26 Doctors Talk About The Saddest, Most Bizarre, And Most Hilarious Cases Of Self Diagnosis They’ve Ever Seen

via Flickr - Dennis Skley
via Flickr – Dennis Skley

1. A MAGICAL FIRST

We had a 16 year old female and her boyfriend come into the Emergency Room. The girl thought she had had some sort of seizure. Our head medical resident went in to talk to her privately. He came out later barely able to contain his laughter as he came around the curtain. He took the team to a more private area and burst out laughing. In taking her history he realized she had simply had her first orgasm.

2. STOP TOUCHING THAT

Anal cysts. Nope, he just touched his anal cavity too much and left it irritated.

3. 20 Heart Attacks

This happened in med school. I was taking the history of a guy in clinic and I asked about his past medical problems, including if he had had any heart attacks.
He responded, “oh yeah, I’ve had about 20 of those.”

“…you’ve had 20 heart attacks??”

“Yup.”

“Which doctor(s) did you see about them? Do you have a cardiologist?”

“Nah, I never went to a doctor. My wife is a massage therapist, and whenever a heart attack hits, she starts to massage some pressure points and it stops.”

“……Uhhhhh, ok……What does it feel like when you have a heart attack?”

“I don’t ever remember them. My wife tells me that I fall onto the floor and my arms and legs start jerking. She says it takes about a minute of her massaging before it stops. I then get really confused and tired afterwards, and I can’t remember much of anything that happens to me until I take a nice long nap.”

The dude was having seizures, and thought that they were heart attacks. They normally stop on their own after a few minutes (at the most), and his wife thought that her massages were curing him.

4. THE STRAINED LEG MUSCLE THAT WASN’T

Someone thought they had “a strained muscle in their leg” because it locked up and they couldn’t bend their knee, then an abscess formed at the top of their leg right at the pelvic bone, and blood/pus started literally pouring out, non-stop, for days.

Eventually he came to the doctor’s office, then straight to the ER, and had an abscess in his Psoas muscle (a muscle near the spine and intestines) caused by a perforation in his small intestine. Yep. Pretty far off on that guess there, but apparently it happened right after some heavy lifting.

To be clear for all you gym rats, no, it was not in any way associated with him lifting, it was a result of undiagnosed Crohn’s disease destroying his intestines.

5. AT 19 YOU’RE NEVER WRONG

Had a 19yo girl come in asking for antifungal medication because she was convinced she had oral thrush. Her and her boyfriend had Googled her symptoms, and at 19 you’re never wrong. When I suggested that perhaps we check an EBV antibody to rule out mono, she looked at me like I was actively drooling on myself and refused, because there was, “No way I can have mono.” Eventually I convinced her to have some diagnostic testing done, and sure enough she had mono. I tried to explain that having oral thrush as a 19 year old could possibly be much more concerning than mononucleosis, but she didn’t seem to get it.

I will give the caveat that if a patient volunteers that they were looking up their symptoms online, I’ll always ask them what they think they have and why. This can sometimes give insight to symptoms or concerns they may not have let on about that help me to make a correct diagnosis. Besides, taking an active role in your health is certainly not a bad thing. As long as you’re not being a douche and acting as if I’m some moron, I welcome that kind of discussion.

6. HE WAS DYING OF BREAST CANCER

I had a male patient come in to the Emergency Department complaining of “breast lump.” He anxiously stated that the mass was very painful to touch and was convinced that he was going to die of breast cancer.

After a battery of questions I asked him to take off his shirt so I can examine and palpate (read: touch) the mass. After a couple of seconds, I turned to him and said, “Sir, that lump is your rib.”

He called me a “dumb kid” and asked to see my attending (I was a student at the time). The pt asked the attending why, if it is a rib, that it would hurt so much. The doc replied, “Sir, you’ve been rubbing and irritating the area for days now, you’ve been hurting yourself.”

I’ve never seen a man leave the hospital that fast.

7. THE STAPLE

While working as a nurse, had a patient who insisted that her abdominal pain was from a surgery she’d had done on her arm. She thought that a staple that had been used to close the wound on her arm had somehow traveled to her abdomen.

8. THERE’S NO WAY THESE THINGS ARE CONNECTED

Had a guy come in for migraines and confidently proclaimed that the severe head trauma he had suffered 1 month prior had nothing to do with it.

9. WOW, JUST WOW

Patient was dizzy. Patient thought she had a brain tumor. Went to the medical general practitioner. General practitioner thought she had a chronic middle ear infection. Went to the ear, nose and throat physician. ENT diagnosis: pregnancy.

10. THE HYPOCHONDRIAC

Not a Doctor, but a pharmacist. The patient had a cold, convinced it was “severe sinusitis” (a bit of a known hypochondriac). Saw Dr, got script for antibiotic. Was convinced she was allergic to every antibiotic tried until all that was left was antibiotics which aren’t usually used in URTIs at a sub-therapeutic dose (because she’s “very sensitive to medications”). The infection wasn’t going away so she took antibiotics for longer and longer.

