Compiling baffling medical encounters proves a great way to cope

August 1, 2012

We medical professionals are confronted with our own assortment of believe-it-or-nots and oddities on a daily basis. Unfortunately, they are often more upsetting or frustrating than astounding. I started keeping a list a few years ago, initially as a coping mechanism. But gradually, the list evolved into a collection.

Key Points

Soon, The New York Evening Post recruited him and allowed him to hire Norbert Pearlroth, who spent the next 52 years in the New York Public Library, working 60 hours a week to collect unbelievables.

I became a "Believe It or Not!" fan at age 8, when a stop at Ripley's museum came as a welcome break from two days in the back seat of a family station wagon trip to Miami Beach. But I have greater nostalgia for Ralph Graczak's "Our Own Oddities," a local knock-off featured for 50 years in my hometown St. Louis Post-Dispatch Sunday funnies.

We medical professionals are confronted with our own assortment of believe-it-or-nots and oddities on a daily basis. Unfortunately, they are often more upsetting or frustrating than astounding. I started keeping a list a few years ago, initially as a coping mechanism. But gradually, the list evolved into a collection, in the spirit of Ripley and Graczak.

Below are a few of my favorites. I'm sure Dermatology Times readers have many of their own oddities. If anyone out there is interested in sharing their mind-boggling stories, email them to Editor-in-Chief Amy Stankiewicz at astankiewicz@advanstar.com
. Maybe she would consider launching Our Own Medical Oddities as a regular feature.

Siegfried's 'Believe It or Not!'

As a second-year pediatric resident, my duties included first-call to the delivery room to assist with resuscitating newborns in distress. One time, I came into the room and without warning, an anencephalic infant was placed on the warmer bed. For an instant I looked at the teenage parents and was told that they "want everything done." So with some difficulty orienting to the distorted anatomy, I managed to insert an endotracheal tube into the airway.

Because the parents were steadfast about their need to have "everything done," that infant survived on a ventilator for a month. Mercifully, however, the infant died before a state-funded planned airlift could transport her to a hospital closer to home.

Later that year, I took care of Timmy, a 2-year-old ventilator-dependent quadriplegic victim of a motorcycle accident. The injury occurred after Timmy's dad put him on the back of his motorcycle. He failed to appreciate the risk posed by one end of Timmy's blankie wrapped around his neck until the other end got caught in the spokes.

Timmy's father should have known better, especially because his brother was a motorcycle-injury paraplegic. I still get a visceral reaction to the memory of Timmy's father sitting in the room next to his son, repeatedly muttering, "I know it's not my fault." But my reaction to his unwillingness to accept any responsibility for his son's tragic circumstances became much stronger many years later, when Timmy's father made front-page national headlines by bringing a lawsuit against the state for failing to provide adequate housing and education for his son.