15 Surgeons Reveal Their Biggest 'Oh, Sh*t!' Moment.

Surgeons of Reddit were asked: "What has been your biggest 'Oh Shit' moment?" These are some of the best answers.

1/15 When my nurse (a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists) accidentally gave my patient a lower dose of anesthesia during a heart surgery I was performing and the patient opened his eyes and screamed during the operation so we had to stop it... Scary shit.


2/15 Craziest: probably a medical student passing out face first into the wound, then falling backwards and cracking his skull on the floor. He starts bleeding from the head and isn't moving. Just total silence for a few seconds. We didn't know whether to laugh or yell at him or what. Heh. Luckily I didn't have to have that talk with the family.


3/15 Veterinarian here. This happened in my 4th year of vet school. I watched a bull stomp his own intestines.

A very valuable bull had an obstruction in his intestines that needed to be removed. People will only put the amount of money a food animal is worth into surgery to fix it so we had to do this on the cheap. Full anesthesia on an animal that big is crazy expensive so we did a "standing" surgery. What that means is the bull is put in a chute, numbed up really well, and other than light sedation they are totally awake and standing for surgery.

So the surgeons make a 2-3 foot vertical incision in his right flank and start pulling out armfulls of intestines and handing them to me and the other vet student assistants. There's a sterile drape on the bull and we're all in full sterile gowns. The obstruction was pretty bad so they had to remove a couple feet of damaged intestines and then sew the ends back together. There is a lot of blood. A lot. The bull is starting to get stressed, impatient, and weak from blood loss. It starts kicking at the chute and trying to move. It gets more sedatives and the surgeons try to sew faster. Everyone is sweating and there's a lot of swearing going on. The puddle of blood at our feet is getting bigger. The bull does a side shuffle and the intestines being held by another student are trapped between the bulls ribs and the metal bars of the chute. This is bad - even a few seconds of this can do permanent damage. The bull is too heavy to just shove over so they remove one of the side rails of the chute to free the intestines. The bull is getting really pissed off and now is trying to lunge from side to side and we are ordered to let go of the intestines we are holding to keep the bull from breaking our arms against the rails of the chute.

The bull is really freaking out and manages to get partially and then completely out of the chute and starts running around the room mooing and stomping and ripping huge chunks of intestines out of itself. Blood and guts are EVERYWHERE. GALLONS of blood. Keep in mind this room is in a barn and while the area around the chute was clean the rest of the room is covered in hay and dirt. Some huge guys manage to subdue the bull and wrestle it to the ground and they give it more sedatives and pain meds. My job was to sit on his shoulder, another bigger student is sitting on his head. Everything is a complete f*cking fiasco at this point and I just felt so terrible for the poor bull who was bellowing non-stop. They wash off his mangled intestines as best as they can, stitch the ends together, dump a shit ton of penicillin in his abdomen and close him up.

The bull survived surgery and then was hospitalized and got tons of IV antibiotics and fluids and care. Every day his temperature got higher until he finally died a week later from a massive infection in his abdomen. So that was awful. I have absolutely no idea what they told the owner. As far as I know no one got sued.


4/15 We were putting up a central line for a drip with an 18G needle (1.2mm- relatively big compared to most needles) in the patient's external jugular, and all of a sudden the needle went right into the jugular. We all started panicking because usually with a drip the needle is meant to come out and only the plastic remains, but now we had lost the needle inside this guys jugular.

Before we could even fish it out it was gone, I looked at the fellow surgeons and nurses and before we could do anything we rushed him right into theater. After a few minutes we fished the needle out near his subclavian vein- closer towards the shoulder- and we breathed a sigh of relief.


5/15 Way way back in the day pre-op was done with alcohol-based cleaners. Naked, sedated guy with a light sheen of cleaning fluid on him + static electric spark = fully engulfed in flames. Everyone just stood there for a second til someone grabbed a sheet and put out the flames. Surgery went well, no complications, slight sun tan.


6/15 My first C-Section was quite the shocker, but after that not a lot fazed me anymore. This event occurred during one of my internships as a high schooler to see if medicine would be my field. Why, I'm not sure, but they let me attend a C-Section.

