Doctors have the power to save lives, but only if the people who need saving are willing to cooperate. We often need a bit of extra prodding to make us seek medical attention.
Reddit user Daisy548 asked:
The girl I was dating worked at a daycare. She had her regular parent teacher conference one night, and told me she was dreading having to tell one family that their eight month old was developmentally far behind compared to the other kids. He wasn't crawling yet, and was barely able to pick up his head when lying on his back, because his head was so big.
I told her to tell the parents to get the kid to a hospital because these are the typical signs of hydrocephalus, a condition where fluid gets trapped inside the brain.
The kid ended up having surgery to have a shunt placed, and has now developmentally almost caught up to his peers.
My father was degrading steadily for a few years. Medications would help for a bit, then stop. One specialist after another didn't help.
Go out for coffee after yet another appointment, a doctor asks if he's interested in joining his Parkinson's study. "He doesn't have that."
"He just hasn't been diagnosed. I can tell by his walk."
Six months later, dad is a grumpy old man again.
Saw a man sweating profusely, eyes popping out in the middle of winter with a light sweater on. Told him to see his gp today to get a thyroid blood test and get referred to an endocrinologist for Graves disease. Called me crazy and to mind my own business.
Ended up seeing him in clinic next week during my endocrinology rotation. "Hi doc sorry I called you crazy."
I was walking on the street and knocked into this lady. She said sorry really close to my face. Her breath smelled really sweet, fruity. This is characteristic of DKA (Diabetic Ketoacidosis). I stopped her and asked if she was diabetic. She said she wasn't sure. I asked her if I could count her resps. She was technically hyperventilating. She had urinated 6x/hour for the last 3 hours. And she said she felt kinda gross. I decided that ultimately she fulfilled enough of the criteria to be a candidate for DKA, and other possibilities were equally as lethal. There was an ambulance passing, I happened to have had my white coat on me since I was just off shift. So I waved it like a flag, and they pulled over and brought her to the hospital.
That said, unless I see someone actively dying (like in this scenario), I won't say anything. Almost every physician will undergo -5-10 experiences where they tried to help someone on the street or in a store, and they said go away, it's none of your business. So we decide to not speak up, even if they are dying sometimes. I only speak up if I am pretty sure whatever they have is lethal. I've had colleagues say people they met, or friends of their spouses have had diseases they tried to warn them about, but they ignored us. And then they wind up having expensive, but treatable, or inexpensive but untreatable diseases. Generally, if a doctor is taking his/her time to tell you that we think you have something with little to not testing. It is probably worth taking our advice in most situations no matter how much of a jerk you may think we are in that moment.
A few years ago I was leaving a movie. I stopped to use the bathroom and as I stood at the urinal, I was overcome by the smell of a GI bleed. There were 3 or 4 people using the stalls, and there were a total of maybe 12 people in the bathroom. I didn't want to make things weird, so after some hemming and hawing I decided my best course of action was to awkwardly yell "ONEOFYOUISBLEEDINGFROMYOURDIGESTIVETRACTANDSHOULDGOTOTHEERASAP!" as I ran out of the bathroom.
My cousin is a nurse and I wanted a second opinion on my boob, after seeing my DR the previous day. I sent a photo of my tit and my cousin replied "Hospital. Now." I had mastitis turn abscess from breast feeding. It was the worst case anyone at my hospital had seen. Heck they had Doctors, Nurses and students all coming in to see my boob. By the time I had surgery this infection was protruding and filled with blood and puss. It went from red and swollen to puss and blood within 6 hours. It was huge.
After surgery they stuffed my boob with 5 feet of gauze. It was removed by one nurse who had zero clue I had no pain killers in my system at the moment. I bawled and screamed in the shower as she ripped it all out. She apologized after realizing I felt every bit of that gauze coming out. Worst experience of my life hands down. I had to have a nurse come daily and change my packing and bandages for 6 weeks because the gaping hole almost made me pass out after the gauze removal. Anywho. Thank God my cousin told me to go.
I live abroad, but went home to visit my family over the Christmas holiday and unfortunately had to leave my husband back in the UK. I got off the plane and I felt pretty crappy, but I just chocked it up to motion sickness from the long airplane ride. However over the next few days I just got worse and worse, I felt really nauseous and exhausted, and I had terrible pain in my stomach. This went on for about a week.
My Mum was the first one who called it, told me I was definitely pregnant.
I completely denied it, I had an IUD and I hadn't missed a period, so in my mind there was no way I could be pregnant. When my Mum found out I had an IUD she forced me to go to Emergency immediately; turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy.
Luckily they caught it very very early, so no damage to my fallopian tubes or my reproductive future, but yeah she definitely saved me. If I had waited to go to the doctors after I had returned home it would have been way to late.
So very thankful for my genius Mum.
When I started medical school many years ago, my buddies and I (at different med schools across North America) came home after our first year and noticed our friend Dave had lost a tonne of weight. For the next few days, we all made fun of him as he ate a lot (dozen donuts in one sitting) and drank a lot of water. He felt crummy the next weekend, breath was noticeably sweet, and we made the straight-out-of-the-textbook first year med student diagnosis in our heads.
We hauled him to the ER where they admitted him, diagnosed him diabetic ketoacidosis as the first presentation of Type 1 diabetes mellitus, and started him on IV insulin.
Dave went on to many great things.
