6 patient horror stories

October 10, 2018
Rachael Zimlich, RN, BSN

Rachael Zimlich is a freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio. She writes regularly for Contemporary Pediatrics, Managed Healthcare Executive, and Medical Economics.

The practice of medicine is rewarding in many ways-including as a source of entertainment. Clinicians see the best and worst of humanity, and those at the frontline of care can share endless stories of the funny, weird and wacky.

Read on as we share some of our favorite, non-HIPAA-violating horror/hilarious tales. Clinician names have been abbreviated for privacy reasons.

Never hire family

I had a patient who convinced his non-dermatologist surgeon brother-in-law to do a hair transplant on him, which he did. It went well until the hair started to regrow and, since no attention was paid by the surgeon as to how to orient the plugs when they were put in place, the hair that regrew looked like a corn field after a tornado with hairs running in virtually every direction.  My job was to rotate the misplaced wayward plugs so they gave a semblance of orderly hair growth.

Dr. W

What’s in a name

A colleague of mine and I started a list of funny things patients say or write on their intake forms when referring to their skin diseases. Always a good laugh. Below are a couple examples with translation:

1. Bo jangles  = shingle aka zoster

2. Erotic lichen penis = erosive lichen planus of the penis

3. Erectile bowel syndrome = irritable bowel syndrome

4. Carrot toasts = seborrheic keratosis

5. Wing worm = tinea pedis

6. Vitilogy = vitiligo

7.  Arthur Ritus = arthritis

Dr. F

Be wary of home remedies

A 90-year-old male farmer in the heat of the summer came in with knee-high rubber boots. He asked to be seen quickly as his “galoshes” were full of blood.  He had punctured one of his varicose veins and was filling his boot full of blood. 

In another case, a 33-year-old Amish mother of six-with a one-month-old on her arm-presented with a large tumor of the left cheek. She had treated it with “black salve” but it did not respond. The tumor was 8 cm x 8 cm and secreting clear fluid. A wedge biopsy showed a salivary carcinoma. 

Dr. T

Potay-to, potah-to

A 21-year-old college student came in for a laser consult for a brown/tan birthmark on her face. The receptionist asked her if she knew the name of birthmark. She could not remember and turned to her friend who reminded her that she has a cappuccino spot. She actually had a cafe au lait macule. You cannot make this stuff up!

Dr. G

Do not try this at home

A young rancher presented for treatment of penile warts. After being educated and receiving liquid nitrogen therapy to the offending lesions, he asked, “How is your nitrogen different from mine that I use to store bull semen?”

My reply was, “It’s not-same stuff, different container.”

I expected him to return in four weeks for follow up, however it was about a year later when he came back. On exam, he had streaks of hyperpigmentation down both legs onto the top of his feet. He wanted treatment for the discoloration, and said there were no more warts. 

The story was that he decided to perform his own cryotherapy. In doing so, he had taken off his jeans and boots, was in the barn where the nitrogen was stored and had carefully balanced the dewar to drip the nitrogen out. In the middle of this process, his wife appeared and startled him. He jumped and the nitrogen spilled onto his legs and feet, leaving significant burns and blisters. Thus the pigmentation. 

His wife had thought he was “donating” his semen for the bull’s, and was understandably upset. She told him, “Honey, nature doesn’t work that way in spite of what you may have heard.”

Apparently he couldn’t ride a horse for over a month.  Never did say anything about conjugal relations. I asked him if he ever saw “Terminator?” Then I recalled the scene where after being frozen with liquid nitrogen, the Terminator broke into pieces like shattered glass. 

The look in his eyes as he thought this through was unforgettable. 

Without saying a word, he put his jeans and boots back on, tipped his hat and walked out. Never saw him again. 

Dr. Freeze

Travel pains

A woman was once sent to me after the person who referred her said she had a melanoma of the foot. When you got up close, you realized it looked more like something was stuck on rather than growing on her foot. I asked if she had been to the beach recently and maybe stepped on some tar. Thankfully, her melanoma came off with an alcohol swab. That was one happy patient.

Another patient I had seen had been to South American and developed a bump on her neck. A local shaman chewed tobacco leaves and applied them to the site. She later removed the poultice and visited a doctor when she came back to the U.S. She ended up admitted for mastoiditis and treated with intravenous antibiotics. After discharge, the bump continued to grow, and she came to my office. You could see the bump moving, and it turned out she had been inhabited by a botfly. The shaman had actually treated the bump well, because the poultice would have eventually suffocated and killed the larvae. The patient wanted it removed, however, so an incision was made to remove several 

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