We would be nowhere without our doctors and nurses. The work they do not only helps to keep us — and our loved ones — as safe as possible, it helps the field of science and medicine continuously advance and progress. Doctors go through years and years of intensive training to be able to recognize, diagnose, and treat a wide range of ailments, injuries, and diseases. However, there is still a lot even the best doctors in the world don’t know. Although science and medicine have come a long way, there is still a lot that cannot be understood about the human body — including the totality of its resilience.
Occasionally, doctors will come across a patient or case that genuinely stumps them — a situation that seems to be nothing short of a miracle. Some example of such instances are shared below from doctors around the world who have found themselves wondering, “How are you still alive?”
35. On The Flip Side
Pathologist here: Had a guy who had died suddenly and unexpectedly. I soon learned he was the recipient of a lung transplant about 15 years prior.
When I opened the man up, his transplanted lung was upside down. I flipped the lung into the proper position, and bloop. It flipped right back to upside down. That was quite alarming. The surgeons who originally performed the transplant incorrectly attached the organ. When he by chance entered the correct position, the lung flipped over, causing his pulmonary artery to seal shut, resulting in his death.
The man lived for 15 years with a lung that was dying to flip upside down. And it was only by sheer chance he didn’t move in such a way that allowed it to do so until the fateful day of his death. It is one of the most fascinating cases I have ever witnessed.
34. Never Been Better
Saw a guy with a machete lodged up into his skull. Asked him if he was ok (not sarcastically, just threw a generic question to check his ability to respond), he said “yup!”
33. Taking The Plunge
A guy had an argument with his girlfriend and wanted to leave the apartment. Instead of taking the door, was for some angry reason, jumped off the balcony, falling down 40 feet directly on his heels on cement.
He ended up having an ankle sprain. I wondered how he managed previous issues in his life.
32. Fortunate To Be Fat
I’m an ER nurse. Had a guy walk up to the front desk after hitting himself in the throat with a chainsaw.
All the flesh of his neck was flayed open. I could see his trachea and his right jugular vein. If he had cut in just a tiny bit deeper, he would have sliced right into both.
The only thing that saved him was that he was a big fat guy with a huge neck. A skinnier man would have died very unpleasantly.
31. Total Blockage
Guy comes in with a bit of chest pain. He tells me the big coronary artery on the front of the heart was 100% blocked. I ask him, “Who told you that?” he says his doctor did about 10 years ago. I don’t believe him since patients never ever get any of the stuff their doctor tells them right. I let the cardiac surgeon know what this guy said and he, too, goes “Haha, 100%? So he’s dead?”
If the biggest coronary artery is totally occluded and for 10 years no less, you are a dead man. Lo and behold…We get an angiogram and it was actually100% occluded. The artery on the back of the patient’s heart made a connection with the front of the heart to pick up the slack. It was some lucky stuff.
30. A Fishy Situation
I used to work as a clerk in diagnostic imaging at a hospital, and we had a man come in for an x-ray complaining of chest pain. His records showed his last visit was two years prior when he got wasted and fell into a fish tank, breaking it. ER stitched him up and sent him home. Fast forward two years, and we are all gathered around the computer screen looking at an X-ray that showed a 12 inch long piece of fish tank glass sitting in his chest, with his aorta resting right on top of it (it was on an angle running from his left shoulder down towards his right hip). There were other shards of glass too, but this one was the biggest. Emergency surgery happened right away.
29. Dying On Birthday
I had a college student come into the unit on the night of their 19th birthday. They wanted to party but had a test the next morning. One of their “friends” told them that if they took one Adderall for every drink that they had, they’d be sober by the morning. They had 15 shots and 15 20mg Adderall tablets.
If you were wondering, no, that does not make you sober. It does, however, make you rip off all your clothes in a hallway, spit at the nurse that is trying to help you, poo all over everything, and then literally die. Luckily for them, they weren’t dead for good. We got them back and they spent most of their sophomore year of college in a hospital, with a hole in their neck, learning how to walk again.
28. A Casual And Calm Death
Old guy comes in with his wife. She tells me, “He passed out last week and I couldn’t wake him up. After about two minutes he came around and he didn’t want to go to the hospital so we booked an appointment to see you.”
I’m a little concerned by this, and his heart rate is a little slow so I send him for an EKG (heart rhythm tracing). I get a call about an hour later from the cardiologist reviewing the EKG calmly thanking me for sending him in because the wiring in his heart essentially wasn’t working and he could drop dead at any moment…again. Because the week before, he hadn’t passed out – he’d died. Through some lucky miracle, his heart started again.
He’s got a pacemaker now and he and his wife are doing just great.
27. Rotting Alive
I responded to a well-being check (basically check on someone no one has heard from in a while). Get there and police advise the woman is dead and appeared to be so for a while (middle of summer). Can smell her before getting close to the house, put on protective gear and air packs to move the body — she is rotting. We go to carefully move her into a body bag and she opens her eyes and gasps. She was alive and rotting alive; we got her to the hospital alive and she lived for several days more.
