The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

DO NOT BE AFRAID TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL IF YOU ARE SICK. Nothing you will read in this article is suggesting that it's just better to nurse your horrible infection back to health in the comfort of your own garage.
The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

First of all, DO NOT BE AFRAID TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL IF YOU ARE SICK. Nothing you read in this article is suggesting that it's just better to nurse your horrible infection back to health in the comfort of your own garage.

Still, some absolutely bizarre things can happen to you during your stay. Some of these accidents are rare, some of them, uh, not so much. But all are horrifying. Like ...

Waking Up During Surgery

The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

Being aware but paralyzed during surgery is one of those enduring urban legends that has survived in horror stories and campfire tales forever. Unfortunately, as we've kindly revealed previously, many urban legends happen to be totally true. This is one of them. Welcome to the world of anesthesia awareness.

The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

This is either a training exercise or robot torture.

See, the drug that puts you to sleep (usually nitrous oxide) and the one that prevents you from moving or screaming are two separate things. Anesthesia awareness usually occurs when not enough nitrous is administered, but there's no way the doctors can know that, because the paralysis drug is working like a charm. Did we mention that the nitrous is also the thing preventing you from feeling the surgery? We really should mention that.

The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

Just let us self-administer, you fucking hacks!

Sometimes, the experience is nothing more than a vague, post-surgery recollection of the doctor gathering the nurses around your genitals while laughing and taking pictures. But in almost half of anesthesia awareness cases in which the patient survived to tell the tale, they reported full consciousness and feeling the cold steel cutting into their flesh. One of those patients, Carol Weihrer, is in the unenviable position of knowing what it feels and looks like to have your eye removed, because she woke up during her 1998 procedure. You might say that she had a front row seat.

How worried should you be? Well, they say the chances of waking up paralyzed under anesthesia are about 0.2 percent, but they can rise almost tenfold for higher-risk operations such as cardiac surgery. In case you missed that, the surgeries that are most likely to kill you are also the most likely to ensure that, "So that's what it feels like to have a complete stranger wrist-deep inside of me," is the last thought that ever crosses your mind. In fact, we actually don't know how common it is, because gathering those statistics depends entirely upon how many patients survive to complain about it afterward. And, like many nightmarish experiences, it's thought to be vastly underreported because of sheer trauma.

There are some ways to monitor anesthesia awareness, such as with EEG, which checks brain activity for signs of incomparable horror, but the system isn't perfect. The main problem is with the hospitals that refuse to study the issue or even acknowledge how frequent it is, probably because no one would sign a hospital waiver if it included the phrase "may experience horrors the likes of which you are powerless to imagine."

Being Set on Fire

The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

Look, we're all scared of surgery. When you're being wheeled into that operating room, all that's running through your mind are the innumerable things that could go wrong. But, even at our most paranoid, being set on fire rarely makes that list. Unfortunately, turns out it should.

The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

This happens. A lot.

Don't just believe us. A 2003 report found that approximately 100 surgical fires occur each year in the U.S., which is about 110 more than we are comfortable with. And more recent data suggest that this number may be three times as high.

In fact, there's a whole website dedicated to information about surgical fires, including detailed information on what fire is and how it happens (until now, we assumed it was witchcraft). The site lists no fewer than 36 items in your typical operating room that can just goddamn explode under the right conditions, like alcohol, gauze, ointments and your clothing. You'd better hope you don't go into cardiac arrest, because a good defibrillator blast at the right time can turn you into a screaming fireball. And according to an agency quoted on the site, "virtually all operating room fires ignite on or in the patient." In the patient.

In one reported case, a doctor had just wrapped up gallbladder surgery on Antoinette DePhillipo and smeared her abdomen with an alcohol-based cleaning solution before deciding to do a bit of impromptu cosmetic surgery to remove an unsightly mole. When he brought a hot cautery device against her exposed body, there was a sound that his assistants described as "similar to the lighting of a grill," which is one of the top five sounds we least want to hear during major surgery.

