Surgeons Share Their Biggest 'Oh S**t' Moment During Surgery
The human body is strange and complicated. Surgeons have the unenviable job of trying to fix us when something goes horribly wrong in the complex system of flesh and nerves and bone that makes up a human.
Reddit user u/A_Weeb_Named_Lightly asked:
*Content Warning: graphic descriptions of injury and surgery*
I'm currently in med school, and this happened a few years ago when I was attending surgery classes. One patient was up for a laparotomy for removal and investigation of an abdominal mass - probably cancer. Imaging tests were really not specific or of much help, as this was some atypical disease presentation - even specialists couldn't figure it out. To everyone's surprise, the patient's "cancer" was really a forgotten gauze from some previous surgery. The actual moment of realization went as the surgeon just stopped and said: "gauze!"; to which the nurse promptly gave him one, and he went: "No. There was a gauze inside of him!".
My dad caused an oh s**t moment for a surgeon. When he heard them say "ok he's out" before they were about to start slicing him open. He just had enough strength to move his head from side to side as in no, I'm not out yet.
My father is a physician, and although he's not a surgeon, he did some surgery while in med school. He told me a story about a patient he had once, who had necrotising fasciitis, or flesh-eating disease. The patient had gotten a cut during gardening and never cleaned the wound. My dad told us that he had to peel back layers just to get at it. First, he peeled off the bandages that the patient self-applied, then there was a layer of holy book pages that he also had to peel off... Following that, there was another layer of bandages and then a final layer of more holy book pages. Beneath that, there was the wound itself, which was covered in maggots...
Apparently, they were eating the dead-tissue generated by the disease. He said that once they removed the maggots, they were able to begin the surgery to remove the infected areas, but it was because of the maggots that they didn't have to amputate the limb. After this operation, my dad decided to not pursue surgery and focus on becoming a specialist.
I'm a med student. A surgeon once told me that his "oh s**t" moment was when a patient of his had a carotid artery blow out (very bloody, leads to death within minutes if not treated) due to a tumor growing into that artery. Problem was that the patient was in a small hospital in his hometown with no surgeon available who's specialized in this type of cases. Furthermore there was no way of getting the patient in time to our center as it was rush hour on a sunny friday afternoon. It was also not possible to transport the patient to our center by helicopter as the hospital in his hometown did not have a helipad.
Luckily our hospital did have a helipad with a helicopter available, so they took the surgeon by helicopter to the smaller hospital. Since there was no helipad at the hospital the pilot was forced to land the chopper in a park (and mind you it was a sunny friday afternoon, so it was full of people). As soon as the chopper landed a crowd formed around the helicopter. The surgeon told me that the moment he exited the chopper they all started clapping and cheering for him, making him feel like star. He ran to the hospital and into the operating room and immediately started operating on the patient. He was done around 2 AM but the patient made it.
Obligatory not a surgeon, but a student assisting in the operating room.
65yo guy with kidney problems (possibly cancerous) needed to have a chunk of his kidney removed. Ok, no big deal; we give him meds, knock him out, then prepare to operate. We removed his gown, and everyone in the room froze, one of the surgeons actually said "holy f*ckballs" which is relatively accurate...apparently our guy had some muscular disease that caused a massive abdominal hernia, and his intestines were herniating into his scrotum, the size of a deflated basketball
I am a nurse and the doctor was an anaesthetist, but still relevant.
Patient had her surgery (I can't remember what), all went well. She was awake and in recovery. We needed to give her a medication through her IV line so, as is standard practice, we flushed the line with 10 mls of saline. The patient immediately stopped breathing, we had no idea why. We called a code and the anaesthetist came running. He actually said 'oh s**t' when he realized what had happened.
During the surgery, the anaesthetist had given the patient rocuronium through that IV line, and he hadn't cleared the line afterwards. So when we flushed the line, the patient got a dose of rocuronium that had been sitting in the line.
Rocuronium is a muscle relaxant, used to inhibit the respiratory muscles to allow for intubation and ventilation during general anaesthetic. In layman's terms, it paralyzes the breathing muscles, so you can't take a breath no matter how hard you try. But it does not put you to sleep. This patient was wide awake but totally unable to breathe.
Luckily the anaesthetist worked out quickly what had happened, and it's easily reversed. The patient was physically fine, but understandably traumatized.
