Thursday, 4 October 2022

Medical Horror Stories
Selina at Oh My Aches and Pains is hosting Patients For A Moment Blog Carnival this month.  She's got a Halloween theme - wanting our medical horror stories and mistakes.

I must say at the outset that mine aren't so much stories of mistakes doctors have made, but of things that were just really, really scary. I have a couple of them, especially relating to my time in a north-west Queensland mining town, when I was in my early 20s. It was long before my lupus was diagnosed, so I just kept having mystery health problems that no-one ever stopped to think might be linked.
So make sure the lights are on. Check there's no monsters in the wardrobe or under the bed.  Watch any open doorways. And let me share with you some of the greatest horrors of my life.

There are other stories I thought to tell you, and then decided, not to get too scary. Let's just go with these two, fairly tame adventures.

The non-sedating sedative

It was the first time I'd ever had a gastroscopy (endoscopy looking at the upper gastro-intestinal tract.)
I'm going to be bad here and use an actual name, because it was part of what was so scary.  The surgeon's name was Dr Hack.  He wanted to be paid in advance.  I later found out from other patients that was because some people had skipped out on paying their bills. But for a young woman, pretty much alone in the world, it was very worrying.  What was going to happen that I would not be able to pay the bill when the procedure was done?

Arriving at the hospital for the procedure, I was told I would not have an actual anaesthetic.  I almost panicked at that point - they were going to stick tubes inside me, and I was going to be awake the whole time? The nurse explained that they would need me to actually be conscious to co-operate, to help with the procedure. She said not to worry, I would have a sedative so I'd be relaxed and drowsy, and afterwards I would not remember anything.
Well, I don't remember the whole procedure, but there is a part I remember vividly. (If you're due to have a procedure in any way like this in the near future, do not read any further.  Go to and laugh at the jokes. Forget anything I've said so far.)

I remember gagging, choking on the tube down my throat.  I panicked, grabbed the offending thing and ripped it out of my mouth.  I took it all the way out, because I saw the little light at the end of it.

The surgeon told the nurse to hold my arms down, which she did, while I struggled. The surgeon calmly picked up the tube and pushed it back down my throat.

That's the bit I remember. For all that trauma, the only result of the procedure was that the surgeon found "some free-floating reflux". No cause for the problem, no cure, just confirmed the problem existed.

Just a touch of food poisoning
I felt awful, vomiting constantly, weak and shaking.

I did what most people do in that situation.  I took the day off work and went to my general practitioner.

He listened to my sad story, and told me I had a slight touch of food poisoning. Go home, drink flat lemonade, I'd be fine by morning.

I dutifully bought lemonade on the way home, drank some after stirring it to get rid of the bubbles and went to bed.

About 1am the next day, I woke up, feeling as if my stomach was exploding. I tried to get out of bed and found myself on the floor.  Over about a half hour, I managed to crawl to the next room as far as the telephone.  I was about to call the ambulance and realised I'd never get as far as the door to unlock it for them.  Instead I called a man I'd been dating for a little while. I was about to go on holiday and had given him the spare key to my flat so he could feed my cat while I was gone.
He came straight away and called an ambulance.

People always complain about the waiting times in public hospital emergency departments. I can tell you from experience, if it's a life-and-death situation, you get immediate attention.

I was sweating and shaking, feverish, in more pain than I'd ever been in my life.  I was 22, and my nearest family were about 1300km away. One of the doctors asked if the man who'd come in with me was my boyfriend - I mumbled "sort of".  From that point on, the doctors spoke to him, not to me.

A cannula was put in my arm (the first time this had ever happened to me), and I was given IV fluids but no pain relief.
My middle was poked and prodded by numerous people, making me cry in agony, but no-one could give an explanation for the pain I was in.

I was admitted to a ward of the hospital, under observation. No-one knew what was happening to me. About 9am, a nurse asked me if I wanted her to call my work, and I was able to ask her to contact my family as well.

My blood was taken for tests, and the nurse came back and said they wanted to take an ultrasound.  "It's like a picture of your tummy," she said.  "But the machine needs to look through a window. That window is a full bladder."

