Emergency room doctors see the most bizarre things. From gory injuries to fatal deaths, these doctors can't have a weak stomach. They experience all types of things and emotions, one of them being tragedy. In this piece, ER doctors share the most tragic thing theyve ever witnessed. Keep in mind, content is edited for clarity.
Loss Of Limbs
“I was part of a trauma team (as a trainee in critical care) and got a trauma call to the emergency department, these were fairly routine. When I arrived there was an arm (just an arm) on the gurney in the trauma bay, the individual that the arm belonged to arrive a few minutes later, and then the bottom half of his leg arrived soon after that. The man in question was riding his motorcycle at speed and hit a power pole severing his arm and leg. He survived his injuries, albeit without getting his limbs reattached.”
“One time I took care of a man that was hit by a train. It was a really tragic story as it was a failed suicide attempt. He had multiple broken bones, internal injuries and severe brain trauma. He couldn’t talk, had a tracheotomy, tube feeding, arms and legs with external fixation devices. Many, many wounds that were healing so slowly.
It was doubly sad because we all realized that he was trying to end a life that was nowhere as bad as the life he was now living, and he had no ability or option to end it in the foreseeable future and could possibly live for many decades more, likely in a nursing home. Psych came to see him often, but because of communication problems, they really couldn’t do much. He was doing good just to point at photos to pick food for his menu.
He had no visitors, no cards, no one but hospital staff checking on him. It broke my heart and I sometimes wished that one of his injuries would have been worse than it was and his painful existence could peacefully pass. I mean how do you survive a train/car accident and live? We did everything we could to save him and maybe that wasn’t the best thing in the long run, but you have to do what you can and hope for the best in the medical world. Miracles do happen, every single day.
I don’t believe in nurses doing mercy killings, but if I ever did, it would have been this poor fellow.”
Alone and Gone
“I was working overnight as a CNA on a progressive care unit in a large-ish hospital. We had an elderly female patient transferred to us from the ICU, originally admitted for pneumonia. She was a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ (DNR) and actively dying, so we tried to reach her family for 5 hours before we got a hold of her only child. We told them what was going on with their mother to which they replied that they couldn’t make it back to be with her as they were on vacation 4 hours away and didn’t want to lose their deposit on the house they were letting for the week. As a unit, we were so mad that we took shifts sitting with this woman. We put on some big band era music that her nursing home told us she loved and between 2 CNAs, 3 RN’s, and a hospitalist we sat with her in 30 minute shifts until day shift arrived. Day shift carried on until she passed at 11am. Her family never showed up.”
“A young man was changing a tire on a tractor trailer. Somehow, the tire ruptured, I don’t know the details of what exactly happened, or why. Just that there was a big explosion with shrapnel into his head and upper body.
He had a large (approximated 8 inches long and 1 inch in circumference) piece of steel embedded in his forehead, deep, into his brain. Pieces of shrapnel-like steel had broken most of the bones in his face. All the bones around his eyes and nose were depressed into his face, so his face was almost completely flattened. Nearly every tooth was broken off.
As if that were not enough, both arms were broken, with the shards of bones protruding through the skin. In the emergency room, we stabilized him, then he was immediately transferred to the tertiary care hospital nearby. I also worked in the neuro intensive care unit there.
He had a craniotomy to remove the steel from his brain. Amazingly, it had avoided the major blood vessels in the brain, so he did not bleed very much into his brain. He was placed on a ventilator and into a medicine induced coma for healing and to help protect his brain. He had a lot of cerebral edema that was treated with mannitol and lasix (diuretics that pull off excess swelling). His eyes were uninjured, but ophthalmology followed him anyway.
He had several plastic and craniofacial surgeries to rebuild the bones in his face and jaw. Orthopedic surgery repaired the open fractures of both arms. When he transferred out of the ICU about 4 weeks later, he had wires all over his face and jaw to hold all the bones in place.
I went to visit him on the step down unit and by then, he was up and walking around without need of assistance. However, because the frontal lobe can affect judgement, memory, impulse control, problem solving, social and intimate behavior—his behavior was uncontrolled.
Anything he thought of, he said or did without any filter. He drank his own urine, he tried to kiss all the nurses, and he would have sudden bouts of anger followed by extreme hilarity.