She somehow got her hands on a blood glucose machine and must have had a reading that was slightly low one day because all of a sudden she started buying bags and bags of jelly beans because “the infection is making my blood sugar go dangerously low” (fasting ~4mmol/L, so normal). So she is taking more and more glucose (moved onto the straight glucose powder now) to control the “dumping syndrome” (I don’t think she even read the Wiki on that one…) that the infection caused. Symptom of her “dumping syndrome”: blood glucose dropping rapidly (because she is on a diet consisting of pretty much solely pure glucose) to “dangerous levels” (~4mmol/L). She is testing her blood glucose on average 20 times a day and taking about 250gm of pure glucose at least (from us) plus supplementing with lollipops from the supermarket for some variety.

We’ve consulted with her Doctor. Nobody can convince her otherwise, we’ve all tried. She’s put on ~15kg in the last month or so and will definitely end up with diabetes soon.

The Doctor also made a mistake the other day. In exasperation she said to her (in her 3rd appointment that month) “You should count yourself lucky, there are people far worse than you that can’t even get out of bed.” And guess what, she now gets deliveries because she is so sick she can’t get out of bed…

Tl;dr – Lady had a cold is now giving herself diabetes by living on pretty much just simple sugars.

11. “BLOODY” STOOL

Had a friend come to me claiming she was surely dying and had colon cancer. She had dark stool, among some other things, the bloody stool being, “the smoking gun.” I asked her what she had been taking to help with her stomach pains. She said Pepto-Bismol of course. I told her to stop taking the Pepto-Bismol, and told her to go see her primary physician about it. Sure enough it was just the Pepto-Bismol.

12. THE WISDOM TOOTH

As a self-diagnosing patient myself…one day I noticed a white, hard, jagged object protruding from my back gum. I couldn’t believe a tooth was coming in especially at 23 and I’d had my wisdom teeth taken out years ago. Go to the dentist to get some X-rays annnnd it turns out to be a piece of a tortilla chip.

13. THE DIABETIC

Here’s my favorite correct patient self-diagnosis.

A female doctor I know at my school likes to tell this story as an example of why one must always ask for patient attribution (i.e. “What do you think is causing your problem?”)

A really old guy came in complaining of foot pain. He was diabetic. Lady doctor already has a diagnosis in mind, but goes through the whole shebang. At the end asks “And what do you think is causing the problem?” He goes: “I think I have a tack in my shoe.”

He had a tack in his shoe and couldn’t bend over to get it out. She helped him remove it and he went on his way.

14. THE WORST PARENTS TO EVER EXIST

So I’m a therapist and I work with kids. Worst self-misdiagnosis was a family with a two week old who was convinced the baby had 1) Anxiety- because he cries. 2) Autism- little eye contact 3) Bipolar disorder- because baby would seem content then angry.

I spent HOURS explaining child development, what these diagnosis mean, how they would present in kids. I provided them with books, hand outs, etc. They insisted on going to see my co-worker and a psychiatrist as I was surely lying to them. Even after meeting with the other two professionals, they still weren’t convinced. They requested psych meds from the doctor.

15. ALLERGIES

This is less self-diagnosing and more self-treatment.

My wife is a nurse at an allergy clinic. She had a patient come in saying that she was having issues managing her allergies… even with self-administered injections of liquid Benadryl.

Suffice to say, the doctor had to have some VERY strong words with her.

She’s actually had a number of… unique patients come in. Like the lady who worked at a greenhouse and was convinced that she was allergic to the birds that hung out there… and brought in some of their feces for my wife to perform a scratch test with. That did not happen.

This one’s just really sad. One of the things my wife’s doctor recommends to his patients is eliminating food items they think they might be allergic to from their diet if they’re only getting mild symptoms, as it usually takes months to get in to an allergy specialist.

Some people don’t catch on (and I’m sure he goes into MUCH more explicit instructions than I am here) that you’re supposed to REINTRODUCE those food items if the symptoms aren’t going away – if you think you’re allergic to peanuts, but are still getting allergic reactions even if you don’t eat peanuts, it’s a good chance you’re not allergic to peanuts but rather something else.

Anyways, there was a lady that had come in and was eliminating food item after food item from her young child’s diet to the point where for months all she would prepare for him was rice. Sorry, not rice, rice that had been strained… and not the rice itself, but rather the broth that she strained off the rice. This had been going on for weeks. I don’t think the kid was still having reactions but he was definitely not doing well. I assume Child Protective Services was called.

16. BLESS

Not a doctor but a Physiotherapist. I had an elderly female patient ask if she should go and have her prostate checked because her father died of prostate cancer at her age. Bless.

17. THE END IS NIGH

Man came into the ER in a panic thinking he had incurable skin cancer.

