Medical Professionals Describe The Worst Mistakes They’ve Made Or Seen

For some, doctors are the closest thing to gods on Earth. They cure our illnesses, fix our limbs, diagnose our maladies, and save our hearts - if not our souls. But doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals aren't infallible. They're human beings who sometimes make mistakes - though their errors often have more sobering consequences when compared to other occupations. Some errors are so serious that they lead to unnecessary pain, major unplanned surgery, a stay in an intensive care unit, or even death.

Reddit stories from doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other medical professionals reveal the kind of mishaps - most are accidental - that harm rather than help patients. From mixing up medications to missing or misdiagnosing symptoms, these stories are a reminder that medical professionals aren't perfect.

  • ER Doctor Missed A GSW

    From Redditor /u/disposable_h3r0:

    A guy was dumped off at the ER covered in blood after a rap concert. We were all focused on a [GSW] with an arterial bleed that was distracting. The nurse placed the blood pressure cuff over the [hit] 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 [was] in the posterior portion of the thoracic wall without significant trauma to major organs.

    The patient lived. But I still feel like I f*cked up big time.

  • Pathologist Almost Infected Himself With HIV

    From a former Redditor:

    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.)

  • Surgeon Told The Wrong Families About Their Babies 

    From Redditor /u/AndromedaStain:

    My brother is a surgeon, and during part of his residency, he had to work in the pediatric unit. He was working with two newborns. One was getting much better and fighting for life. He was going to make it just fine. The other baby was hours from [passing]. He wasn't going to make it. My brother was in charge of informing the families.

    My brother realized about 15 minutes later that he had mixed up the families. He told the family with the healthy baby that their baby wasn't going to make it, and he told the family with the dying baby that their baby was going to be just fine. He then had to go back out to the families and explain the situation to them.

    How devastating. To be given a glimmer of hope and have it ripped away from you not even an hour later. That was most upset I've heard my brother. He felt destroyed.

  • This 'Scratch' Wasn't What It Seemed

    From Redditor /u/pause_and_consider:

    I'm a nurse, but I was working in the ER when a guy came in for a scratch on his neck and "feeling drowsy." We start the usual workups and this dude's blood pressure TANKED. We scrambled, but he [perished] within 10 minutes of walking through the door.

    Turns out the "scratch" was an exit wound of a .22-caliber rifle round. The guy didn't even know he'd been [hit].

    When the coroner's report came back, we found that he'd been [struck] in the leg and the bullet tracked through his torso shredding everything in between. There was really nothing we could've done, but that was a serious "what the f*ck just happened" moment.

  • OB-GYN's Outburst Made A Mother Panic

    From Redditor /u/monstercello:

    Not me, but my mom. She just retired as an OB-GYN and 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 dropped her scalpel on the floor. Before she could think, she blurted out, "Oh sh*t," 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.

  • Nurse's Medication Error Almost Ended A Postpartum Patient 

    From Redditor /u/footprintx:

    When I was a student rotating through OB-GYN, I wrote an order for a woman's postpartum continuation of magnesium sulfate... I was super careful, because I knew what could happen with magnesium toxicity, and double-checked the order with the resident afterwards.

    The nurse, instead of hanging one bag of mag-sulfate and another of I forget what, hung two bags of mag-sulfate, one of which she slammed into the patient over a minute, instead of slow-infusing over 12 hours.

    The woman told the nurse she didn't feel right, and the nurse pooh-poohed it. I happened to be walking by, and stopped in to see what was up. There they were, two bags hanging, both marked in a bright red warning label. We called for the fast-response team.

    They, and my team, got there in time and took over, but she still went into respiratory depression and ended up in the ICU.

    We all make mistakes, some of which are dangerous. I've absolutely made my fair share. I've missed diagnoses, or tried to save patients from a trip to the ER, and they've ended up in the ER anyway, just later. As long as you recognize your mistake and make an effort to improve afterwards, and it wasn't too neglectful/egregious, I understand.

    But I reamed the nurse when I overheard her laughing about the incident like she hadn't just almost [terminated] someone. I don't know what she thought, getting told off by a rotating student, but I was [angry] at the time.