His wife divorced him while he was in the step down unit, so his elderly parents had planned to care for him several hundred miles away, so we never saw him again. I hope he got better, but unfortunately, it is unlikely that his behavior improved much since that area of the frontal lobe was so damaged.”
Dead Man Walking
“I once had a guy come in with an accidental shot wound to the head that blew away practically his whole skull leaving his brain matter exposed and full of debris. Part of his brain was missing and it was literally covered in the sewage he fell in after being shot. I even remember seeing a something dirty lodged in the parietal lobe that should never have been there. The neurosurgeon said this guy was a dead man walking and didn’t know it.
All this time guy was fully conscious and making jokes about the fact that his brain was exposed, and we all smiled while thinking ‘poor guy,’ it was that bad. We just assumed that an infection, a clot or swelling was going to eventually kill him, and soon, so we humored the guy.
About a year and a half later, I saw this man. He actually came up to me (albeit in a wheelchair) and said hello. He underwent numerous surgeries and had a flap of skin where his skull should be as he awaited to have a titanium skull cap made for his head. He was the same guy I remembered, joking about his misfortune as a way to cope with it, and it seemed to work as he seemed in pretty good spirits taking into account his situation.
I was glad the guy made it. The fact that he was in the situation he was, and he could still laugh about it, made all of my problems seem petty by comparison.”
“A woman I knew from a previous stay in our hospital was admitted. The woman was already about 95, basically tetraplegic from two strokes she had the year before, and ‘cared’ for by her daughter. The daughter said that it’s quite nice that the mom can’t move anymore, because she could just put her in a chair or a bed and she couldn’t get up and walk, so the daughter could go and work. People who don’t move spontaneously usually have severe problems with skin breakdown due to pressure ulcers and need to be moved around regularly, so that was kind of a red flag. With social services and our whole team, we were able to put the patient in a nursing home where she was cared for appropriately.
The ER-occurrence happened about three months later. We knew that the daughter wasn’t quite happy about everything, because she wanted the mom to change her will in her favor. The mom was in no condition to ever be able to do that, but the daughter just didn’t realize that.
Well she was sent to the ER from the nursing home with cardiogenic shock (meaning her heart was not working properly, and she was dying). The nursing home wanted to just let her go in her own bed at the home, but the daughter threatened to call her lawyer if she wasn’t moved to the hospital. So we saw her in the night, saw that she was in her last few hours on earth, and she was going to die (see above, she was old and sick and there wasn’t much we could do). The daughter demanded (and I mean with screaming and waving with her lawyer’s card) not to give her anything to lessen her symptoms. We also had to try to put a cannula in to ‘revive’ her. So we had to try really hard, knowing it was basically torture for her mom – but the daughter had a certificate showing that she was the person allowed to decide in medical issues.
In the end, while she was dying, the daughter burst into the room, yelled at the mom that she was very disappointed, and started cussing her out (while she was dying).”
“When I was on my second ER rotation, we had a bad case, but it actually hit a bunch of us for life (decades ago).
Mom and dad brought in this infant because she wasn’t behaving correctly. Mom came in the ER first, and asked us to be ready for when dad brought the daughter in because she was ‘real sick.’ It actually isn’t uncommon for family to ‘call ahead’ and ask us to be ready for a sick patient. But we’re a trauma center. First, we’re ready all the time, second, we don’t have time to sit around waiting for someone. This was weird because mom came in while dad parked the car with the sick child. Are you kidding?
Dad comes walking in, and the triage nurse hit the code bell immediately. From the door we could see the child was dusky and limp. I grabbed the infant and ran. The trauma bay was 50 feet away. This kid needed oxygen. I literally ran and gave breaths, as the dad said, ‘She had trouble breathing.’ The team swooped her up at the threshold to the trauma bay. I stopped at the door and heard the conversation of the dad being interviewed by the attending:
‘When did she have trouble breathing?’ He yelled at him, having asked at least three times.
‘After I blew smoke in her face…’ He said, crying.
‘What kind of smoke?’ And the room seemed to freeze.
‘Crack’ he said, barely audible.
