Doctors Share Their "How Is This Person Still Alive" Moments


The human body is weird, and amazing, and surprisingly good at surviving. Many doctors have an "I don't understand how you're alive right now, by you appear to be fine" story or two.

Reddit user u/TheXypris asked:

"Doctors of Reddit, what made you say 'how the f*ck is this person still alive?'"

Be aware, a few of these are pretty graphic.

Earthquakes Are Terrifying

Both of the stories I'm sharing occurred during the Nepal Earthquake of 2015.

First was an infant who had a roof fall on his head. He was trapped for 10 min. before being rescued and took another 3 hours to drive him to the nearest functioning hospital (this happened in a remote area and he was brought in a taxi). His face was so swollen that it was probably more than double its original size. The top of his head was completely flat (like a dinner plate) and he had raccoon eyes. But somehow he was showing no danger signs and his vitals were normal. A CT scan miraculously showed that there was no brain damage or even an actual fracture, he had something called a Ping- pong fracture. The child recovered pretty well and was discharged in a couple of days.

Second was a lady who was roughly 8 months pregnant. Again, the roof of her house fell on her, sadly on her belly. From what she said, she was stuck under the rubble for about 4 hours, and it took a further 2-3 days to airlift her to the hospital. An x-ray of the pelvis was done which showed that it was broken badly in at least 4 places. But miraculously enough, there was very minimal bleeding. Someone with pelvis fracture can bleed to death easily, and she had multiple fractures in her pelvis.

Nobody can say what happened for sure, but it was thought that probably the weight of the rubble was so strong that it actually helped stop the bleeding due to the applied pressure. More miraculously enough, the baby showed no signs of injury or even stress, even though the roof fell straight on her belly, and was delivered healthily via C- section.


This Guy Is Hardcore

I helped take care of an older dude who had one leg amputated, and had broken his other leg so he was seeing us because of that. He was on oxygen and not being very compliant with using his wheelchair. We were talking with him and he was getting really argumentative.

"How am I supposed to chop wood in a wheelchair?" Was what he kept demanding. When asked how he was chopping wood with one leg in the first place he responded that he'd crawl into the woods and hop up to chop the wood. This was even more concerning.

When the doctor asked how he was carrying his axe, oxygen, and the wood he chopped he looked him straight in the eye and said: "I carry 'em on my back."

Not sure if he was serious, but he was pretty dang grizzled and looked like he may have been crawling through the woods.


So i'm imagining in my head a one legged bear of a lumberjack with a face full of hair crawling through the woods in winter with eyes looking up and ahead, thirsting at the oak a hundred metres from his cabin.

takes him an hour to crawl with 15kg of life support equipment and a tree killing axe.
does a one arm push-jump from prone and fells the oak twice his width with one stroke.
ties all of the 50m oak to his waist with a chain and crawls back.

takes him half an hour.


Wear Your Seatbelt! 

Witnessed a sedan with a trailer flip four times at ~75mph on a highway into a ditch right in front of me. A 12yo wasn't wearing a seatbelt and was thrown from the vehicle through an open window. He had a superficial laceration of his leg, and was in shock, but otherwise apparently unharmed. We did a quick trauma evaluation of the family, everyone seemed okay, and applied pressure to the kid's bleeding leg until EMS got there. When we were running to the wrecked car as the dust was settling, I was sure we were just going to see disembodied pieces of that kid everywhere, but he was really, really lucky. Wear seatbelts, folks. Everyone who remained buckled in the car didn't even have a scratch.


