The True Stories Behind Reddit's Most Viral Posts

Some posts – like the infamous "Swamps of Dagobah" tale – have become the stuff of legend. We tracked down their creators.
HF
illustrated by Helen Frost
15 September 2020, 8:15am
Viral reddit posts

Certain Reddit posts have become the stuff of legend. Chronicling these legends is r/MuseumOfReddit, where you’ll find entries like “the parent who gave birth to an evil baby” and “the woman who buried her boyfriend’s baked bean tins after an argument”.

While these might sound like the cover lines on That’s Life! magazine, it’s the visceral realism of the storytelling that makes them truly remarkable. Some of these posts are popular for their mundanity (there’s one about a guy that ate an entire party sub), others their horror (the guy that sought advice for divorcing his wife, who later murdered their children).

I asked four Reddit-certified “legends” to revisit their most famous posts.

THE SWAMPS OF DAGOBAH

It was around 2AM when a woman arrived at Kelly’s hospital, writhing in pain and muttering Hail Marys. Kelly, a veteran operating room nurse, got to work. She’d seen a lot of shit – violent neo-Nazis, old men pulling catheter balloons out of their penis – but nothing prepared her for what she was about to be confronted with.

The patient had a perirectal abscess (a pus-filled lump around her asshole) that showered the ER with pus and gore. Kelly’s story received 6,800 upvotes and various Reddit awards. It lives on as urban legend and is recalled in almost every doctor/nurse AMA going.

"The story itself is all true. The pus, the players, the mastisol [a liquid medical adhesive], everything.

“I was about a year out of nursing school and working at a rural trauma centre. We saw lots of different types of cases, from home improvement accidents to car wrecks to mother/baby emergencies. I was still relatively new to Reddit at the time, and the ‘healthcare staff of Reddit, what are your worst stories’ type posts weren't quite as ubiquitous as they are now. When one of them made it near the front page and I was reading the litany of ‘not me but my friend’ retellings of hangnail-level tragedies, I knew I had a doozy that could top them all.

“I actually got so much interest that I wound up doing a follow-up AMA, and though I was too young to realise at the time, it turned out to be pretty therapeutic to be able to talk about some of the other cases I'd experienced.

“Since that post, I can't say I've experienced anything ‘worse’ necessarily. But that's a bit of a sliding scale. I've watched people die, I've delivered deceased babies, I've wrestled drunks and people having hallucinations. Far and away the worst is still dealing with self-righteous physicians, particularly the ones in this area.

“My internet fame has had the same effect on my life as pretty much everyone else's: none at all. Probably the closest thing to an ‘IRL effect’ was when I was working at a university hospital in Seattle and overheard two new surgical residents discussing my Reddit story and trying to decide if it was real or not, neither of them having any idea that the author was standing in the room behind them. That was the first time I realised just how many people were actually on Reddit, and how far the story had spread.” – Kelly, AKA u/banzaipanda

THE MAN WHO FOUND HIS MUM THROUGH REDDIT

If there’s one thing the internet excels at, it’s finding your long-lost biological parents, or so John’s Reddit reunion with his mum would suggest.

Having never known his mother, John sought the support of Reddit in what developed into a suspenseful thread of Facebook profile links and identity verification websites. Thanks to the collective effort of Redditors, John and his mother were actually reunited with each other.

“When I was about 21, I had two potential phone numbers for my biological mother. My parents had apparently got them from a private investigator while trying to find my sisters’ biological mother. So my initial Reddit post was just for support, as I was finally going to give them a try.

“Neither of the numbers worked. So in the comments of that original post I gave the very scant information I had and just asked if anyone had any idea on how to find her. Less than an hour later, someone sent me two different Facebook accounts, one of which turned out to be my biological mother.

“Besides the excitement of getting to talk with my mother for the first time, the post blew up quite a bit. I got to meet with her and my half-brother a few times, but as they live on the opposite side of the country we don’t see each other much. But just getting to meet them and having some mysteries of my biological family revealed was beyond worth it.

