"I Missed It": Doctors (And Patients) Are Sharing Times When A Patient Said Something Was Wrong, And Later Turned Out To Be Right

When you're not feeling well, the last thing you may want to feel is dismissed by a doctor, especially when you have a "gut feeling" about the reason why you may be feeling sick in the first place.

a man covered in a blanket with tissues in his hand
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While doctors are human and can absolutely miss signs or symptoms of certain diseases, it's important for the patient to be heard, listened to, and acknowledged for their concerns, gut feelings, and own research — after all, these patients live in their bodies 24/7 and have huge insight on what they're dealing with on a daily basis.

And since this can happen more times than patients and doctors would like, I thought it would be important to share a Reddit thread I found where user u/BonFireFox_ asked the Reddit community: "Doctors of Reddit, when was a patient right about something but you insisted they were wrong until it got serious?"

And even though some doctors, psychiatrists, and nurses answered this question, patients also provided their side of the story as well — so I gathered several answers for you to read below.

However, please note that this article is not meant to take the place of medical advice. 

1."The patient stated there was a live cockroach in their ear. I said 'probably not' — and later ate my words."

u/ChameleonMami

"Had this happen to me with a moth in my ear. They thought I was methed up.

The best part about it was the reaction from the ER nurse when she stuck the scope in my ear. It was something like, 'eeerrrrgghhhAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! He DOES have a bug in there and it's alive!' 0/10 do not recommend."

u/Bitter_Mongoose

2."Radiologist here. When I did a rotation in pediatric radiology, we had this father coming in with his kid. The kid was about five. He wouldn't eat properly, threw up a lot, and was very slim. I read their file, and it stated that they were in and out of the hospital a lot for the same issue over the last half year or so, but no cause was ever found. It even said the father suspected his kid might have ingested something, but since the symptoms were so unspecific, this lead was never followed. So this time it seems they must have reinforced this suspicion pretty heavily, as they came to me for a functional Fluoroscopy."

"The first picture revealed a button battery stuck in the kid's esophagus. The father was so relieved that finally something was found, his eyes teared up.

I read in the file that the battery was removed endoscopically the same day and that there was significant inflammation of the esophagus due to leaking battery acid.

Wild to think that this dad suspected something along this line and it still took half a year to finally be looked into properly."

u/max_dem1an

3."The average endometriosis patient has her pain dismissed for seven years before diagnosis. In my case, it was only diagnosed after a life-threatening complication, which developed about a quarter century after my symptoms first appeared."

a woman holding onto her belly
Kinga Krzeminska / Via Getty Images

4."Patient here. Nothing serious or life-threatening — but irritating all the same. I have a lump on my face about the size of an acorn. It's been there for years but has been growing rather quickly over the two to three years. I'd been to see multiple doctors about it, looking for a proper diagnosis. Most of them told me it was a sebaceous cyst, there's nothing they would/could do, and I should just try washing my face better. Fast-forward to July of this year, and I visit a new doctor at a completely different office and he actually decides to see if he can 'release some pressure' from the apparent cyst on my face. After 15 minutes of prodding, he couldn't get any more than a few drops of semi-clear fluid out of it. I have a benign tumor on my face and nobody bothered to look any deeper than the surface level to find this out."

a cyst on someones arm
Unomat / Via Getty Images/iStockphoto

5."When I was at university, doing clinical internships. I was at this medical ER in a bit city with a lot of homeless people and one day, this comatose guy comes in with a suspected alcohol overdose. Each time when I tried to establish a peripheral vein cannula, he pulled his arms back and groaned, which resulted in me missing the shot. The fifth or sixth time trying to establish the cannula (now in one of his feet), he still pulls his legs back and I start to feel really angry. I thought: 'This alcoholic ass won't let me do my job properly, only to block an ER room for people who are really sick, just so he can sleep out his overdose.' With the help of a few other guys, we finally got a cannula and drew some blood as well."

"30 minutes later, the lab results come back and he had basically no alcohol in his blood whatsoever. So we did a brain CT scan and it turns out he had a cerebral hemorrhage. This instance taught me a lot about how easy it is to misjudge people and to treat all my patients equally, even in my thoughts."

u/max_dem1an

6."I had a patient in his mid-30s establishing care with me for 'difficulty reading.' He actually came in with his mother and was very shy, which I thought was very strange. He said he worked at a library and words would get 'jumbled up' while reading. He had zero additional issues. I actually did a very thorough neurological exam and found zero problems. I asked him to read a magazine out loud at different speeds and he did it perfectly. I said everything looked fine and wanted to order some labs. I honestly felt he was just a strange character. They agreed to labs but mom was very pushy to do head imaging."