‘WHAT?’ This from the respiratory therapist who was bagging the child (breathing for her using a bag valve mask, attached to a tiny endo-tracheal tube). That was Big-B. Big-B was this great guy in the hospital. He took time out to grill us on respiratory therapy tips and techniques. It’s a busy level one trauma center. He really didn’t have the time, and certainly didn’t have to, but he always had bandwidth to help us out. At this point, you can’t even see her on the table. She’s literally surrounded by team members in a chaotic appearing, but highly orchestrated dance. The attending has the dad by the door. Suddenly, the mother comes tearing into the room, chased by a nurse and security. She’s screaming, ‘You said you quit! You said you quit!’ and starts trying to hit her husband, before security grabs her. It’s at least 30 minutes before they call it, never getting a pulse. Big-B lunges for the father, yelling the whole time. I think he got a good hit in before we got him. The cops were already waiting outside the trauma bay.
Big-B was crying, hard. We got him to the ambulance bay, where he said he needed to be alone for a bit. We let him go. We let him go, and I feel like we never got him back. At the time, I felt like I should have gone with him. I know I needed to talk, or rather I needed someone to just listen to me, and I really hadn’t even worked on the case. Big-B was dead six months later. This encounter destroyed him. He was never the same. I was in the ER enough to watch the change.
I think about Big-B a lot. Every time I work with students, or really sick kids. Watch out for your colleagues, folks. Take care of each other, because the alternative is horrible.”
“40 year old, man motor vehicle accident, which was not the patient’s fault, a car swerved into his car on the highway. Patient comes into the trauma room with an EMT still giving chest compressions, patient’s vitals crashed on the way to the hospital. Nurses take over the chest compression once the patient gets on the hospital stretcher. They continue compressions for 35 minutes with no positive response. Up until this moment, I’ve seen this before so not a big deal.
A young 12-year old girl walks up behind me and sees the compressions going on and stays silent. The ER doctor looked at her and then took over compressions for about 5 minutes. He tried out and a nurse took over. The doctor looked around the room at everyone with the familiar look of ‘are we all ready to call it.’ The room is pure silence except the noise of chest compressions. 5 more minutes go by. The doctor stops the nurse, doing compressions with only his hands. The young girl starts to cry softly behind me. The patient was a single father, that girl became an orphan in an instant. I had to leave the room.”
“I worked at a hospital for 3 years. One day, a man decided to suicide by jumping from the second floor inside the hospital. He fell flat on his back/head, right behind me in the main hall. Lots of people were sitting/walking there
I remember the sounds, first, some yelling from people who saw him jump, then sounds like snapping multiple twigs of all sizes at the same time and a loud thump when he landed. His back was shattered, his skull was cracked open at the back with tissue coming out. Blood from his nose, eyes, mouth. The least gruesome thing was his left arm bend backwards with bone almost piercing through his skin. But of all that, the most disturbing part was that he seemed conscious for a good 20-30 seconds. He was wheezing quickly and had his eyes half open.”
The Crazy Effects
“The scariest ER patient I have witnessed wasn’t scary in a Jason or Michael Myers manner, but in a Marvel or DC comics scary manner. This guy came in via ambulance and was very agitated and taken in by 4 police officers. He had been arrested for public intoxication, communicating threats, and resisting arrest.
He had no shirt on which gave a perfect view of the 3 sets of taser barbs attached to his chest and still connected via thin wires to the taser units that 3 of the 4 officers were still carrying. That he was hit by 3 separate taser units was confusing because the guy was about 5’8 and weighed maybe 110-115. Surely this squad of officers, who looked like the defensive lineup of the Saints, could handle this little guy. During the process of being checked in, he became rowdy again and all 3 officers triggered their tasters again which did little more than make the guy giggle.
The attending plucked the barbs out of the guys chest and after the last one was out, he became wound up again. It was decided to sedate the man and place him in restraints for his safety and that of the staff, so two officers covered the man with 5 bed sheets and 4 blankets, the edges were rolled together and the 4 officers and 2 ER security guards took hold of the edges of all the sheets and blankets and used that their body weight to hold this guy down.
The scary part came when the patient managed to slide his hands up towards his neck, grab the stack of linens with both hands, and then proceeded to rip through all 9 layers like they were wet tissue paper. Thankfully the time it took for him to manage that Herculean feat was sufficient for someone to administer a heavy dose of Haldol and Superman was quickly turned back into Clark Kent. That was my first ever live exposure to someone on crazy substances.”
The Countdown Begins
“Not a ER hospital staff, but was a EMT/Firefighter. Got called to standby at a suicide attempt while police was trying to negotiate with the guy. My partner and I were in the ambulance staged up on a small hill in a pull off just off the road. The man was in a lawn chair in his yard with a weapon in his lap and a cooler next to him.