Turns out he had a wart on his foot…

18. HOW DO YOU “FORGET” THIS?

I’m an orthopedic surgeon, so patients are really often unable to diagnose themselves because they don’t have the power of MRI or scoping. The most incorrect self diagnosis I’ve encountered was a patient who believed they broke their hip after a fall when they actually had a 2 inch piece of skateboard lodged into their side they forgot about…yeah.

19. THE MELON

My boyfriend was born in a teaching hospital. Because of the size of his head, a bunch of doctors informed his parents that they believed it to be a brain tumor just days after he was born.

It ended up being that he just has a huge head.

20. HERPES

A girl I know works in ER and not too long ago a college age kid came in around midnight to get tested for herpes. They figured it must have been pretty bad for him to go into the ER, after further investigation the small red dot turned out to be an ingrown hair.

21. IMPURE THOUGHTS

I had a patient who was convinced he had contracted syphilis from “immoral conduct.” After a long conversation it turned out it was just salt sores from a long period where he had been washing his clothes in seawater and it was irritating his skin. He was convinced he’d contracted an STD from masturbation and impure thoughts.

22. THE BABY JESUS

Real story as a third year medical student — I was rotating through a south side Chicago hospital (aka the hood), and had a female patient in her 50s. She was sexually active with one partner, thought she was pregnant, and asked for a pregnancy test since she was not menstruating for the last couple months. Her pregnancy test came back negative. In the meantime, we work up her medical history and realize she’s experiencing all the classic symptoms of menopause.

Anyways, when we tried to explain to her that it was menopause, a natural physiological response to aging in females, she got extremely upset. She requested for a repeat pregnancy test which we obliged to. Once again, results came back negative. Tried explaining to the patient once more what menopause was, however she told us we were making ‘crap’ up to put it pleasantly. When asked what she thought was wrong, her explanation, in her words were as follows:

  1. I am pregnant with baby Jesus
  2. I need to get a new boyfriend, this current one cant even get me wet in bed.

We tried one last time to explain the situation, however she stormed out and never came back.

23. THE GINGER CAT

I’m a veterinarian, not an doctor but… a young couple brought me their young ginger cat, requesting euthanasia because he had cancer. I asked why they thought so. They cited A) the tumors on the margins of his eyelids (which were actually normal pigmentation, or ginger cat “freckles”) and B) that there were drops of blood when he jumped into the empty bathtub (which were actually re-hydrated flea dirt falling off the cat onto the wet tub). I talked them out of euthanizing their perfectly healthy cat.

24. BLUE HANDS

I was an ER tech for a few years after college in a very ritzy suburb. We’d get a lot of self diagnosis, and just general hypochondriacs. One time a woman came in via ambulance yelling about how her hands were turning blue, and she was worried about her circulation. A nurse, being the smart ass she was, took an alcohol wipe to her hands and her hands magically weren’t blue anymore. Turns out she had bought new jeans and didn’t wash them before wearing them. I’ve never seen someone so embarrassed, she practically ran out of the ER.

25. KOOL-AID AND BACON

A lady came to the clinic with her eight-month-old baby and she was pretty pretty freaked out. Her baby had had diarrhea for the last few weeks and it wasn’t going away. She initially wasn’t concerned but then her friend told her that diarrhea is the first sign of AIDS and now she was convinced her baby contracted AIDS.

We quickly ruled that out through their med records and assured her that her baby didn’t contract AIDS randomly. As we finished examining the baby it started to cry so we handed it to her mother. Lo and behold she pulls out a baby bottle to get the baby to stop crying….only this baby bottle is red and is filled with Kool-Aid.

We had to explain to her that babies can’t handle sugar at that age and that was the cause of the diarrhea. She refused to believe what we said. “I was raised on Kool-Aid and look at me I’m fine.”

Man the south side of Chicago is a completely different world.

Another story from that clinic. A lady came in and after she got off the scale she asked what her weight was at. She ~10 pounds heavier than the previous visit and seemed upset. So I asked her what about her weight was bothering her.

She said she was trying to lose weight but it didn’t seem like her diet was working. I casually asked what her diet was thinking she was trying some of the new diets. Her answer was “Bacon”. Her friend told her that if she added bacon to all her meals she’d lose weight so she had been eating Bacon 4-5x/day for the last month. She was shocked when she learned that she was doing the exact opposite of what she was supposed to do.

The reason these two cases come to mind is because I was shocked by the lack of common knowledge. These people aren’t dumb they just didn’t know what they were doing was wrong. It’s a symptom of poverty and a lack of education. Both patients took the proper steps to correcting their misunderstandings and were admittedly embarrassed.

I now work in a rural, majority White, part of the midwestern U.S with similar levels of poverty/education as the South Side of Chicago and these patients have the same issues. They just don’t know.

26. A FAMILY OF HYPOCHONDRIACS

I’m not a doctor, but I am part of an entire family of hypochondriacs. The best I’ve heard was from my grandpa who was 110% sure he had ovarian cancer after watching The Doctors. TC mark

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