December 4, 2013

35 Doctors And Patients Share Their Worst Misdiagnoses And Doctor Horror Stories

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Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson

1. Overlooked Gunshot

I missed a gunshot wound once. A guy was dumped off at the ER covered in blood after a rap concert. We were all focused on a gunshot wound with an arterial bleed that was distracting. The nurse placed the blood pressure cuff over the gunshot wound on the arm. We all missed it because the blood pressure cuff slowed the bleeding.I was doing the secondary assessment when we rolled the patient, and I still missed it.

We didn’t find it till the chest x-ray. The bullet came of rest in the posterior portion of the thoracic wall without significant trauma to major organs.The patient lived. But I still feel like I fucked up big time.

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2. HIV Patient Autopsy Scare

Pathologist here. Biggest mistake I ever made was cutting myself during an autopsy on an HIV patient. Lucky for me, I did not acquire the virus, so everything had a happy ending. (For me, anyway. That guy was still dead.)

3. Misdiagnosed With Epilepsy

As a very young doctor in training I misdiagnosed a woman with epilepsy. Some years prior she had sustained a gunshot wound to the frontal area, damaging the underside of one of her frontal lobes and severing an optic nerve to one of her eyes, as well as some of the muscles that rotated that eyeball. Surgery saved her life but the frontal lobe was scarred and the eye was blinded and always pointed down and at an angle away from her nose. A few years after that she began having spells of bizarre sensations, altered awareness, a pounding in the chest, and she had to sit down, stop what she was doing, and couldn’t speak. These were odd spells and I assumed she had developed frontal lobe epilepsy from the scar on her brain. Increasing doses of anti-seizure drugs seemed to work initially, but then the spells came back.

A couple years after my diagnosis her endocrinologist, who treated her for diabetes mellitus, checked a thyroid. It was super-high. The spells were manifestations of hyperthyroidism. She drank the radioactive iodine cocktail, which ablated her thyroid, got on thyroid replacement therapy, and felt well thereafter. No permanent harm done and she was able to come off the anti epilepsy drugs.

4. “Oh Shit”

Not me, but my mom. She just retired as an ob/gyn and she told me about a time early on in her career when, while not a real medical mistake, she still almost ruined the operation. She was performing a c-section I think, and she dropped her scalpel on the floor. Before she could think, she blurted out “oh shit” as a reaction. The mother, thinking something was wrong with the baby, started panicking. It took a team of nurses, the husband, and the mother of the patient to calm her down.

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