None of us love going to the doctor’s office. That’s why the over-the-counter medical industry is so massive; the market’s expected to exceed $178 billion by 2024, and that’s just the legitimate stuff. Add in healing crystals, homeopathic remedies, and other alternative treatments, and it’s clear that Americans will do just about anything to avoid actual medical care. But while people have some pretty inventive home remedies, DIY treatments aren’t exactly effective. They often make the problem much worse—even if they make for great stories. In recent Reddit threads, physicians, nurses, and other professionals shared the stories of the craziest home treatments they’ve seen. We collected a few of the best (and a few of the most disgusting), then edited them slightly for grammar and readability.
If you didn’t go to medical school, don’t assume that you know what you’re doing.
“When I used to work in the ER, a kid had a gash across his forearm after he fell while motorbiking,” wrote YlenoLretsiM. “He and his friends superglued the two sides of the gash together.” “I mean, maybe in a different situation—if they didn’t have access to medical care—that would be the right thing to do, but definitely not right in this situation. We needed to clean out the wound first, and the superglue did not make that process easier.” “A patient ‘came to be stabbed’ (it was never clear if it was self-inflicted or by someone else) out in the middle of nowhere,” wrote Everinprogress. “It was a small but very deep wound; the guy decided to avoid medical care and superglue it shut. Please don’t anyone do that with a dirty wound. I’ve never seen so much pus come out of anything.” Duly noted. We’ll just stick with Gorilla Glue instead. “My grandpa thought a ‘leg discrepancy’ was causing my back pain, which was causing spasms,” wrote Ambiguousmurmur. “He put several pieces of cardboard in my shoes to try to even out my legs—which were already even. He also thinks black beans cure everything. “My dad thought those pesky spasms [were] a pinched nerve, so he would take me to the chiropractor (his girlfriend) to get my neck cracked when they happened. Seizures, people. They were seizures.”
Even podiatrists see some crazy stuff on occasion.
“Medical receptionist here,” wrote Blenneman05. “Someone tried to use the hook side of the hammer to fix his ingrown toenails and made it much much worse.” That sounds like something from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. As it turns out, hammers aren’t great for that type of nail. “I also had a female patient who would cut the front part of her shoes out when her toenails would get too long.”
Ever wonder why many dentists suffer from depression?
“Dental hygienist here,” wrote RDHmorgan5683. “We had a patient who just kept repeatedly popping a ‘zit’ (actually a dental abscess) on his gums with whatever sharp object that was within reach. He ended up in the emergency room with half his face and neck swollen from the super-crazy infection that occurred.” “He needed intravenous antibiotics and was in the hospital for a few days until the tooth was finally extracted and infection cleared. Please see a dentist and do not just pop random abscess in your mouth—they are a sign of infection and need treatment to go away.” “We had a patient superglue teeth back in that fell out due to gum disease,” wrote MiddleBodyInjury. “No, no, no.” “I had a patient with perio-involved teeth,” wrote Macabalony. That’s basically what happens if you let your gum disease run rampant. “[They] tried to remove them with pliers. Ripped out the buccal cortical plate and ended up needing oral surgery instead of normal extraction.”
This account helps us understand what these people are thinking.
“I had an accident with an oscillating saw while doing renovation work on my house,” wrote Anschauung. “I’m a chemist, so I keep chemistry [stuff] around. I just pressed the wound until it stopped bleeding, blasted it with 50 percent isopropyl alcohol, wrapped it in parafilm, put on some gauze and a bandage, kept it all together with duct tape, and went on working. No biggie.” “My wife was not happy when she got home and I told her. I argued that it was nothing worth worrying about, and she argued that ‘Oh, God, go to urgent care!’” “We made a deal that I’d send a photo to our friend, who’s a nurse, and follow her advice. My nurse friend’s advice was ‘Oh, God, go to urgent care right now!’” “Honoring my part of the agreement, we went to the emergency room. The doctor’s eyes nearly popped out of her skull as I explained how I’d sealed the wound. I ended up getting stitches, but I still maintain that my solution would have been fine. It was aseptic and sealed tightly, albeit a little redneck-y.”
Those gains aren’t worth it.