Husband broke his back at work. Because it was a Workers comp issue, the insurance made him go through everything BUT surgery first. Six gruelling months later, he was approved for surgery. He was in severe pain for months leading up to this, so we were really looking forward to this procedure.
Day of surgery, they wheel him in, and I go sit in the waiting area with about 20 others strangers waiting for their loved ones. I knew it would be about 5 hours. Approximately 40 min later, a nurse and the actual surgeon peek their head in the waiting room. He looks directly at me and says,"UHM, we have a problem. Can you step out here please?" My knees buckled.
I felt the air leave the room as all the others gasped. I somehow found my feet and felt like I floated out to the hallway. He says, "Hubby is fine, but right before I made my incision, I double checked the cage, (equipment they put in to stabilize the spine) and it's the wrong size. We have to wake him up, and reschedule. PHEWWWWWWW
Surgery ended up happening two days later, but my poor guy suffered a lot. Looking back, I'm really glad that surgeon double checked before cutting into him.
The hospital was extremely accommodating to us afterwards, to a fault. They were very nervous about a lawsuit. We just forgave and moved on. Mistakes happen.
Not a surgeon, but a student.
In the early days of this teaching hospital's high school volunteer program, they essentially used us as free tech labor, but when things were otherwise slow, they'd toss me some scrubs and send me to watch cases in the operating room with the med students. Since my mom worked there, there were sort of testing this out with me.
On the very first case I saw, the surgeon lost the needle from the end of the suture in the abdominal cavity and couldn't find it. They ended up wheeling in an x-ray machine to locate it.
During the next surgery I watched, the surgeon heard "student" and assumed I was a resident. He launched into an x-rated joke he claimed he found on the back page of penthouse. When he finally hit the punchline, no one laughed. Finally someone asked if he "remembered our visiting student." He turned and asked, "Yer a resident right? Not like you're some virgin." I clarified that I was a freshman, not a resident. He paused and whispered, "college?" I replied "high school."
When he realized I not quite 14, he started screaming at the anesthesiologist for setting him up and threw a tray of scalpels and forceps at him. It took a few minutes to get the correct count for the number of tools and their locations after that, and the anesthesiologist switched rooms with a buddy.
After this he was extremely professional and formal, but still didn't bother to ask my name. He did a great job on the patient.
The "oh shit" moment came when my mom met him in the call room a few hours later and said, "I heard you had some drama in your room today?" Happy to have someone to vent to, he launched into the story and embellished a bit about how bad it was to justify throwing scalpels.
That's when she said, "You know that's my daughter?"
You could hear him cursing the anesthesiologist all the way down in recovery.
Some years ago my wife went in for surgery and we asked to have her tubes tied at the same time. After the surgery, the doctor came out to talk with me. He told me the surgery went great and that she's just coming out of the anesthesia now. I asked about the tubes, and his eyes got really wide. He said, "I'll be back in a few minutes" and practically ran back to the OR. They had to put her back under and re-open the sutures. I'm glad I asked about that, or we might have had a much bigger surprise than that.
I'm a medical student going into surgery; I get my MD in a year. I haven't been at this long enough to have the wealth of stories that an actual surgeon would have, but I have a few that stand out from my time in the OR so far.
Most recently, I was assisting on a lung surgery called a decortication. This is done when a lung is trapped in place either by a complex infection, inflammatory tissue, etc. and needs to be freed up to work properly. This lady was middle-aged, but has a history of several bouts of pneumonia and a 30-pack year smoking history. Going into the procedure, we weren't sure exactly what we'd find, but were hoping it was just scar tissue from the untreated pneumonias.
As soon as we got inside her chest with the scope, it was obvious that this was not the result of infection. Her entire lung was essentially caked in cancer tissue, adhering it to her chest wall and her diaphragm.
We had discussed this possibility with her, and had her consent to do whatever was necessary once the surgery began.
At that point, all the minimally-invasive scopes and instruments went away, and my attending guided me through an open thoracotomy. This involves making a large incision between the ribs, snipping out two of the ribs, and using a rib-spreader to gain access to her chest. Once inside, my attending obviously did the work and I just assisted, but we removed her entire lung and some lymph nodes for testing. Her chemo started the next day and she's fighting now.
So, I guess it counts as "oh s**t" when you open up a chest and find a thicket of cancer staring back at you.