The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

Followed closely by retching and panicked screams.

Fortunately, death is pretty rare (about one or two cases per year), but severe burns to the chest or face, or even serious organ damage, are very common, which you'd expect from being set on goddamn fire. Can we just opt for the leeches instead?

MRI Accidents

The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

We've already outlined how MRI scans are a billion times safer than the more widely used CT scans, but it would be remiss of us to allow you to remain un-terrified by even one of the instruments in your hospital's arsenal. The thing about MRI scans is that, instead of using radiation, they look inside your body using powerful magnets which, in addition to confusing juggalos, don't play nicely with metal objects. Specifically, anything metallic in the room has a tendency to get sucked straight toward your head, as if your face picked a fight with them.

The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

They call it MRI because no one would pay for a Metallic Death Cannon.

The first MRI fatality occurred in 2001, when a young boy was tragically killed after the incredibly powerful magnetic force generated by the machine grabbed a nearby air canister and sent it flying toward the machine like a freaking guided missile.

Yes, that happened.

And it wasn't the first sign that MRI operational policies might need a quick revision -- the machines have made deadly weapons out of chairs, gurneys and even a loaded gun, which apparently fired haphazardly upon impact. According to Dr. John Gosbee, "Close calls in M.R. centers probably happen once a month."


NASCAR has a better track record than that.

Since 2001, hospitals have implemented some policies meant to protect patients from metal projectiles, possibly involving that plastic prison they used to incarcerate Magneto. But that doesn't help you if you have metal on or in your body when you go into the scan -- pacemakers and surgical clips are obvious dangers, but in one case, a welder was blinded when silver dust particles embedded in his eye became superheated by MRI magnets.

The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

"Thankfully, it's pretty easy to just hose the old patient on out of there and towel everything dry."

Experts warn that you have metal in all sorts of unobvious places, including your nicotine patches and even the ink in your tattoos. But surely MRI devices have some kind of fail-safe, right? Of course! According to this source, in an emergency, a rogue MRI scanner can be made to expel its liquid helium, which cools the magnets, creating a frigid blast that can injure anybody nearby and (in at least one case) even blow the ceiling out of the room.

Tube Mix-Ups

The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

Anyone who has faced a prolonged hospital stay is familiar with the sensation of having tubes shoved into every orifice. Blood transfusions, catheters, IVs, colostomy bags and feeding tubes all work together to keep you alive and looking like some kind of science-fiction experiment. Unfortunately, it's a little-known fact that connecting all these tubes to their corresponding body holes is kind of like hooking up a surround-sound system to a new TV, only if all of the wires were the same color and shape, and nothing was labeled.


"Wait is this the one for air or gravy?"

Oh, and hooking up the wrong wire to the wrong port can kill a sick person.

For convenience, hospital tubes are almost all one-size-fits-all, whether it's delivering much-needed blood into your veins or injecting delicious gruel into your face. But mix them up, and you have serious problems, as one woman tragically discovered when she died from having liquid chicken pumped into her bloodstream, which has been described as like "pouring concrete down a drain."

Other tube-related mistakes that were not given such colorful analogies include drowning caused by IV drips crossed with oxygen tubes, embolisms caused by air tubes connected to the vein and spinal anesthetic injected in places where you really don't want spinal anesthetic. Wait, isn't anyone labeling these things?

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There you go, hospitals. No need to thank us.

It's estimated that 16 percent of all hospital patients experience tube mix-ups, which result in hundreds of deaths each year. Hospitals blame the manufacturers, manufacturers blame the FDA, and the FDA just tells everyone to shut the fuck up and use a marker or something.

Going Insane All of a Sudden

The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

If you somehow manage to survive rogue magnets and spontaneous fireballs, it's disconcerting to think that sometime during your hospital stay, you might just go insane for no reason. Highly documented and yet utterly inexplicable, "hospital delirium" is a rapidly growing phenomenon that seems best suited to the plot of some kind of apocalypse movie.