A doctor looking at x-rays

"I said we could, but I ordered the CT as routine and by the time labs came back, he was extremely low on vitamin D. I called saying we should replace it and hold off on the scan. Not only did the mom not want the scan canceled, but she also wanted an MRI and wanted it STAT. I basically got tired of trying to be reassuring and just ordered what she wanted. He had the biggest glioblastoma I have ever seen. Go, mom."

u/bombas239

Gorodenkoff / Via Getty Images/iStockphoto

7."My parents met when they were both teaching in a small rural town. The local doctor was notorious for diagnosing everyone with appendicitis. Headache? Must be appendicitis. Broke your toe? Appendicitis. Got a mystery rash? Have you considered getting your appendix out? One day the sports teacher went to see the doctor with abdominal pain. The doctor diagnosed him with indigestion and told him to go home and rest. The pain kept getting worse and worse until eventually, the teacher decided to drive an hour to the nearest hospital. Turned out his appendix had burst and the doctor completely missed his time to shine."

u/monday-next

8."Early in my GP career. A young girl came in with a skin lesion on her forearm. I did a close examination and did not find any significant concerning features, and I promptly told her it looked benign. She then told me to look again and that it had changed in color. I took that as a warning sign and did a punch biopsy. Turned out to be a dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans. I now have a very low threshold to offer patients a biopsy of a lesion if it even has any remote possibility of being something nasty."

a woman touching her arm while in bed
Asiavision / Via Getty Images

9."Not a doctor, but a retired nurse. I was the patient. I had an acute onset of hallucinations, delusions, and erratic behavior. I was dragged to a crisis at a regional trauma center in my area, involuntarily committed, and placed on some serious psych meds which made me worse. Not once, but three separate times! Each time I begged for a CT of the head because I was having severe pain on the right side. Each time they refused. After developing pain behind my right eye, I went to the emergency department at a much smaller hospital. Turns out I had an infection in my sphenoid, which was found on my head CT, and it was pressing on my brain causing the pseudo-psych behaviors. A round of high-dose IV antibiotics cured my 'crazy.' Go figure."

u/TooStubborn2Quit

10."Not the doctor, but a patient. I was driving home on the interstate and my car started acting up. I pulled to the side and the fear/anxiety of being stuck in a dead car at such a busy/dangerous spot caused my blood sugar to tank. I was reaching into the glove compartment for glucose tabs when I passed out. I came to to a police officer screaming at me. He kept yelling at me that he needed to know how much I had had to drink. I tried to answer, but couldn't form a coherent thought. Suddenly, an EMT pops his head between the front seats from the backseat of my car. He states, 'Sweetie, we REALLY need to know how much you drank so we can treat you.' Seeing his badge, I was finally able to lock in on one thought: 'SUGAR' I blurted. Pikachu faced: 'Are you diabetic??!' I nodded. He opens a package of glucose gel and hands it to me."

a bag full of sugar

"Halfway through the gel pack, I calmly apologize to the officer for being unable to answer him earlier. He had to scrape his jaw up from the floorboard of the vehicle. Some 'drunks' are actually diabetics with severe hypoglycemia."

u/GrandOpening

Manivannan Thirugnanasambandam / Via Getty Images/iStockphoto

11."The caveat: I'm not a doctor, I'm a medic. I saw three patients in a row who were clearly lingers (malingerers, i.e. using the military medical system to get out of work without actually being sick or injured.) Patient number four comes in and says she doesn't have any other symptoms but her ears are kinda sore and she wanted time off work. I instantly thought: 'Linger number four then' and was very dismissive. I had to run every case through a medical sergeant who asked me if I'd actually done a full assessment before dismissing her. I admitted no and they rightfully told me off and made me go back and do my job properly."

"So I returned to the patient, took an actual look in her ears, and to this day, they were the most messed up ear canals I've ever seen. They had bizarre scratches/cuts running down the canals, and both eardrums were full of blood and swollen.

I was extremely apologetic and sent her straight to the doctor for an urgent review. It taught me a valuable lesson I have never forgotten about doing a full assessment of every patient, regardless of what I think about them or their symptoms."

u/Brit_J

12."My dad is resistant to anesthesia but nobody believed him. He woke up in the middle of getting his gallbladder removed. He said he couldn't move, couldn't open his eyes, but could feel and hear EVERYTHING. His doctor didn't believe him until he recalled word for word part of a conversation the doctor was having with another person in the room."

a doctor putting anesthesia into someone's hand
Portra / Via Getty Images/iStockphoto

13."Patient here. I had a tumor on my foot that my PCP said was a fatty deposit that kept getting bigger because I was gaining weight. I forced the issue once I struggled to wear some shoes and it would throb and be painful if I put pressure on it. The doctor still didn't want to send me for testing because he thought I was being vain. He finally sent me to a surgeon after an ultrasound came back that it looked abnormal."

a woman touching her feet

"The surgeon poked it and told me it was a fatty deposit and the pain was in my head. She refused to biopsy it to save me money. She removed it and then sent it out for testing. It ended up being cancer.

