10 of the Most Horrifying Medical Blunders of All Time

by Aleena Khan3 years ago

6 Darrie Eason, from Long Island, N.Y., underwent a double mastectomy only to find later that she never had cancer at all. Her biopsy sample was mislabeled and mixed-up by a lab technician at CBL Path Lab, resulting in a false positive.


In 2006, 35-year-old Darrie Eason was informed that she had an invasive form of breast cancer. She was advised to undergo a double mastectomy as her lobular cancer would relapse.

Before making the final decision, she took her biopsy sample to another doctor for a second opinion and was told the same thing.

Eason underwent reconstructive surgery in May 2006. But the report for the routine testing of the removed tissue came back negative.

A healing Eason was informed that she didn’t have cancer, and she never had. Her biopsy sample had gotten mislabeled. She underwent a life-changing and body-altering surgery for no reason.

But she was not the only victim.

The lab that handled the test had mixed up her sample with that of another woman.

This meant that the other woman who actually had cancer lost precious time before starting treatment. (1, 2)


7 Medical professionals in the late 1700s and early 1800s prescribed the use of tobacco smoke enemas to resuscitate drowning victims. Smoke was blown into the rectum of the victim through a pipe by a blower. It became so popular that the Thames was lined with smoke-enema kits. However, a later study revealed that the nicotine in the tobacco was actually toxic to the heart.


With the first import of tobacco in England, European medical practitioners were also informed about its use in medicine by Native Americans.

Native Americans stimulated respiration by blowing tobacco smoke into the rectum.

The practice soon caught up with the Europeans in the 18th century. Soon, medical assistants with the Royal Humane Society were using tobacco smoke enemas to resuscitate people that were victims of drowning. The quacky treatment became so popular that the Thames was lined with enema kits.

It quickly became a fad, and doctors were using it to treat everything, from hernias and colds to typhoid and cholera.

Eventually, in 1811, Ben Brodie, an English scientist, discovered that the treatment was doing more harm than good; if any good at all. The nicotine in the tobacco was toxic to the heart. And like any gimmicky fad, its fall was as steep as its rise. (1, 2)


8 In April 1955, about 200,000 children in five US states received a defective polio vaccine. Within days, there were reports of children being paralyzed. Investigations revealed that the vaccine manufactured by Cutter Laboratories had live poliovirus in it. This caused 40,000  cases of polio, leaving 200 children with paralysis and killing ten.

Polio vaccine
Polio vaccine. Image credits: Shakir Wani/Shutterstock.com

In April 1955, the US was faced with one of its worst pharmaceutical disasters. More than 200,000 children in five states were vaccinated with defective polio vaccines.

The vaccines produced by Cutter Laboratories contained the live poliovirus as the process of inactivating the virus was defective.

Even though the NIH Laboratory of Biologics Control received reports that inoculated monkeys were paralyzed, the director of the lab didn’t take heed and certified the vaccine anyways.

Within months, the vaccine caused 10 deaths and 40,000 cases of polio, while 200 children were left paralyzed. (1, 2)


9 In the 1960s, doctors around the world began prescribing thalidomide to pregnant women for alleviating morning sickness, unaware of its disastrous effect on embryos. An estimated 10,000 fetuses were affected, resulting in 40% stillbirths. The ones that survived were born with phocomelia, a condition that resulted in absent, shortened, or flipper-like limbs.

Effects of maternal drugs - thalidomide.
Image credits: Otis Historical Archives National Museum of Health and Medicine/Flickr

In 1957, thalidomide was introduced in Germany for alleviating anxiety, insomnia, and morning sickness. It was marketed as a safe drug, even for mothers and children, and could be purchased over-the-counter.

By 1960, the drug gained huge popularity and was being sold in 46 countries. This was also the time Dr. William Mcbride, an Australian obstetrician, began recommending the drug to pregnant mothers as a remedy for morning sickness. As it was effective, doctors around the world began prescribing it to their pregnant patients.

However, the practice of prescribing drugs for off-label purposes could lead to serious adverse reactions and at times prove disastrous. This turned out to be the case with thalidomide.

An estimated 10,000 fetuses were affected by the use of the drug. Of this, 40% resulted in stillbirths, while the rest were born with phocomelia. This condition resulted in absent, shortened, or flipper-like limbs. (1, 2)


10 In a case of gross negligence, a patient with a minor head injury was operated upon his leg. The surgeon confused Vijendra Tyagi with another patient Virendra who required traction on his leg.

Head injury
Head injury

In April 2018, Vijendra Tyagi was admitted to Sushruta Trauma Centre in Delhi, India, for minor injuries to his head and face after he met with an accident.

The man was treated for his wounds and was scheduled for a discharge. But then a senior surgeon went on to operate on his leg and punctured a hole in it for traction. As Vijendra was injected with anesthesia, he didn’t realize the mistake, so he never raised an alarm. It was only brought to notice by his son.

The error occurred because the surgeon confused him with another patient having a similar name. It also didn’t help that the other patient named Virendra was admitted to the same ward as Vijendra. (1, 2)

Also Read:
10 Extraordinary Medical Cases That Surprised Even the Doctors

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