Nurse here.. Found a weird mole on my mom's back. We have a strong family history of melanoma so I'm super cautious with anything abnormal of the skin. I kept pushing her to get it checked out. Goes to dermatologist and the dermatologist says it's "nothing to worry about" and that she didn't want to biopsy it. My mom told her to go ahead and biopsy it. Ended up being precancerous.
I can't imagine my life without my mom.. thank god we got that one taken care of.
Had a janitor who I was friendly with stop by to chew the fat. Just small talk sort of stuff. He says, "I've been doing great but my left legs killing me".
For whatever reason I say, "Is it swollen?" no idea why, there are a million reasons for leg pain. It just came to me and of course it is. Right legs normal. "I think you have a DVT, you need to go get that checked, like today". He, being a typical male (and I can say that because I do dumb stuff all the time too), says, "Naw, I'll just tough it out."
Long story short had to go to his boss to get them to get him to go to the hospital. Clearly had a DVT and if I recall correctly had some small PEs. Super nice guy, did fine.
I'm an optometrist and I can spot a child with a vision defect at ten feet. Not all, but particularly the farsighted, amblyopic and those with strabismus. Even a slight eye turn is so obvious to me because I look at eye alignment over and over day in day out.
My grandfather was the definition of a walking doctor. Was not afraid to ask you about your bowel movements within the first 5 minutes of getting to know you. Sitting on a plane next to him? Waiting room of the DMV? Lunch? He would talk with everyone and everything if it meant he got an interesting conversation. One time he diagnosed a person he was sitting next to on a flight with Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) which is a rare disease that causes tumors to grow randomly on the body. The guy said specialists he'd been to could not figure out what caused them, and later contacted him after tests were done for the disease to tell him he was correct in his diagnosis. Have tons of other stories similar to this.
My grandfather was walking up a hill and got a bit winded, more so than usual. He's diabetic so thought it may be related and played it off as if it was nothing. A week goes by and he's still complaining, feels a constant pain in his chest and shortness of breath. Finally he decoded to see the doctor who takes one look at him and tells him to go across the street to the hospital. An EKG and a couple tests later, it turns out he had a heart attack and needed quadruple bypass. Were it up to him he'd never have even gone to the doctor in the first place.
I had a Med student diagnose me as a teenager in a bookstore as having migraines. I was reading and all of a sudden I lost all vision in my right eye. I yelled that to my friend who was standing next to a Med student who as browsing in the same section. He did the "smile test" to see if I was having a stroke (I wasn't). He told us to get to a hospital just in case but warned that a horrible headache was probably going to start. Went to the ER and sure enough as I was getting checked in, a red hot pain started behind my eyeball. Ta-da! migraine.
Pretty much the opposite to what you are asking but...
My wife went over her ankle wearing heels last year. I convinced her to not go to the ED for 3 weeks before finally taking her. I was making fun of her being a hypochondriac the whole time. Turns out she had a fractured metatarsal.
I am an ED doctor. We went to the department I now work at permanently. I will never live this down.
My wife works for a charity that provides all kinds of support for children with cancer as well as their families. I learned the signs of retinoblastoma when a family moved into her work for treatment. I noticed the same signs in pictures of a coworker's grandchild. I forced myself to make small talk and mention it. Sure enough, the child had retinoblastoma. It was found early enough that they were able to save the eye.
Got a call from a friend asking about her husband acting strangely, he was feverish and a little sick. To make a long story short they wound up going to emerg where he was promptly put into icu with severe sepsis.
I haven't happened upon too many emergently sick people at random, but I've told two people to go get their thyroid checked.
I am a doctor, but this story isn't about me (but still fits, I think)
So this police officer rolls up to an altercation between a guy and his weed dealer. Apparently the dealer sold the guy fake weed, the guy came back angry when he opened the package and found oregano inside, and he and the dealer got into a big fight.
There were a bunch of punches thrown, and the dealer apparently stabbed the guy in the chest with a small knife he had. Emphasis SMALL.
By the time the cops got there, they were both just screaming at each other. The purchaser accused the dealer of stabbing him, but insisted he was "fine" because it was just a pocket knife. Arrests were made, because the purchaser got stabbed the cops insisted he needed to go to the hospital to get checked out. When I talked to the arresting officer afterward, she said "he just seemed really anxious, pacing around, kind of sweaty, and the ambulance was taking awhile. I finally just decided to bring him in myself".
So of course that "really small pocket knife" had lacerated this guy's right atrium, and his pericardium was filling up with blood. He tamponaded and arrested when he hit the door. I honestly don't know that we would have saved him had not I been on call with a former military trauma surgeon who basically cracked his sternum open in the ER. But we did.
I tracked that cop down afterward to tell her that she 100% saved this guy's life. If they had waited another 10-15 min for the ambulance the guy would have died, no question.
Early shock can look a lot like drug intoxication, fyi
My mother came home about six months ago and told me that a friend of the family had been having some difficulties for a week or so where he kept on bumping into things. He had shrugged this off as "a virus" and felt that it would clear up by itself. I asked if he was bumping into things on the same side all the time and it turned out that he did - the left hand side. This is a likely sign of spatial neglect or a loss of vision on one side - two possible manifestations of a stroke.
A common cause of stroke is atrial fibrillation (essentially an irregular heart beat where the heart turns into a fun little stroke making machine which fires clots up into your brain to block off the circulation) which is treatable. I advised my mother that this guy go to the hospital immediately to be assessed. He had the rhythm as suspected and they shocked his heart back to normal rhythm. He was at high risk for developing further strokes and I believe he's doing quite well now.