26. All Out Of Sorts
A 50-year-old male came to the ER after falling and not being able to get up. His testicles were so engorged they came down to his knees with a width of around 1.5x greater than his thigh. Penis was completely retracted into his scrotum. Had a CT scan that showed his entire large intestine, most of his small intestine, and his pancreas had herniated into his scrotum. You could auscultate his bowel sounds through his balls. The surgeon said she had never seen anything like this and that it takes months to get that way, and only happens in third world countries with poor/no access to medical care. She couldn’t do much because his diaphragm had become so accustomed to the altered space in his abdomen, that if she put his organs back in his abdominal cavity he wouldn’t be able to breathe independently (would need to be ventilated permanently). The poor guy had mental health issues (I believe schizophrenia) which is why he was in the condition he was in. He was still able to pee all by himself.
25. Wasted Drag Racing
I work in cardiology, and my doctors all do rotations at our hospital. Our hospital is a level 5 trauma and it’s the closest hospital to a lot of rural areas, so a lot of traumas that happen way out in the middle of nowhere end up at that hospital.
This guy came in having been in a car accident; he was covered in road rash and his chest was more or less torn open. Apparently, as we all later learned, he’d been drinking and riding passenger in his friend’s car. He wanted out of the car, his friend said no, so this guy (once again, very wasted) decided to try and jump out of the car window. He somewhat succeeded, but his shirt caught on the side view mirror and he got dragged until the driver stopped flipping out enough to come to his senses and stop.
24. Bull’s Eye
When my dad was an intern in the ER, someone walked in the front door with a kitchen knife sticking out between his eyes to the handle. The knife went through his sinus cavity and ended with the tip in his throat, millimeters from his brain stem. He goes into surgery and walks out of the ICU the next day. My dad says he is the luckiest man he ever saw.
23. Man With No Face
I’m a paramedic and got a call to an attempted suicide-by-gun.
The guy had put the gun under his chin and literally shot his face off, but completely missed his brain.
No mouth, no teeth, no tongue, no nose, and no eyes… Just a bloody half-head that was still alive and breathing through a hole where his mouth used to be.
It’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen.
22. Picking Your Battles
I live in an underdeveloped country, and a man who came in had fallen out of a tree trying to collect fruits…9 years ago.
The idiot had a discal hernia for 9 years and didn’t even care to go see a doctor.
21. The ER Regular
Medic, not a doctor. My first week or so on the job we picked up the town regular. The nurse didn’t even need me to say anything, but let me see his admission record. If there was one visit per line it probably would have been at least 10-15 pages.
Multiple stabbings, shootings, beatings, and drug problems out the butt. He was also set on fire twice and hit by two or three cars at highway speed.
He was just unkillable.
20. Dead On The Inside
During my neurosurgery clerkship this year, a patient came into the ER after being hit by a car. While looking at the head and neck CT, one of the residents said, “Holy smokes y’all, come look at this.” The patient’s dens of his C2 vertebra (axis) had jumped under and to the front of his C1 vertebra (atlas). Basically, the guy was internally decapitated and any sudden neck movement could kill him. Weird part is he had zero neurological deficits. No paralysis or loss of function. He should have been dead but lived with no lasting effects of the injury.
19. Wounded In The Woods
I was on a rotation in a rural place where I met a guy who had been out in the woods somewhere when he felt suddenly faint and sweaty, with severe pain in his belly. He collapsed but somehow managed to crawl out toward the main road where he got the attention of a passing car that brought him to the hospital. He had an abdominal aortic aneurysm that had ruptured with all his blood pumping out into his belly and somehow survived till he got to a hospital and had emergency surgery. When I met him he had recovered and was nearly being discharged home. He showed me his scar, telling me how he didn’t know how he made it either except that he knew he wasn’t going to if he didn’t keep crawling. They were really made tough out there.
18. A Full Lap
I was a student nurse when this happened. Had a woman present to the ER with most of her small intestine on her lap. She had just been discharged after a vertical midline laparotomy (a straight cut right down the middle of the abdomen, from ribs to pubic area), and the wound somehow completely dehisced and her small bowel eviscerated (her stitches ripped wide open and her guts came out through the massive hole). She was alert, oriented, and was wheeled into the ER by a family member.
17. Problem Down Under
I have a mate who is a doctor in the major trauma section of the ED at Bundaberg Hospital (in North-Eastern Australia).
He’s got quite a few tales of trauma being in that part of Australia, but one of his best is when he had a guy drive his ute to the ambo entrance, walk himself into ED with one arm firmly holding his abdomen and proceed to demonstrate (by removal of his arm from his abdomen) that he had been disemboweled by a 6ft kangaroo.
16. A Lucky Exit
Went to a call for an attempted suicide. Middle aged lady answered the door and we ask where the patient is. Turns out it was her. She had shot herself in the temple with a pistol. There was an entry wound on one side and an exit wound on the other.
Her vitals are relatively normal and there is some bleeding but it is minimal. We transport as usual. I got a peek at her x-ray later that night and apparently, the bullet had followed the curvature of her skull and went around her brain only to exit on the other side. Minimal brain damage. She was very lucky.