The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

All this zombie nonsense is going to lead to an awesome wave of dementia in about 60 years.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Justin Kaplan is one of the people who experienced hospital delirium firsthand. While hospitalized for pneumonia in 2009, Kaplan suddenly started, for absolutely no reason, to visualize thousands of tiny, despotic alien monsters trying to take over the hospital by converting people into zombies. Shit, we're sure Mr. Kaplan has written some really neat stuff over the years, but if we were judging the awards, we'd give him another Pulitzer.

The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

... goes to "Army of Tiny Alien Zombie Masters"!

Later, while trying to attack the aliens' "television production studio," Kaplan struck the nurse, threatened to kill his wife, fell off the bed and kept sliding across the floor on his own blood, almost dying in the process. These hallucinations lasted for a couple of hours.

According to Dr. Manuel N. Pacheco, hospital delirium tantrums are quite common, to the amount of almost one a day, at the Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass. They mostly affect older people, and are often confused for good old-fashioned elderly crazy. But being crazy doesn't usually kill you -- not so with hospital delirium.


Poor dear, she's trying to buy tampons and a .45 ACP with three food stamps and a button.

Take Ethel Reynolds, who was admitted to a Virginia hospital for a routine procedure to have fluid drained from her feet but wound up hospitalized for weeks after she came down with a chronic case of batshit. A nurse later recounted, "We got her death certificate, and the No. 1 cause of death was delirium. I was just blown away. As a nurse, I was expecting a quote-unquote medical reason: kidneys, heart, lung, an organ that I could understand had failed, and it wasn't. It was delirium."

There are some known triggers of these bursts of insanity, like old age, infections, pneumonia or certain medications, but the underlying cause is still unknown. We suppose it's because doctors don't want to accept the "Hospitals are really portals to hell" theory.

The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

But it explains EVERYTHING!


The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

Getting an infection at the hospital is like spontaneously combusting at the fire department -- if it's going to happen anywhere, that's the safest place, right? Oh, how we envy your naivete.

We've already explained how the overabundance of antibiotics actually creates horrifying, medication-proof superdiseases. But we didn't tell you the best part: What's the one place in your city where a shitload of medication and a shitload of diseases come together to mingle? That's right -- your hospital is kind of like a factory for turning microbes into Highlanders. And there can be only one.

The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

And it probably isn't you.

Due to the universe's love for irony, hospitals are the ideal breeding ground for these superbugs, specifically because of how clean they try to be. When you rigorously disinfect stuff, you're killing all but the very strongest of bacteria. And while you might think that killing 99 percent of the germs in your hospital is just short of ideal, think again -- not only have you given that superbug more room to breathe, but you've just disposed of all its enemies.

As a result, up to 100,000 people a year are killed by antibiotic-proof diseases that they picked up in hospitals. This basically makes every hospital a potential local chapter of the germ League of Evil. The resistant Acinetobacter baumannii, for example, has a mortality rate close to 80 percent.

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Above: One Bad Dude.

Part of the problem is in how hospitals perform disinfections. By using antimicrobial wipes on more than one surface, cleaning staff give superbugs a free ride to other parts of the hospital, where, like most hitchhikers, they immediately start killing people. The good news is that by simply using one disinfecting wipe on one surface, hospitals can easily avoid spreading the superbugs. It would of course bite into their budgets, but we're sure our health care system would never put money above patient safety.

The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

God, we just have so many of these pictures.

Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a freelance online journalist and Japanese-English-Polish translator. Contact him at

For more ways the world absolutely wants you dead, check out 5 Bizarre Ways the Weather Can Kill You Without Warning. Or discover what you could achieve with your lifeless meatsack, in The 6 Greatest Things Accomplished by Dead Bodies.

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