“As for how it’s impacted my life, not terribly too much, honestly. It was a great experience and I’m grateful for all the words of encouragement I received at the time.” — John, AKA u/wannamaker

THE GUY WHO WAS GOOFY

For 20 years, Mikey put on a Goofy costume and made people smile at Walt Disney World. That big furry costume was his life – and then he lost his job. In the hopes of finding closure, he turned to the Reddit AMA forum. His response about helping two little girls who had been orphaned after a car accident tugged on the heartstrings of even the snarkiest Redditor. The post received over 98,600 upvotes and showered Mikey with enough gold awards to make him a Reddit hero forever.

“During my AMA, someone asked me ‘[If I had] any good stories about [my] magical moments?’ There was one story I’d never shared with another human being. It was a moment that affected me so profoundly that, at the time, it felt like I would minimise it by saying it out loud. When I started to type out my answer I was overcome with emotion. I cried like a baby with every sentence.

“I wasn’t expecting the reaction I got from that comment. I’d taken a break from answering questions to get something to eat, and when I got back people had rewarded me with gold commendations so many times – I won’t have to purchase Reddit’s premium plan until the humans colonise Mars.

“The best thing to come out of that comment was thanks to the Redditor u/randomtwinkie, who responded by purchasing something from the Florida Hospital for Children Amazon wish list. Suddenly people from all over the world followed suit and started buying toys, donating them to the hospital too. Not just a few people, a crapload of people! The Florida Hospital for Children was flooded with gifts. They literally had to clear out an additional storage closet to hold them all. I was so grateful to be a small part of that.

“Sharing that story was the key to me being able to let go of my time at Disney. People message me to this very day to thank me for doing what I did for those girls – which wasn’t as much me as it was the entire cast; I basically made a few phone calls – but more importantly, they tell me that my story made them happy. It’s not the same kind of happiness I was able to provide as a character, but I’ll take it. That’s all I’ve ever wanted anyway.” — Mikey, AKA u/Ihaveanotheridentity

THE SECRET EATER

Lockdown inspired Robert to take up a new hobby: eating junk food alone in his garden at 2AM while his wife slept, before destroying the evidence and crawling back into bed. Robert’s grease-stained secret resonated with thousands of other Redditors, receiving 84,200 upvotes and a gold Reddit award.

“I frequent r/trueoffmychest pretty regularly, and most times I don't have much to contribute. Then, at the start of the COVID-19 quarantine, I started to have these late-night cravings for all the typical junk food that I used to indulge in when I wasn't a married man with a stupid baby to take care of (lol joke, our boy is absolutely the joy of our life).

“In particular, I would crave pizza and wings. They just go so well together, it's really a no-brainer. If I was going to indulge, I would do it the right way.

“During my second session, I had a thought that I couldn't be the only person that enjoyed a vice in solitude, and that this venture of gluttonous indulgence had to be rooted in something more universal. For me, it was the thrill of having something that's just mine, and mine alone, and it was a sentiment that I was sure others might relate to, especially in these times of quarantine.

“After my post blew up, I had a lot of supporters that truly understood what was going on, and what I was doing. They understood that my secret wasn't coming from a place of deceitfulness or fear from my wife – rather a place of gluttonous tendencies and nostalgia of when I was able to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, without having to share or be considerate of others. There is a certain peace and joy to that freedom that is so rare when you're married with kids.

“Since then, I’ve only secretly eaten one more time – I got sick of it. I also knew it wasn't a healthy tradition to keep on indulging in, especially since I'm trying to lose some of my quarantine weight for a wedding I'm best man at this fall.

“My wife found out when she went through our storage shed to look for some gardening tools and found my empty pizza box. I came clean and showed her my Reddit post. She thought it was hilarious, but asked me to throw the trash away properly next time.

“I'm no longer a secret eater, but I'm sure that, some day, somewhere, when nobody is watching, I'll pull up at a drive through, or order a guilty pleasure meal, and once again throw away the evidence before my wife finds out.” — Robert, AKA u/Rpark888