We asked a bunch of ER doctors about the craziest thing they've seen at work. Here's what they told us.
After we learned about all of the crazy shit taxi drivers have to see and put up with on a daily basis, we figured that going to chat with ER doctors about the ludicrous nonsense they endure would be the next logical step. So, here are our favourite anecdotes that were shared with us, from the people out there who can fix you up the next time you shove something metal up your butt.
Illustrations by Donald Clement.
The Case of the Missing Finial
One time, I treated a 19 year-old kid who was at home by himself playing with a curtain rod, and it was a split rod, so it was virtually a circle—but I guess you could squeeze it and put the decorative finial (the finial is that decorative carving bit on the end of a curtain rod) on the end of it, it’s got some spring to it. It has an open channel on one side. Anyway, he slid it up his bum and the channel pinched right onto his anus. It got stuck.
He was obviously alone in his bedroom playing with this curtain rod, and he was trying to get it out, but he couldn’t. So he called his mom to help, but she couldn’t get it out either, so they called an ambulance. The curtain rod was probably about five feet long—so this kid comes in lying face down on a stretcher, with a curtain rod sticking up in the air. He was in the emergency room for an hour before he got taken up to the operating room. We put him to sleep and took the curtain rod out. All you had to do was separate the edges a little bit and it un-pinched, which was easy to do when you could see it from behind. But then there was the other piece… it remained inside of him. So I started trying to get it, but every time I tried it just went further and further inside of him.
So I called up the surgeon, who could put a camera in him, like they do for a colonoscopy. When I called up the surgeon, I said, "do you know what a finial is?" And he said, "that's a weird question, but yes, I do. I was watching Home and Garden Television the other day and they had this thing about decoration, so the finial is the decorative thing at the end of the curtain rod." I said, "Yeah, well, the finial is missing. We know where it is, but we can't get it out."
So they took this guy up to the operating room and they pulled it out. The really incredible thing about all this, I think, is that he called his mom in to help. I love that he did that. He's a good boy.
The Knife Swallowers
The one thing we see a lot of is unfortunate people who definitely have mental health problems, and they engage in a lot of self-harming behavior. Specifically, they swallow things. We call them “frequent fliers” in the emergency room because they're very well known to the emergency staff. They come in to the emergency room to say they've swallowed anything from pens to buttons, nickels and dimes. It's quite sad because they can often die. They get the same care that everybody else would get, but they're definitely stigmatized because they cause so much trouble for doctors by doing these self-harming things. There's also a bunch of well-known people who go from hospital to hospital who swallow knives. Like sharp knives. And you can just see them sitting there in the X-ray. We try to remove them, but often trying to remove them is more dangerous than actually letting them just sit there.
The surgeons won't really operate on them until they've perforated some part of their gastrointestinal track. Sometimes they won't even operate on them anyways because they're just going to do it again. So we just manage their symptoms. It's pretty crazy—because they'll swallow seven or eight knives. You can even read online how to swallow knives. I've been told they freeze them and then they swallow them. It's part of a spectrum of mental health issues they have. This sort of behavior is pretty well studied. It's quite depressing dealing with these people, because eventually they're going to swallow something that's going to kill them, and nobody is going to be able to help them. I see these types of people all the time.
The Healer Becomes the Healed
One day at work, I went to examine an elderly patient who had shortness of breath. Upon entering the room, the patient looked at me with a strange facial expression. The patient told me my mother and grandmother were standing right behind me. I thought this patient was confused because both people were dead. The patient then explained that she is a spiritual reader and at times, she sees dead people.
She proceededto tell me that my mother was telling me that she loves me and that she is always at my side. She also told me not to worry, and that whatever is troubling me at this time would be solved soon. The patient said now she didn't feel short of breath any longer and that she has had this happen in the past, where she has come to the hospital with some illness and then she found the person she needed to help… and then her symptoms would go away. After that I felt my mother's presence and a warm feeling came over me.
I will never forget this experience.
There were a bunch of 20-something guys, and they had gone across the border into New York State to go on a fishing trip. Every emergency doc has seen a million fishhooks in various parts of the body, usually in the fingers, but in other places too, and everyone has their own trick for getting them out.
Anyway, one of these guys was casting their fishing rod, and the hook caught another one in the eye. Not just in the eyelid, but right in his eyeball. But since they had just gone over for a quick fishing trip—they didn't bother getting health insurance—so rather than go to the hospital in the United States, which would have been somewhat expensive, they got into a truck and drove back home. This guy was lying on the back seat of a pickup truck for the entire eight hours that it took them to get back to Canada.
When he got to the ER, the ophthalmology guys took him to the operating room and they actually didn’t take out the hook that night. They just decided that it had been so long and there were some technical complications that they left it, and they were going to take him back the next day. As is often the case in emergency I don't actually know what happened to the guy. I know they were pretty concerned that he would lose the eye, but I don't actually know if he did.
There was one guy who was on a bridge, about to commit suicide, when the police saw him and brought him into hospital. He was very depressed. He told us that he came across an inheritance from a family member—it was a few thousand dollars—so he decided to go celebrate.
He went to the strip club, and while he was there, one of the strippers roofied him and took all of his money. He was really upset, and when he came into the hospital he was saying: "My life is not worth living, these strippers take all my money, there's no justice," but obviously the police weren't doing anything about it, and he needed some help with his suicidal thoughts, so we admitted him to the psychiatric ward.
There are always police officers hanging around in the ER, so the next day he actually talked to a police officer, and for some reason he thought this police officer was actually going to help him find these strippers. So the next day, after being suicidal, he was happy again, and went back out into the world. It was a brief "I'm going to end my life," and then the next day he was totally fine. He just changed his mind.