She injected me with a diuretic, and sqeezed two bags of fluid into my cannula.  The cold liquid entering my arm was excruciating, as was the increasing pain in my abdomen, already providing pain beyond my belief, now having an over-full bladder causing more pain in addition.
I was conscious of nothing except the pain, and that I was crying, the nurse staying with me, stroking my forehead with her cool hand, while I waited to be taken to the xray department.

There the pain of having the ultrasound machine sensor pressed into my tummy was even worse (if that is at all possible.)  I never felt relief as I did when I was finally allowed to go to the toilet that day.

All of the tests, apparently proved nothing.  A doctor came and said he needed my signature so they could do a laparotomy, to cut open my middle and see what was there.

About 6pm, about 36 hours after I'd first become sick, I was wheeled into the operating theatre.  The first face I saw was my own doctor, who had told me I just had a touch of food poisoning.  He said, "Fancy seeing you here. I'm doing your anaesthetic tonight." With that, he put a mask over my face.
When I started to wake after the procedure, I was aware of two nurses washing me.  One was saying she'd never seen so much blood.

Once they realised I was awake, the topic of conversation changed.  They were cleaning me with my own toiletries so I'd feel more comfortable, and were impressed with how my "boyfriend" knew exactly what to pack for me.  (Actually, I always kept an overnight bag packed. I was a journalist and sometimes had to go on fairly long trips. He'd simply found the bag and brought it up to the hospital.)

I was woken by a young doctor who told me, "Your mum's on the phone. Want to talk to her?"

He'd brought a wheelchair and helped me into it.  It was very clear that he had no idea how to do this, especially as he struggle to move my IV from its pole to the pole on the wheelchair, ending with us both tangled in the tubing.  He eventually wheeled me to the phone at the nurses' station.
My mother had been talking to my "boyfriend" and so she "knew" what I didn't - that I had been bleeding into my stomach.  I only had a rudimentary knowledge of anatomy, but I knew the pain, and the impressively long row of staples on my abdomen were way too low to have anything to do with my stomach.

Eventually, I managed to get a doctor to explain what had actually happened.  I had an ovarian cyst that had been bleeding, rather a large amount apparently, into my abdomen.  (The next time I'd have a problem with an ovarian cyst, I'd be pregnant - but that's one of the stories I thought was too scary for the blog.)


  1. Boy can I relate! I "woke up" in the middle of an endoscopy too and the nurse was saying to me, "It's OK honey, keep breathing." Not sure what that was about. Another time, another endoscopy, when I got back to the recovery room while still under the sedative, I told my sister, "I remember everything and it was horrible."

    1. Oh no Selena! So sorry it happened to you too.

  2. I hate to say this, but I had a friend who was conscious during her endoscopy, and it was horrible and traumatizing, and they kept doing it even though she was not OK with it and telling her that this had never happened with anyone else. I didn't believe it then, and I believe it a lot less now after reading it happened to you and Selena, too!

    1. Sorry to hear your friend had such a terrible time. Clearly, it's not unique.

  3. Oh, I had that happen during an endoscopy too!! It was AWFUL. I was lucky that it wasn't my first endoscopy -- the first one went the way it's supposed to without any awareness on my part -- so I always reminded my GI doc for the subsequent ones of that horrible experience and he gave me "extra" sedative, I guess, after that.

    I remember the nurse stroking my hair and telling me to keep breathing, it's all right, just keep breathing, but I was choking and trying to tell them I was awake. It really did make me wonder if *everyone* acts like that during an endoscopy and therefore it wasn't a clue to them that something was wrong. They certainly acted shocked when I told them I'd been aware for part of the procedure.

    And oh, how horrible that you were treated like that at the hospital! I'm curious -- what happened with the guy you were dating back then? :)

    1. Oh dear Aviva,
      That's another horror story! I ended up marrying that guy, and divorcing him some time later. On the plus side, I gained two absolutely amazing kids.

  4. What a story! Like Aviva, I tell my doctor to make sure I don't wake up....I never have!


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