Don't Ignore Medical Advice

Older woman called 911 for chest pain. Her vital signs were sh*t and she had "the look" that anyone who's ever seen a patient about to die will recognize instantly. Her EKG suggested multiple blockages in her coronary arteries, and we had to put her on a ventilator shortly after she got to the ER because she deteriorated so quickly. Cath lab confirmed the EKG findings: complete blockage of one artery and 99% blockage of two other major arteries. Unfortunately it was too extensive to resolve with PCI, so the only option was to fly her to the university hospital in the city for an emergent triple bypass. It turned out that she'd had multiple episodes like this (but not quite as severe) over the last 6 months and had refused bypass surgery not once, not twice, but *three* times in favor of a Mediterranean diet. Well at this point she didn't have much say anymore and family agreed, so off to the OR she went. I took care of her again about 4 months later and she actually seemed to have made a remarkable recovery.


She triple bypassed a triple bypass


That Is...Scarily Impressive. 

A few years back my wife was doing clinicals at the local hospital while still in school and a guy came in with a blood sugar of 9...NINE!!! And he was totally conscious/lucid. As a type one diabetic myself I almost fell off my chair when I heard that.


Whenever I see the American blood glucose values I just have to trust people on what constitutes high/low. In this thread I've seen people mention blood sugars of 9 all the way up to 1000, so I decided to look it up. That's 0.2 and 56 respectively on the Canadian/UK blood glucose scale.

Which is absolutely goddam ridiculous.


It Was His Lucky Day

Best one I saw was a guy shot in the back, half an inch from his spine, he was totally stable sitting and talking to us. We saw the bullet sitting in between his svc, aorta and esophogus with injuries to no vital structure. Walked out a day or two later with just a band aid. Literal millimeter either way and he would've been a corpse, paralysed or needed major reconstructive surgery.

Edit: to be clear we saw the bullet on CT scan


At Least He Learned His Lesson

I'm still fairly new in my training but one of the first crazy recoveries I've seen:

College kid was out drinking with his buddies and had a bit too much to drink. He presumably aspirates some of his vomit and it causes this massive inflammatory reaction in his lungs called ARDS. He goes from perfectly healthy to being on death's door within an hour. He gets transferred to our ICU in the middle of the night, completely unstable, on a ventilator, maxed out on 5 pressors (life support meds to keep your blood pressure up) and is being considered for ECMO (edit: basically like a temporary machine bypass of your heart and lungs, used as a last ditch effort to save someone). His parents are on a last minute flight from out of state with no bags packed to get to their son. Our team is concerned that he won't make it through the night, and brace his friends for the worst.
The treatment for ARDS is actually something called proning, which is when you literally just flip the patient onto their stomach. And miraculously... 2 hours later he is off all pressors, maintaining his own blood pressure, and—while very sedated from all the meds—he's able to respond to voice and shake and nod his head to questions. He makes a full recovery 4 days later! (and vowing to stay away from alcohol for awhile)
Edit: to translate the medicalese a bit..
ARDS = Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome
ECMO = Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation
ICU = Intensive Care Unit


He Really Hates That Guy

Two that stick out.

Guy gets shot in the abdomen, drops to his knees; shooter puts one through the top of his head near his forehead. Bullet exits through his jaw. He wouldn't stop complaining...about how much he hates that the guy who shot him.

Young girl driving a car gets t-boned on the passenger side by an Altima going at least 70mph. Her car looks like it was hit by an IED so we assumed she was deceased upon arrival when the other crew on scene said our focus was extricating the people in the Altima. Girl driving was completely unhurt. Buy a Volvo.


All He Needed Was The Right Motivation

One of my prior patients is a roofer who lived a very full life of alcohol, women, and drugs. He was infected with HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and was cirrhotic and didn't really care about his health at all. He was ghostly thin and weighed 110 lbs on a 6 foot frame, which included 20 lbs of ascites in his abdomen.

He was angry and didn't listen to anyone, refusing therapy most of the time. I met him first in the ICU, where he had full blown AIDS, end-stage liver disease, hepatorenal syndrome, unexplained lymph nodes all over his body, variceal hemorrhage, Kaposi's sarcoma, and spontaneous bacterial peritonitis. Prognosis of in hospital death was >90% even with therapy.