Police of course was in the road spread out trying to do their best to better the situation. The man’s wife and some other family members in the road pleading with the man as well.
The man would casually every so often get him a bottle of water out of the cooler, take a drink and put it back. Some time passed, the guy would occasionally look at his watch, get him a drink and at one point even got a sandwich out and ate on it.
As this all transpired, the guy started watching his watch more often and had the weapon in his hand.
He randomly held up 5 fingers, and then watched his watch. Then held up 4, and so on until he got to 1. He his finished off his bottle of water, watched his watch and then turned the weapon towards his temple pulled the trigger.
The screams of the family that just witnessed this, the shock my partner and myself had, and the depressing feeling and looks of the police and failing to do what they were trying to do. I don’t even know how to put it into words.”
Prayers For Survival
“My internship year. I had freshly passed out from mbbs one month ago, and I was posted in Medicine department. I was on the night shift that day and dead tired, going around like a zombie.
Around 3 in morning I got a call from ICU. New admission. A 17-year-old male, a case of poisoning, was shifted from casualty. As I climbed down the stairs, I could hear the raging screams 2 floors above. He was screaming for his mother over and over again.
I entered ICU to see four orderlies struggling with a boy. He had torn his cuffs and was kicking and thrashing with all his might. He injured two of them badly. Now whenever we get a poisoning case, there is a certain protocol to be followed. Stomach pumped, feeding tube put, iv line started, he was given medicine to counteract effects of poisoning, ECG done, blood samples sent, urinary catheter put in, etc. it’s invasive and painful and I understand patients getting scared.
However, this patient was not just scared. He was angry and crazy. He trashed that area, monitors, vials, everything on floor. He forcefully removed iv line from his hand and started bleeding. After that, he started pulling at his catheter. When I tried to stop him, he slapped me and left gashes on my arm. In front of me he pulled that catheter out and started bleeding profusely from his genitals. After that I called my male senior to attend to him as I was afraid for my safety. He was tied securely then.
When I came out, I was surrounded by the concerned family and friends. Turned out, he was in 12th grade. Had failed a math exam. His father was a strict retired military man. The son had drank poison rather than face his father.
He stayed in ICU for a few days. All the time he would scream and attack anyone who came near him. I never saw such superhuman strength. He couldn’t be overtaken by four men. I was scared of that patient and I disliked doing any procedure on him.
After a few days he was shifted to general ward. This was a government hospital and ICU beds were a scarce commodity. His liver started failing. It rarely happens, but once it starts, it’s generally irreversible and the only treatment is a liver transplant.
I remember vividly my consultant telling me he had only a few days left. A transplant in India costs a lot and livers are not easy to get. His family wasn’t rich, they could not afford the surgery even if by some miracle a liver could be found at such a short notice.
This boy was pretty popular. Every time I went near his bed, he was surrounded by 15-20 of his friends. He apologized to me for hurting me. I couldn’t believe this friendly young kid was going to die a certain death. His mum used to cry continuously. His father… I don’t want to think about what he was going through.
Last I heard, the family was planning to shift him to Mumbai. I kept hoping he would survive somehow, but I doubt it. A moment’s rash thinking tore a family apart.”
Mistreated And Suffering
“I work as a tech in an ER. Recently, I saw a man come in from a nursing home unresponsive with a temperature of 104. Sepsis was immediately suspected. He was hot to the touch when I saw him and his eyes were completely rolled back. While undressing him, the nurses noticed that his urinary catheter was FILTHY, like it hadn’t been cleaned in days. That’s also when they noticed that the catheter had begun to tear into urethra. The entire tip of his genitals was raw and inflamed and smelled like death. One of the nurses gagged when the stink hit her. Both nurses agreed that this was probably the site of the infection. It gets better though! While rolling this poor guy over to fully examine him, we noticed a tennis-ball sized bedsore in his back that was completely necrotic and covered with a single scrap of gauze. The neglect that this man suffered at the hands of a nursing home infuriated me so much. This guy was covered in motorcycle tattoos, probably from when he was younger and free, and now here he is, trapped in a wheelchair (he was missing a leg) and dying from an infection in his junk because the people who were supposed to take care of him didn’t. I can’t understand why this can be allowed to happen.”