15 Medical Mistakes You Won't Believe

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Doctor wheeling patient

Mind-Blowing Medical Mistakes

Many of us have visited the doctor and had our symptoms dismissed only to revisit and find out we are in fact sick with something. Annoying, right? Some medical mishaps are a little more extreme to the point that you might feel a little embarrassed to have ever rolled your eyes at your doctor for sending you home with an over-the-counter recommendation instead of an antibiotic. Here are some mishaps that are so shocking they will have you scratching your head while you pick your jaw up off the floor.

Related: Things You Should Never Say to Your Doctor

Doctors on the operations

Surgeon Accidentally Amputated the Wrong Leg

In 2021, a surgeon at the Freistadt Clinic in Austria failed to clarify medical records and review photo documentation before a procedure to amputate a patient’s leg up to the left thigh and as a result, marked the right thigh for surgical intervention. Thus, the surgeon operated on the wrong leg, unnecessarily removing the patient’s limb. The negligent surgeon was fined a measly $3,050 U.S. dollars and had to undergo a court hearing. Before the court date, the patient passed away for reasons unrelated to the amputation and his widow was awarded $5,666 in damages from the court. 

Related: 15 Weird Ways Your Body Is Telling You to Go to the Doctor

Cancer patient resting

Woman Misdiagnosed with Cancer Undergoes Chemo … for Two Years

In 2009, a doctor misdiagnosed Herlinda Garcia of Victoria, Texas, with Stage IV terminal breast cancer. Garcia was so convinced that she was on her deathbed that she gave away her keepsakes, made a bucket list, and started planning her funeral. Her diagnosis came after a benign tumor was removed from her breast with no biopsy performed and a misread of test results. To buy herself a little more time, Garcia underwent eight grueling rounds of chemo over two years before seeing a second physician who informed her that she never had the disease. The incident inspired a medical malpractice lawsuit, but the oncologist passed away before the case was closed. Garcia was awarded $367,000 from a Texas jury.

Related: How to Protect Yourself From 10 Top Causes Of Death For Women

Newborn baby and pregnancy

Doctor “Brands” Patient

A doctor in New York City delivered a baby via cesarean section and explained that, “I did such a beautiful job, I’ll initial it” after he carved his initials into the mother’s abdomen. Later dubbed, “Dr. Zorro,” the physician’s lawyer said he had frontal lobe disorder, causing him to display inappropriate behavior and personality changes. The mother sued for $5 million and ended up settling for $1.75 million.

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Dana Carvey
Dana Carvey by Images Alight (CC BY)
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Adene Sanchez/istockphoto

Root Canal Makes Patient Lose His Memory

Dental work is pretty much always uncomfortable, but root canals are particularly daunting and invasive. In 2005, a man went in for a root canal and after he received his anesthesia, his memory failed. The patient was only able to hang on to memories prior to receiving the local anesthesia before his procedure. Any new memories he makes fade within 90 minutes, so in true "50 First Dates" fashion, his wife has to remind him what happened each day because his mind is permanently stuck at the dentist office. No lawsuits were filed and the case isn’t one of malpractice, but rather a medical mystery.

Related: Common Mental Health Issues Among Seniors

injecting injection vaccine vaccination medicine flu woman docto

Anesthesiologist Grabs the Wrong Vial and Costs a Patient His Life

Renowned Miami Herald photographer Bob East decided to donate his eye to science upon finding out he had corneal cancer. A doctor brought a formaldehyde-like substance intended to preserve the eye in an unmarked vial into the room and the anesthesiologist accidentally grabbed the vial instead of the one he needed and injected it into East’s spine, causing instant, permanent brain damage. East passed away five days later.

operation in op close

Surgical Towel Left Inside Patient After Surgery

Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, California, used to count surgical tools to keep track of them during procedures, but they never counted the blue surgical towels they used until they found themselves in hot water for leaving a towel inside a patient’s abdomen after surgery. In 2014, the man underwent stomach surgery and was sewn shut with a towel still inside him. The towel made it hard for him to digest food and interfered with his bowels. He lost a staggering 43 pounds in just one month. He went back to the doctor to hear that he had a large abdominal mass and what he assumed to be cancer was actually just leftover material from his previous surgery. The hospital was fined $86,000 and had to put strict new policies into place.

Related: 16 Health Problems You're Not Getting Help For — But Should

Moving her to a new room

Open Heart Surgery Performed on the Wrong Patient

A 67-year-old woman was in her hospital room recovering from a procedure to treat a brain aneurysm when she was unexpectedly whisked off to the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center’s catheterization lab for a cardiac procedure that wasn’t on her chart. Apparently, the mix-up occurred because the patient had a similar name to the patient who was actually supposed to get the heart procedure. The mistake was discovered about an hour into the procedure and luckily, the patient fully recovered.