15. Starving To Death
I saw a patient with advanced anorexia. She was 5’7″ and weighed 43 1/2 pounds. By all parameters, she should have been dead of heart failure and she actually did die of that a couple months after I saw her. She had been told to eat 4 tablespoons of peanut butter a day and she had not been. Anorexia patients lie about intake but her parents ratted her out. Her sincere answer to why was she was afraid she would gain weight too quickly! Even at that skeletal weight, she was still simply obsessed with feeling fat. It was phenomenally sad but I do remember thinking, exactly, “How are you still alive?”
14. Blind Obsession
A guy tried to kill himself and his wife; he put the gun to his temple and held his wife’s head against his own so that it would go through his head and kill her too. He managed to shoot just in front of his brain, exploding his globes and shredding his optic nerves, leaving him perfectly awake and alive but blind. He was just wailing over and over “she was going to leave me” and “why can’t I open my eyes.” The bullet then pierced his wife’s skull and lodged near her temporal lobe, but she was somehow still totally awake and neurologically intact. Bizarre and horrific case.
13. Blasting Past Low Blood Count
Patient had a white blood count of >500; keep in mind normal values are from ~4-12. This was from progressed acute leukemia that should have been caught way before. This person also had multiple brain bleeds at the same time due to low platelets.
How they recovered from that to go through chemo is still amazing to me.
12. Real Head-Turner
I work in an ICU. We had a patient who was in a motorcycle accident and slammed face-first (no helmet) into a guard rail. His jaw was literally turned 90 degrees. It was basically going vertically up the side of his face. His tongue was also ripped out by the root in the accident.
11. Snaking By
The guy who was hiking around his drug rehab place who picked up a baby rattlesnake, which promptly bit him. When asked why he picked up a baby rattlesnake, he said (in a Russell Brand-type British accent), “It just looked so friendly.”
10. No Offence
Former paramedic here. The patient had a metal fence post, like you see in backyards, through the chest. All the way through. A car crash put it there. He was alive when I got him to the trauma center, but I don’t know if he left alive.
9. Eye Love You
My professor, a dentist, talks about how she had a patient that got stabbed from the eye socket to the mouth by his girlfriend (she found out he was cheating on him). Somehow she missed all the numerous nerves around the eye and ended up with zero permanent damage. And the best part is that he got back together with the girlfriend after healing up.
8. Broken Heart
General surgery resident here. Kid bought a “knife-proof” vest online and tried it out with his friends by putting it on and asking them to stab him in the chest. Turns out it wasn’t knife-proof, and the kid ended up with a hole in his heart that needed an ER thoracotomy where they opened his chest and put their finger there to stop the bleeding. He was then taken to the operating room where it was repaired. The kid survived; he left the ICU against strong medical advice a couple of days later.
7. Very Good Boy
Veterinarian. Had a dog hit by a train that was missing most of his back half of his body. He had to be euthanized but who knows how that dog survived the impact.
6. Tree Hugger
My friend who works in the ER told me about a motorcyclist who flew off his bike and got impaled by a tree in the air, high enough up nobody saw him for several hours; it may have even been overnight.
The man was cut out of the tree, taken to my friend in the ER, but still had the trunk stuck in him. The guy was still totally coherent and making jokes. My friend asked the man for his weight and he said:
“With or without the tree?”
5. Double Trouble
As a very junior doctor, I looked after this mega-alcoholic who needed ascities (fluid in the abdomen caused by liver failure) tapping out every month or so. He kept coming in a worse and worse shade of yellow/green (jaundice), needing more and more fluid removed, still merrily drinking all the while. Well, the obvious happened, he died. Now he’s dead.
So I wander into the ward a few weeks later, to find him sitting there in bed, green as you like, looking very alive.
Turned out this man was the other’s twin, also an alcoholic, also not to live much longer.
4. Emergency Escape
My grandfather. At the doctor’s office with chest pains. Doctor insists he goes to the ER for emergency surgery, as he is having heart issues. My grandfather refuses to be taken there, escapes, drives off, goes and visits his friend for 3 hours, then heads to the hospital. Arteries so clogged they had no idea how he was alive, let alone able to drive.
Then he gets a rare brain tumor in an advanced stage; doctors gives him 6 months, max, to live. It took him 4.5 years to finally pass away. Miss you Pop-pop.
3. Not Again
My grandmother has had 7 strokes. I couldn’t help but laugh at the 7th one, when she said, “Uh Oh, I’m having another stroke.” She said this during a phone call abruptly. She’s a very tough lady; she runs a garden and eats her own vegetables.
2. Taking His Own Temperature
Patient stabbed himself in the neck with a thermometer that pierced his trachea. Missed all the important arteries (carotids, vertebrals); just hit some minor nerves.
Good guy patient provided his own temperature reads until they removed the thermometer.
1. Drill Some Sense Into Him
I work in a hospital OR and this actually happened about a week ago. A guy came into our ER with a drill bit in his eye; apparently, he’d been using it to scratch his nose. The fun part is that the bit was still in the power drill when he was itching himself and he accidentally engaged the drill. Although the injury wasn’t that bad, when I heard about it my initial reaction was, “How do people like this make it this far in their lives and not choke on their cereal in the morning?”