I had two additional surgeries and was on bed rest for three months with a hole in my foot because the initial surgery destroyed the integrity of the skin. I now have two giant scars on my foot and inner thigh...so it's a good thing I wasn't actually just being vain."

u/celticscolie

Jelena Stanojkovic / Via Getty Images/iStockphoto

14."Recently, I had a patient with 70+ min downtime from cardiac arrest with all the signs of a big anoxic brain injury. Told the family that honestly there is no chance she would have a meaningful recovery. She proved me wrong: The next day, she was off the vent and talking. I fixed her heart artery and she’s doing great now."

u/docmahi

15."Nurse here. I tell my students this one a lot. Had a very difficult long-term dementia patient that some idiot higher up decided was appropriate to put in a four-patient ward on an acute care floor. (So, people recovering from surgery — versus all dementia.) This patient would scream and throw herself out of bed routinely all night. Finally got a sleeping pill ordered and gave it three nights in a row as she wouldn’t stop screaming about the rats climbing on her and waking up the entire ward and the NICU on the other side of the wall. The fourth night, I go in when she starts screaming, sleeping pill ready, and there’s a f*cking mouse on the windowsill next to her. Felt like such a jerk. Now when a delirious, dementia or anesthetized patient says something off the wall, I always say 'Did you check though? Are you sure there aren’t [whatever wild thing they are seeing]?'”

u/Carinne89

16."[Patient was] a three-year-old kid with gastro. Mother says the kid is floppy and weak but during the examination, he was climbing furniture and doing normal kid stuff. All objectively normal as far as it's possible to do a neurological exam on an uncooperative three-year-old. I advised them to encourage fluids and small frequent meals, prescribed ondansetron, and moved on because it was a busy ED with ambulances lining up by the minute. 24 hours later, he re-presents completely flaccid, gets intubated, and is flown to a tertiary center."

a doctor showing a toy to a kid

"Turns out, there's a super rare autoimmune reaction to certain GI pathogens that causes demyelination similar to Guillain Barre Syndrome, and I fucking missed it.

Every day, there are thousands of kids that turn up to ED with gastro. Most of them are a bit flat because they're exhausted, hungry, and dehydrated. So are the parents. I can't MRI and LP every kid who presents lethargic after a bout of gastro; the number needed to treat is far greater than the number needed to harm.

Medicine is largely a numbers game, we go for the most likely diagnosis acknowledging that sometimes we will miss the occasional unicorn, that's why we tell patients to come back if something changes or gets worse. No one knows everything about medicine, and often patients turn up before their symptoms get bad enough to match the descriptions in the textbook.

It's only a matter of time before you miss something bad. If it hasn't happened to you, then you haven't seen enough patients. When it does happen to you, it will burn itself into your brain forever. It will eat at you and keep you awake at night, but the only way to keep going is to find a way to persevere and learn so you never miss it again. Accept the fact that you are going to miss something again and change your practice to reflect this fact."

u/1834927651892

Sdi Productions / Via Getty Images

17."My son had chest issues out of nowhere [and] labored breathing. We went to the ER and were told he was fine and was sent home. It didn't sit right with me, so the next day I went back, and they x-rayed his lungs: pneumonia. They gave me antibiotics and sent us home. About two days later, he's complaining about back pain. I can't imagine what might be going on and feel stupid for bothering the ER, but back we went. Turns out it's referred pain from his pneumonia that is now significantly larger and is the start of 3.5 weeks in various hospitals as they try to get his pneumonia under control, up to getting him prepped for surgery (although the surgery didn't happen and wasn't necessary in the end)."

"The thing is, none of that was the doctor's fault. I completely get that they see hundreds of people a day. It just made me passionate about (politely) advocating for my health and my child's health.

In Australia, we have a law called Ryan's Rule which basically means if a parent has a gut feeling that they are not getting the right care, they have the right to request a second opinion. It's a good thing, not because doctors are incompetent but because they are busy and not omniscient. It's really important."

u/Tammytalkstoomuch

18."I was on pregnancy #2 after almost dying with my first because four different OBs ignored me. Told me I was just getting fat. Nope, my heart, lungs, and the rest of my body were filling up with liquid. I had my husband drive me to the ER at 34 weeks and I had an emergency c-section to save my life. Obstetricians are supposed to listen to women but I’ve frequently found that lady OBs disregarded me at a 4:1 over their male counterparts."