I was involved in his care for about 2 weeks and again he refused every therapy that his primary physicians suggested. I was surprised he lasted the 2 weeks. Finally, he was so fed up of the noisiness in the ICU that he requested transfer to palliative care, and was eventually sent to a hospice for patients with advanced HIV to live out his remaining few days.

One year later I get a call from the hospice requesting a follow-up appointment for him. I was shocked that he was still alive and asked if I could talk to him. He was all better. Turns out he had the hots for his nurse in the hospice and did everything she asked in order to please her -- including taking his medications for the first time! She had slowly nursed him back to health, convinced him to restart HIV meds, put him on a low salt diet for his liver disease, and then eventually got him up and mobile.

He spent another six months in a rehabilitation facility, then went back to work. He saw me in follow up for a while as we treated his hepatitis C, then his cirrhosis shockingly improved. After a couple of years he moved away to another place to start a construction company and became rather successful financially, and remains abstinent on his former vices.

He's the only person that I've seen come back from death.


Life Is Definitely Weird

A guy I know with cancer who smokes 2 packs a day and drinks a fifth of Fireball every day. He lives in a trailer so dirty there is a half inch of dirt according to his wife's mother. He recovered from surgeries in that trailer. Eventually we got word he was quitting chemo and was just going to accept death.

5 years ago he was given 2 months to live. He is now completely cancer free.

Life is just weird sometimes.


How Did He Not Notice? 

As a student had a young guy come in who self inflicted a 22 to the inside of his mouth and passed out. Awoke the next morning, didn't recall the night prior, went to work. Two hours into work he says he's not feeling right and starts acting odd. Co-workers call EMS. They take him in and the ED is working him up and in the process notices a mix of clear fluid and blood in the back of his mouth. They call ENT and get a CT Head. Shows 11 or so bullet fragments throughout his noggin'. The guy was acting by that time completely unphased. I was very phased.


That's A Pretty Big Mistake

Kind of a retelling but...One time a cadaver on which I was performing an autopsy had a lung which was flipped upside-down. When I tried to flip it to the proper position, *bloop*. It flipped right back to upside-down.

After some due diligence we realized the lung was a transplant, and the surgeons who performed the transplant had attached the organ incorrectly. The lung had been fighting to be upside-down its whole life in this other man. After 15 or so years, the man eventually moved in a way that allowed it to flip over, resulting in his death.

Not really a "how the f*ck is this person still alive," but more of a "how the f*ck did this person live this long with this condition."


Vacation From Hell

Med Student here. My most memorable patient was a particularly pleasant middle-aged man who was flown back to my hospital in the Midwest after suffering a 6 story fall from a hotel balcony in the Caribbean.

The story goes this poor fella just arrived at his hotel planning to spend a week in paradise. Immediately upon arriving to his hotel, he stepped out on his balcony to watch the sunset and leaned on the railing only to have it collapse underneath him. He fell 6 stories straight down and suffered bilateral open tibial pilon fractures (which are particularly high energy and difficult to heal).

The poor guy apparently fell into a locked backyard and his wife and kids had to listen to him screaming in pain and bleeding for over 2 hours before they could get the fire department to break down the gate. He was taken to the hospital on the island he was staying where he was stabilized and they recommended he have both legs amputated. He begged to be shipped back to the United States, and apparently, the government got involved and flew him to Miami where he was externally fixated and transfused several times. I guess he had some internal trauma as well. About a week later, he was shipped up to the midwest to my hospital. Literally blew my mind the sh*t this poor guy went through just because he wanted to enjoy a vacation.

Sadly, I think that he ended up losing one of his legs anyways because his wounds wouldn't heal and he ended up with osteomyelitis (bone infection).



A few years back my wife was doing clinicals at the local hospital while still in school and a guy came in with a blood sugar of 9...NINE!!! And he was totally conscious/lucid. As a type one diabetic myself I almost fell off my chair when I heard that.


A Series Of Fortunate Events

Not a doctor, but the person everyone asked "How the f*ck is this person still alive?" to.

