probably 50 year old, lady who fell and has a laceration wound over her forehead. We patched her up and sent her to the xray to see if there's any fracture.
What we saw was that she had scores, maybe hundreds of tiny needles embedded inside her skin.
My boss told me that it's 'susuk'. Now, susuk is a traditional 'cosmetic surgery' procedure that has been practiced by my people for hundreds of years. The myth was if a magic man bury gold needles inside your face, you can look young, charm people, even gain magical powers.
I guess one part of that was true. The middle age looking lady was actually pushing 90.
11. Gotta get the hemoglobin.
I saw a patient, 23/F who came to the OPD with fatigue and dizziness. She was pale as a sheet, and painfully thin. Her blood was drawn for testing, and it looked translucent. Like red wine or something. So when her hemoglobin was tested, it turned out to be 1.1!
For reference, normal range is 11 to 16. Below 4 is very severe anemia. Hemoglobin less than 2 is not compatible with life (mortality 100%). And she had the symptoms she was having for two years. She wasn't even in the ER. She could walk short distances, talk without getting out of breath. We thought there was some technical error in the test, sent 2 different samples to different labs while blood crossmatching was going on. The results came back as 1.0 and 1.1.
She got her bottles of blood, was diagnosed with 2 different types of anemia together, got treated. She went through what would have killed almost anyone, and looked much less sick than most patients with a hemoglobin of 6.
12. Truly inspiring.
I had a patient once who I use as an inspiration to others.
In his late 40s he was diagnosed with alcoholic cardiomyopathy (his heart was only pumping 15% of the blood out per stroke, normal is 60%+), atrial fibrillation (fast irregular heart), diabetes, and hypertension in the same day. He weighed 140kg, smoked heavily, ate nothing but food from the pie shop, and spent every night in the pub. The cardiologist told him he was basically about to die (true), and was put on five different medications.
He stopped drinking altogether, started exercising, quit smoking, ate nothing but salad. He lost 45kg, his diabetes reversed and he stopped some medications, his heart went back to 55% stroke volume (pretty much normal) and most of his HF meds were stopped, his blood pressure dropped to normal.
He was "the happiest he'd ever been, and not just to be alive". After a couple of false starts, he found himself a decent girlfriend. He still went to the pub for the social aspects, but drank soda-water.
He was a really decent bloke too, and was quite the inspiration to many people in the small country town where we were living at the time to improve their lives.
13. "He looked very hurt that his "friend" gave him dangerous heroin."
I'm in PA school. Had a patient on my ER rotation in his 50s came in as a heroin overdose. A significant amount of the heroin during that summer in my area had been laced with fentanyl.
Per the patient's chart, this was his fourth overdose.... this week.
I ended up having to tell him that the heroin he had at home "wasn't the same as normal heroin" and he looked very hurt that his "friend" gave him dangerous heroin.
14. Never seen again.
I got called down to the Emergency Department around 2AM to admit a patient to the ICU. The patient had been found in a car in a parking lot, unconscious and obviously having trouble breathing. The guy had a huge mass in his right neck, around the size of a grapefruit. His oxygen level was frighteningly low, so the ED docs tried to intubate him. They couldn't pass the tube due to the mass making his airway around the size of a drinking straw.
After repeated attempts, they called in the surgeons on call, which consisted of a chief surgical resident and a surgical intern. Those two attempted a bedside crike but also failed due to the neck mass. Finally after calling in other ED docs, they managed to pass a small tube and hook the guy up to a ventilator.
When I arrive, he's laying on the bed completely unresponsive. He has an ugly, gaping (but relatively shallow) wound in his throat packed with gauze from the failed crike. He has no reflexes at at all. His pupils are fixed and dilated. He isn't breathing on his own, relying entirely on the ventilator. The only thing he has is a pulse. The guy is dead, his heart just doesn't know it yet. We see this all the time... the patient will hold on for a little while until someone (ie family) decides to pull the breathing tube, at which point they'll die. So we get him upstairs to the ICU and I go back to sleep. I wake up an couple hours later and hand my patients, including the guy off to the day team.
Later that afternoon I wake up again and check up on him. Turns out he woke up around noon. He pulled out his breathing tube on his own. After coughing for a minute or two, he proceeded to loudly cuss out every person within 50 feet, asking why they didn't let him die. Turns out he's had this neck cancer for a while, and just wants to let it kill him without doing anything about it. He just wanted to peacefully suffocate (??) and be left alone. He got out of bed, signed his AMA paper, and left the hospital. Never saw him again.