u/eightcarpileup

19."Patient here. One Friday, I was rearranging furniture and started feeling abdominal pain. At first, I figured it was a bellyache from eating junk food at an internship and tried to ignore it, but it got worse so I laid down. Over the next few hours, the pain grew much worse than I thought. This is the lower right quadrant, that's where appendicitis would be — I better get it checked out. At the local ER, the doctor pooh-poohed my symptoms and sent me home with pain pills. Maybe I should have returned to the ER before I passed out from the pain, but vicodin doesn't exactly help a person think clearly. Monday morning I shuffled into the campus health clinic and they sent me to see a gynecologist, who does an exam and refers me to the ER at a women's hospital. The ER had a bunch of doctors examine me and kept me overnight for observation."

woman laying on couch in pain

"I asked for a laparotomy. They pooh-poohed the request and discharged me the next morning without a diagnosis. They scheduled an outpatient appointment for a follow-up ultrasound for Thursday.

By Wednesday, I was moving really slowly. On Thursday, I went in for the test and wailed in agony when they ran it. The bloodcurdling scream accomplished something that none of my other efforts at communication had: somebody realized there was an actual problem. Finally, I get a laparoscopy (my request three days earlier had been a good call; had just asked for an older version of the diagnostic). And this go-around, nobody's wasting any time.

When I woke up, there were eleven staples holding my abdomen together. My very dead ovary had been through three complete rotations and had been rotting inside my abdomen for several days. If it had gone untreated much longer it would have killed me. And if any of half a dozen physicians at either of two hospitals had taken my report of pain seriously enough to run an ultrasound without waiting nearly a week, then they might have saved it without needing surgery."

u/doublestitch

Drazen Zigic / Via Getty Images/iStockphoto

20."We had an intoxicated patient come into the ER with an eyebrow laceration. She was telling the doctor her boyfriend had shot her, but we all thought she was being dramatic. It looked like she just took a good slug to the face, and she got stitched up. An X-ray was done to check for a fracture and there was a .22 that popped up on it. It had hit her orbital and kind of bounced off to the point it stayed outside her skull but under the skin. You could actually feel the bullet above her ear."

u/lizzardqueen14

21."Patient here. After several years of odd symptoms and being brushed off by multiple doctors, I became insistent that it was more serious. At different points over two or three years, I had hearing loss, balance issues, vertigo, tinnitus, pain, and just a general feeling that something was 'off.' I was diagnosed at different times with sinus issues and inner ear infections. My last appointment before being diagnosed, I flat-out told the ENT doctor that I had done some 'research' and there was a possibility that it could be a brain tumor. I didn't ask — I TOLD her. I could see the stifled eye roll, she told me it was 'very unlikely' and that the type of brain tumor that causes these symptoms is extremely rare. I'm sure she was thinking 'Dr. Google' at it again. She ordered an MRI — in my opinion, mostly to pacify me."

an ent doctor looking inside someone's ear

"Guess what it turned out to be?? A golf-ball-sized brain tumor. It was benign but large enough that it was pushing my brain stem out of the way. When the doctor called me with the results she sounded SHOOK."

u/foureyesoffury

Vladimir Vladimirov / Via Getty Images

22."Nurse here! I work in elderly care and had a patient I had looked after for years. She had advanced dementia and would often go into a very sleepy and unresponsive state for a day or two. During one of these periods, a doctor had come in to do rounds and general reviews for my patients and insisted that the patient was palliative and wanted to use a syringe driver (end-of-life medications via automated syringe) as she wasn’t responding to voices and hadn’t been eating. Took a lot of work from myself and my team to convince the doctor that she was, in fact, just having a ‘sleepy’ period and would be back to her normal self in a day. The patient did go back to her normal self; alert and eating, etc. She went on to live for about a year and a half after that incident. Very glad we knew her so well and were able to give our input!"

u/NyxAffinity

23."Psychiatrist here. I was at the brief internment unit (acute psychotic cases, mostly) and there was this woman who had been there for some time. She had paranoid delusions about the Russian mob trying to get her, complete with hallucinations and everything. Her family confirmed it was all made up in her head and nobody was following her. She had been getting medication for some time and her symptoms had improved a lot; she no longer believed she was in danger or being hunted and everything seemed to be going well. As the procedure usually goes, the staff contacted her family so she could start going out for the weekends with them before being fully discharged. However, on her first weekend away from the hospital, she got kidnapped by the Russian mob and taken somewhere else for forced prostitution to repay a debt she apparently had that nobody in her family knew about."

a piece of paper that says missing

"There was a happy ending though: she was found and was quickly saved because we had already spoken to the police about her 'delusions' just in case and they were quick to act when she disappeared. And yes, people got locked up and other women were found. It was, all in all, a happy/satisfying ending."

u/Thalkarsh

Herwin Bahar / Via Getty Images/iStockphoto

Whether you're a doctor or a patient, tell us in the comments below about a time when a patient was right about something but a doctor insisted they were wrong until it got serious.