They placed me at the feet of the woman that was numb chest down. I give her a little nod and the operation starts. Well, no one had thought to tell me that once the belly is cut, the liquids go out too. This is a logical thing, but I was seated at least 3 meters from the feet of said woman and the fluids gushing from her abdomen came all the way to my feet. Here is me, standing in a woman's pregnancy fluids. Oh. F*ck. I must have looked very shocked because the other surgeons had a laugh about my reaction. Ever since, I've not been shocked once.


7/15 I was in charge in the unit the other day, and this happened... We had a patient in the ICU who had some big abdomen trauma. He had gone to the OR and was too sick to be able to close his abdomen, so we left it open. We had a piece of plastic covering, like a bag, covering his intestines and then we placed a vacuumed sponge dressing on top of that, called a woundvac.

The patient's nurse called me into the room to look at the abdomen because she thought she saw pieces of the bowel seeping out of the bag and getting sucked against the woundvac. I agreed and thought the bowel looked pretty dusky as well, so we called the doc to come and look at it.

The resident agreed and talked to his attending who told him to take the woundvac off, tuck the bowel back into the bag it had escaped from and put a new woundvac on. It all just sounded like it was going to be a disaster, but whatever.

So, resident comes in, takes off the woundvac and the bowels had become very swollen from the fluids, trauma, etc... so when he took the woundvac off, they all slipped out of the patient. The bag had dislodged significantly. We would tuck the bowels in one side, they'd spill out the other. Here we had this guy in his bed, disemboweling and we simply could not get everything back in him, in the bag, or anything.

Luckily, the drugs we had the patient on kept him very nicely sedated and we had other drugs to control any problems with his blood pressure and the guy wasn't overtly bleeding... it was MESSY. We really just had to step back and say "Well, shit. How do we get this guys guts back inside him!?"

Ended up having to call in 6 other people to help tuck things here and there until he could get back to the OR for them to get everything back into its proper place...


8/15 I wasn't present for this, but I got to deal with the fallout. Client brings his cat (found as a stray) to be spayed. The vet (my boss) preps cat for surgery and begins cutting...and can't find the uterus or ovaries...

Uh oh. Cat is a male! And poor kitty just had his belly sliced open for no reason whatsoever. The owner was, understandably, furious.


9/15 Nurse here. I was assisting with a simple vasectomy and the doctor was having trouble differentiating the vas deferens from the testicular artery. I stopped him just before he cut the artery. If he cut that, the testicle would die... not to mention make a very bloody mess.


10/15 The medical stuff really becomes a blur. Complications, bad outcomes, crazy patients... I dunno, but after a few years even the bad stuff just becomes part of the routine. But there was one moment that still sticks with me from training...

I was called into a meeting with the program director, which is never a good thing, and I wasn't entirely sure why. He makes some small talk, then start asking about one of the junior residents who had been on my service. Definitely one of the weaker residents, but hard working and likeable. I start talking about her performance and her relationship with the other residents, her strengths and weaknesses, etc.

After a minute I came to the horrible realization he wasn't just asking about her, he was gathering ammunition to fire her and I was part of the firing squad. I jammed on the breaks and tried to talk her up, talking about her work ethic, and how well she got along with the nurses and the team. But we both knew it was a done deal before I sat down.

I dunno why it bothered me so much, compared to kids who burned to death and the like. But that sudden realization while I was sitting there that someone I kinda liked personally, who had spent most of their adult life struggling in undergrad, medical school, and the lab, who had what I suspect was six figure debt, was about to get their career destroyed just stunned me.

I don't know if she was going to be an unsafe doctor. I think the fact we liked her allowed her to slide further than she should have, in retrospect. But of all the terrible things that happened in residency, that's the one I think about most often.


11/15 Yeah, this really happened to me when I was in training to be a cardiologist. I was in my 2nd or 3rd heart procedure/catherization when my senior doctor got sick, ripped off his surgical gown and ran out of the room. The doctor had just yelled "Oh, no!" and left. I had just positioned these catheters with wires into the sleeping patient's heart. They were just hanging out there pulsating to his heart beat. Apparently, the doctor had gotten food poisoning and made a run for the bathroom...never to return.

So I've never made it to this point in the procedure before and am just wondering where to take it from here. I haven't even been taught how to take them out safely. I'm looking at the vitals and monitors like F#@%, what do I do now? Of course they page my senior cardiology fellow in training who is taking a nap and not returning any pages or calls. No other doctors around. Finally, thank GOD, my tech/assistant who has done these procedures since before I was born gives me a nudge to flush the catheters, which I do, to prevent blood clots and death essentially. And after a few minutes properly removes the catheters and wires. They get treated like shit but have saved ALL of the fellows in training and senior doctors many, many times in complicated situations with their knowledge.