Got my drivers license late, at age of 25, 2 months later I'm driving in to town when I lose control of the car (front right tire popped for no apperant reason), it swirls out on the right side of the road, I pull back and when I get back on the road the car flips sideways and goes straight out to the trees, I was doing 90km/h (60mph ish), knocked down a couple of smaller trees and ended up wrapped around a larger one.

So many things went right for me to not die.

The drivers seat gave in to the pressure and folded back, so when the roof got pushed in from the tree it didn't crush me.

The angle I was in due to the seat giving in meant that there was about half an inch room between my head and ceiling of the car.

Survival instincts kicked in and I managed to squeeze out of a broken window without too much damage, walked out to the side of the road were a car came driving back, he was driving the direction I was but was ahead of me, saw smoke from the dry dirt where I crashed, turned around and went to help me.

He called 911, 2nd car to show up was a nurse on her way to work at the hospital, so she had a first aid kit and patched my 2 cuts up.

Next thing I know firefighters and police and ambulance show up and noone believes I'm the driver of the car wrapped around that tree, because that person should be dead.

I knew 2 of the firefighters personally and they told me later on that they saw it was my car and were alreapy prepared to find my dead body in the car when they arrived, and I sat there on the ground and said "Hey Kevin and Marcus", the relief in their face when they saw me was quite fun.
Got in the ambulance, they pumped morphine in me, I joked all the way to the hospital and the doctor asked if he could share my story with people because I was a f*cking legend.

Pics: (includes one where I'm high on morphine).

Car: VW model 2

Reason for morphine: Procautionary due to me being in shock and actually my leg did hurt, they were also worried about spinal injuries.

Thanks for all the kind words as well!


Not A Pleasant Person

ER nurse here. The one that immediately stands out in my mind was the diabetic who was, of course, noncompliant with her regimen, and came in feeling like crap because her blood sugar was high.

How high? Try just below 1300.
For reference, diabetics are supposed to manage their blood levels and keep them no higher than 180, and even that's kind of pushing at the limit.
By all accounts, this girl should have been in a diabetic coma. At best. Yet SOMEHOW she was conscious, walking, talking, and arguing with us every step of the way. Despite the fact that her pee was almost pure sugar (and resembled crystallized honey), it was a 20-minute argument to get her to stop drinking her diet mountain dew (she firmly believed that the fact that it was diet meant it was fine). Her blood was syrup: how we got enough to run blood tests was a minor miracle in itself. She kept complaining and asking for snacks and junk and just... she was not a pleasant person at all.

Obviously, she gets to go up to the ICU. Twenty minutes after we get her up and transferred she walks out of the hospital. Why? She was mad that they only would give her water to drink. Priorities, I guess?

Haven't seen her since, but I still wonder about her from time to time...



Had a lady WALK IN to the hospital with her face pointed at her chest.

Her C1 vertebra had somehow fallen off C2, with her spinal cord delicately draped across the odontoid process. No damage to anything. Repaired with slow traction and a halo for a little while. Still baffles my mind 5 years later.

EDIT: lots of questions!

-This little old lady said it happened slowly over time, but when she woke up from her nap that evening, something felt different. No traumatic injury reported.

-She had been side-stepping for almost a year.

-i haven't had time to draw a diagram yet, but I'll come back in a little while when i have a chance to doodle one!

Behold! My attempt at a diagram of how she looked. I'm afraid it doesn't make the situation any less scary.


Quietly Call The Ambulance

My dad. Walked a mile to see a friend and tried to walk up the stairs.

Couldn't get up one step. Walked back one mile to his office, looked up who his doctor was, since he hadn't seen one in 20 years, and drove there. No appointment. Dr. hooks him up to an EKG, but it's fine. Tells him there's a cardiologist next door, it's the end of the day, they'll see him. Just in case.