“Anesthesiologist here; we had a patient come in [with] bilateral deltoid abscesses,” wrote RyanB614. “He apparently had thoughts of being a bodybuilder, but instead of lifting weights or using steroids, he decided to bulk up by using some protein powder…and mixing it with water, drawing it up into a syringe, and injecting it directly into the muscle.” “If bulk was what he was going for, it definitely worked—temporarily. A rip-roaring localized infection makes you look plenty swole. They got almost a liter of pus mixed with liquefied protein powder out of each deltoid. This also wasn’t the first time he’d been in for this problem.”
If the internet says it works…don’t do it.
RobTheMedic, as his name implies, is a paramedic. “I once had to explain to a family that putting lemon juice in the eyes of an unconscious patient isn’t an approved treatment method,” he wrote. “And no, it didn’t work. It was an interesting moment when I had to explain why his eyes hurt.” “An old lady told me the rain hurt her arthritis,” wrote Lacamaguzi. “That’s reasonable. She also swore that dog spit had healing properties, so she let her dogs lick her feet when she felt it coming on. She wanted to show me a video of said dogs licking her feet. I swiftly and politely declined.” “My mom once melted Vick’s Vapor Rub into my tea because she thought that would help my cold,” wrote Apostrophie. “It didn’t.” “An adult patient had gas, so he poked a hole in his belly button with what was basically a knitting needle—to release the gas,” Okaycitizen wrote. “It didn’t work. He actually came in for the ensuing infection in his belly button.”
“I have low magnesium? Better eat a volcano.”
“A patient was told by her doctor that she had low magnesium and should consider supplements,” wrote Rosequarry. “That’s not uncommon. But instead of getting magnesium supplements, she ate an entire tub of ‘homeopathic volcanic ash’ and completely destroyed her electrolyte imbalance. She ended up in ICU.” “We admitted her as a pharmaceutical overdose, so poison control automatically follows up with you. It was hard to explain to them.” In a later edit, Rosequarry clarified that the substance was probably naturopathic, not homeopathic; homeopathic substances typically contain extremely small amounts of their active ingredients. “I don’t know enough about specific differences. Think of a tub of protein power, but volcanic ash,” they wrote. “Her husband brought it in for the poison control report. You were supposed to mix a scoop in water for the health benefits. She ate the whole tub and had a seizure and wrecked her kidneys.”
Oh, and don’t attempt your own surgery.
“A dude came to the emergency department because his leg was swollen,” wrote Ed_dsm_ia. “I’m talking, like, twice the size of his other leg. it turned out that his fourth and fifth toes were getting caught on his sock, which, to be fair, sounds super annoying.” So what did the guy do about that problem? “He cut them off with scissors. And then it got infected, and he waited, and waited, and that’s how he lost his entire f****** leg.” In this case, the profanity is warranted. “We had a guy come in with an abscess on his right thumb,” wrote Itsjakefromstfarm. “When I asked him what happened to his hand, he told me about his recent deep sea fishing trip. He was given the responsibility of cutting the fish—with an open wound in his hand. A sliver of fish got in there and became infected as it healed, so this guy gets the bright idea of doing a little DIY wound drainage by grabbing his pocket knife and cutting it open. That lead to a greater infection.”
You’ll need a strong stomach for these.
“When I worked in emergency room, my colleague had to see a guy with an ear problem,” wrote Frakiesausagefinger. “He had something stuck in his ear and had been trying to get it out.” “This wasn’t a new thing; he’d been trying for some time. Turned out, he had completely removed his tympanic membrane, and the ‘bits’ that were stuck in his ear and that he was trying to pick out with cotton buds and hair clips were his ossicles. Enjoy.” Ossicles, by the way, are the tiny bones in your ear. That might be the worst one we read. This one seems worse, but just stick with it for a moment. “We had a patient come into the ER with a makeshift bandage on his shin,” wrote Coffeeartst. “He had fallen on rocks while hiking and left a three-inch-long, half-inch-deep gash in his leg. I go to pull the bandage off, and as I’m peeling it away I notice the skin is completely black and there’s dark chunks of fungus falling out of the wound. It looked necrotic, like it had been left alone for a week.” “I look at this guy like he’s crazy as he tells me the wound is only a few hours old. He’s pretty proud as he explains that he created a makeshift poultice by chewing up leaves and moss, mixing it with river mud and stuffing it into his leg. That’s what all the black mossy stuff was. Hint. Don’t do this.” Given how that story started, that’s pretty much the best possible resolution.
You really don’t want to “do-it-yourself” when it comes to contraception.