12/15 I was rounding a few months back and a guy gets wheeled into ICU smelling terrible. I walked over, and the dude had maybe the most macerated legs I have ever seen. There were things moving on the bed, and the suction container was full of maggots.

Turns out dude had been weaving on the road, and when police pulled him over and opened the doors, maggots fell onto the road. He got taken to the ER, arrested, taken up to ICU and very rapidly debrided, then bilateral above-knee amputated. He actually made it out of the hospital, but I cannot imagine waking up one day and having no legs. I really wish I knew where he was driving, though ...


13/15 Surgical nurse here. I was an OR nurse for a very short time in between two jobs in hospital surgical units taking care of post op pts. Right now I'm in a surgical step down unit, which means really sick post op pts who aren't quite sick enough for the ICU, but could still start tanking any minute. Most of our "oh shit" moments are pretty boring, like "oh shit, they found more cancer," "oh shit, his oxygen percentage is going down," "oh shit, there's a mucus plug obstructing her airway," things like that.

In the OR, the worst I saw was some shithead optometrist who thought spending 5 minutes per patient was a good way to do cataract surgeries (most surgeons spend about 15-25 min per surgery). At one point he told me to keep the pre and post op eye drops uncapped, because he didn't want to have to wait the literal 5 seconds it took me to unscrew the caps after each surgery. The patient's eyes looked all mangled and misshapen after the surgery, whereas every other cataract surgery I've ever seen, the pts looked fine right afterwards. Not really an "oh shit" moment, but I told my boss after that day that I never wanted to work with that guy again. It was an accident waiting to happen. I heard one of his patients got an infection and lost their eye, but most of them were fine. Still, I wouldn't have let him watch my goldfish for a week long vacation, let alone come at my eye with a knife. He was a douchenozzel.


14/15 When I was a student my chief resident was sleeping with one of my friends who was also a student. We were both operating with the chief of surgery when someone pages the chief during surgery. The nurse looked at it and said it wasn't important. Chief gets annoyed and asks her I just call it back. She replies it was a text page, would he like her to read it? He says yes.

It was my friend telling him she wanted to meet him in a call room after he was done. (paraphrasing here). Another awkward silence. Residents sleeping with students is a no no and having them page you in surgery is one too. But the chief of surgery was having an affair with the nurse, we all knew it, so after a rapid fire exchange of significant glances around the table, we all shut the hell up and finished the case and never spoke of it again.


15/15 General surgeon, five years experience. Maybe not my biggest, but one of my first Oh-Shits once I'd been set loose upon the world was just realizing that I couldn't be in two places that I desperately needed to be at the same time.

There's a certain vulnerability that happens when you're scrubbed in on a case in the OR. You're the captain of this particular ship, right now, and you really should have your whole focus dedicated to it and only it...

But sometimes you're in there in the middle of the night or on a weekend, and your partners are all gone and there's just a skeleton crew running the hospital. Your goddamned pager keeps going off and your phone keeps ringing and sometimes it's just Nurse X on the floor who thinks her patient really, really needs an order for Tylenol at 2 AM even though the patient is asleep...

Sometimes the call is about how your patient is actively dying. Now. Right now. Heart attack. Stroke. Blood painting the walls of the room. Everyone trying to communicate this to you is in the process of either trying to stop the dying-ness, or is just freaking the f*ck out and begging you to come DO SOMETHING. But you are elbows-deep in the viscera of another very ill person. You can't really just drop what you're doing and race upstairs. You have given an equally strong promise to both of these people that you will look after and protect them from harm--and you have to break that promise to one of them. You have to keep sailing that particular ship, otherwise both will go down.

If you're lucky there's an ICU team that can swoop in and help... or residents experienced enough to handle things... or a back-up partner who can ride to your rescue and bitch about "having to help out Junior all night" later. Other times, there is literally nothing you can do except tell the nurse, "Do what you can. I'll be up as soon as I'm done with the operation."




We are told that, if you're not confident, you should just "fake it til you make it."

This is great--in theory. In practice, sometimes "faking it" can have extremely real and terrible consequences, which these people found out the hardest of hard ways.

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