They hook him up to a blood pressure monitor while he's on a treadmill. The monitor is behind him, he can't see it. He starts walking. They set a countdown timer for 3 minutes, and about 30 seconds in, one of the nurses steps out of the room. My dad is watching the timer and it counts down to zero. He feels fine and figures he's going home but the door opens and two ambulance attendants are wheeling in a gurney.

While he was on the treadmill, his blood pressure dropped to zero, then restarted, then dropped to zero again. The nurse who stepped out of the room dialed 911. They let him finish because they figured as soon as he stopped, the heart attack would start in earnest. Quadruple bypass later and he lived, but note, he said he never felt the same. A bypass is not a panacea.

Edit: Panacea <pan uh SEE uh> solution to all problems. (Apparently, not a commonly used word.)


How Were You Still Lucid? 

I'm not a doctor but I was diagnosed with Addison's at age 13 or so. Was just generally feeling lethargic, vomiting, dizzy. Mom calls the hospital with symptoms and they said if I had all three at the same time to come in to be safe

Orderly or whatever checks my pulse in the lobby. 30/15, he laughs "well this one's broken" and gets another machine. 30/15 "wait... What?!" Calls a doctor, they double check it and RUN me to the ER for fluids.

Again, not a doctor here, but apparently that's not even high enough to have a pulse. They had no clue how I was walking let alone concious, but saw the numbers and after realizing it was accurate they freaked the hell out. And of course that freaked my mom out. Them telling my mom 30/15 is the BP of a dead person did not help. And then they said it's either auto immune or cancer.

My immune system apparently ate my adrenal glands, now I'm on meds for life, lucky me.
On the bright side though I never really have to worry about high blood pressure.


Three Day Rule

Followed this patient with my attending. 19/20 year old african american with sickle cell anemia. Stroked out and was in a coma. Intubated and put on a ventillator because they couldn't breathe on their own. MRI was bad, looked like somebody emptied out a shotgun shell and scattered the pellets around the brain. Still haven't seen another MRI like that one.

With the brain, there is a essentially a 3 day rule. If you have little change 3 days after a neurological injury, the chances of meaningful recovery are slim. Week one goes by, daily spontaneous breathing trials (test to see if they can breathe on their own) failed, so the patient is kept tubed/vented. Second week goes by and we hit Thursday with no change in status.

My attending and I are reviewing after we see the patient, and we make the decision that the next morning we are going to encourage the family to withdraw care. Friday morning, we go in. Spontaneous breathing trial has failed but the patient's eyes are open and following us around the room. Their eyes hadn't been open over those prior two weeks. My attending and I were absolutely shocked. We were convinced this kid was essentially brain dead but now we've been proven wrong. Still, we didn't hold out much hope for more improvement. I mean, two weeks and they can open their eyes and follow people around the room? You can say we're pessimistic about chance of recovery but experience does speak for a lot in these situations. It's Saturday or Sunday, we can safely remove the breathing tube. Another week goes by, the patient is able to move their head around and starts to move the arms/legs. Another week goes by, they are able to sit at the edge of the bed.

During this time of rapid improvement, they still lacked fine motor skill and could not produce coherent speech. The patient would get frustrated, tearful, and despondent. In discussion with the family, I make the comment to my attending in private that the patient appears depressed. My attending brings up the likelihood of depression and mom just snubs that. "X has nothing to be depressed about! X is alive!" We argue our case for depression with her, "A month ago, X could walk, talk, and eat without assistance. X cannot do any of those things now. X's life won't ever be the same. X has every reason to be depressed." She was still in denial about the prospect of her child being depressed in that situation.

The patient was discharged to rehab a few days after that conversation, and I don't know what happened to them after that. That case really is one of those cases that qualifies as a "miracle" to me. I don't believe in a higher power but that was a very significant and completely unexpected recovery. Everybody involved in the care of that patient was sure that the patient was going to die, and we were all proven wrong. It's a nice reminder that there are outliers.


You May Also Like
Hi friend— subscribe to my mailing list to get inbox updates of news, funnies, and sweepstakes.
—George Takei