Fire extinguisher in the operating department . Install a fire extinguisher on the wall in building. Dry chemical powder fire extinguisher in corridor .a red fire-extinguisher hangs on wall .

Man Catches on Fire During Surgery

During a tracheotomy procedure at a Bronx hospital, the electric scalpel the surgeon was using exuded small sparks which made the oxygen supply explode. The patient suffered second degree burns to his neck and face. No lawsuit ensued and apparently surgical fires aren’t all that rare.

Young African American Woman prepares for breast exam, mammogram at doctor's office or hospital.

Woman Loses Both Breasts, But Didn't Actually Have Breast Cancer

In Long Island, New York, a 35-year-old single mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent double mastectomy surgery as a result. Shortly after, she found out she never actually had cancer. Her misdiagnosis was thanks to a mix-up at the diagnostics lab, leading to the mislabeling of her biopsy. After losing her breasts, the patient sued the doctors and won a settlement of $2.5 million. On the other side of the token, the patient who did have breast cancer was not told immediately that she was sick since she too got the wrong biopsy results. 

Related: 11 Ways an Unhealthy Heart Can Cost You Money

Surgical tools lying on table while group of surgeons at background operating patient in surgical theatre
Inside Creative House/istockphoto

Testicular Cancer Risk Treatment Surgery Takes a Wrong Turn

A 47-year-old Air Force veteran, Benjamin Houghton, began experiencing symptoms of testicular cancer and doctors at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center decided it best to remove the afflicted testicle in case of disease. Unfortunately for Houghton, due to negligence with paperwork and marking the wrong testicle, doctors removed the healthy one rather than the one that he went in to have removed. Houghton and his wife sued the hospital for $200,000.

Blood tubes in laboratory

Wrong Blood Type During Organ Transplant

This next one is one of the most preventable mishaps possible. Jessica Santilian, a 17-year-old patient at Duke University Hospital underwent heart and lung transplant surgery. Before operating, doctors failed to check her blood type. Had they done that, they would have realized that the organs did not match her blood type. Because of the mistake, her body rejected the organs, she suffered severe brain damage, and ultimately, she died. Doctors concealed their mistake for 11 days before accepting responsibility. The family and Duke reached a settlement after Santilian’s death, but the details are private by court order.

Heinz 57 ketchup packets

Ketchup Packets Turn Deadly

After an Arizona man suffered a traumatic brain injury, his devoted wife opted to keep him on life support even after doctors told her that his case didn’t hold much promise. Her optimism paid off (somewhat) because her husband did regain consciousness and was able to speak again. Every week on her day off, she took her husband from the assisted-living facility and brought him home to spend time with her. As she was preparing to go pick him up on one of her days off, the assisted-living facility called her to let her know he was vomiting. She picked him up, brought him home, and before she knew it, he passed away in her arms. During his autopsy, coroners found a variety of foreign objects in his bowels and stomach including unopened ketchup packets, paper towels, and plastic bags. The items were determined to be the cause of death and the jury reached an $11 million verdict in a case against the assisted-living facility.

Related: Shark Attacks, 'Dry Drowning,' and Other Summer Horror Stories

Mother Holding Newborn At The Hospital

Mother Loses All Her Limbs After Giving Birth

When a new mom from Canada named Lindsey Hubley first gave birth, she didn’t appear to experience any complications. However, after returning home, she began experiencing severe stomach pains. Doctors blamed her pain on constipation and sent her home. The very next day, she returned to the emergency room where she was finally looked over and diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating infection. Hubley underwent emergency surgery which led to multiple other surgeries, ultimately leaving her a quadruple amputee with a total hysterectomy. Hubley sued the hospital under the premise that if she had been checked over more thoroughly when she first came in after childbirth, they could have evaded all or some of the surgeries.

Professional doctor assisting a patient and checking medical records

Breathing Tube Catches on Fire During Throat Surgery

If you’ve ever had a sore throat and said, “It feels like my throat is on fire” when describing your discomfort, just know there’s a woman named Becky Anderson who truly knows that pain. In 2012, Anderson underwent elective surgery at Central Washington Hospital to have polyps removed from her larynx. While she was under anesthesia, her breathing tube burst and caught on fire. Her supposed-to-be one elective surgery ended up turning into multiple surgeries to fix the damage caused to her throat. After suing the hospital, Anderson wound up with a $30 million settlement. 

Related: 30 of the Biggest Lawsuit Settlements Against Companies