We probably could have phrased that differently. Still, the point stands. “Years ago, some article referenced how yellow #5 food dye decreased sperm count,” wrote YunoRuckus. “Apparently, after reading that, this man decided that because Mountain Dew contains this dye, it’s cheap birth control. When I asked him about contraception, he exclaimed, ‘That yellow dye in Mountain Dew.’” Okay, we had to look into that one; it’s pure urban myth. The FDA recognizes yellow #5—also called tartrazine—as completely safe, and there’s no evidence whatsoever that it impairs fertility. In fact, Snopes reports that it’s been a common food additive since 1916. In other words, if you’re looking to start a family, it’s perfectly safe to Do the Dew.
If anyone tells you that farmers aren’t resourceful, they’re wrong.
“Infections of the skin of the external ear canal are common and treatable,” wrote Dr_pr. “They’re hard to get to, though.” They’re not too difficult to get to with the right tools. With the wrong tools, however… “A dairy farmer (who didn’t have time to see us) got a long rubber tube that he used for something with his cows—I’m not sure what—fed it into his ear canal, then poured cow antibiotics down the tube. He came in when it didn’t work.” We should note that Dr_pr is based in the United Kingdom, where doctor visits are free. That wasn’t the case for Reddit user Bloodied_Angel’s grandfather. “Over the course of a few weeks, he got to where he was having trouble breathing occasionally, so he gets the idea that he will go get an oxygen tank to help him,” they wrote. “Does he go to the doctor? No. He goes to a tractor supply store and buys an acetylene torch. He brings it home and hooks it up. Whenever he would get short of breath, he would go in his office and only turn on the oxygen before sticking the hose up his nose.” No word on whether or not his home remedy worked, but it was at least inventive. We certainly wouldn’t recommend it.
Some stories turn out remarkably well, given the circumstances.
“My friend’s dad got skin cancer on his right bicep,” wrote The5thLoko, “and at the time, he was a large muscular man who ran a horse farm. Huge arms. Instead of going through all the normal stuff, he caught it early and thought he could stop it at the source…so he heated up a railroad tie with a massive torch he had on his farm. He waited until it was past red hot and shoved it into his arm where the skin cancer began. He did this twice to himself, then wrapped up the insane hole in his arm.” “A while later he went to the doctor, who said the burn he inflicted was the craziest [thing] he’d ever seen…but all signs of the cancer were gone. He killed it, and it never returned. His arm and burn healed months later, and he remains cancer free to this day.” While we’re pleased by the conclusion, we should make this clear: Don’t try this. The chances of a serious infection were extremely high, and there was likely a medical intervention that would have cleared up the cancer just as easily. Granted, we probably didn’t have to say all of that—but given some of the stories we’ve read, it seems like an important clarification.
Some people see “antibacterial” and they stop reading.
“When I was in medical school on my family medicine rotation, I was sent in to see a middle-aged woman with complaints of sinus congestion,” wrote SRA6815. “Sure enough, from the beginning, I can tell she’s really stopped up; she had a nasally voice, and my history and exam are consistent with your run-of-the-mill viral upper respiratory infection.” “I begin educating her on symptomatic management and the following exchange occurs: Patient: ‘Do you think it might be the flu?’ Me: ‘It’s possible but unlikely; it’s really out of the typical season.’ It was June. Patient: ‘Yeah, I guess I wasn’t sure it was; I’ve been spraying Lysol everywhere and it doesn’t seem to be doing any good, and it says it kills the flu virus.’ Me: ‘Well, that’s something that could help disinfect the house and keep the virus from spreading.’ Patient: ‘I guess. I just wish it didn’t burn so much.’ Me: ‘…what do you mean?’ Patient: ‘You know, when I spray it up my nose— it burns so bad.’” “Yep. My patient thought that, since Lysol kills influenza, the best way to nip it in the bud was to flush her sinuses with it like a saline spray. It did not work, for the record. The fact that I didn’t immediately fall over laughing is still the greatest feat of composure in my entire career. Instead, I seriously counseled her against ever doing that again. When the label on Lysol says ‘Not for internal use,’ they mean it.” Unfortunately, that’s not even the worst misapplication of a common cleaning product we found. “My wife works in the ICU,” wrote Jazzmonkey07. “A dude tried to cure his heartburn with a remedy he read online: baking soda.” “The only problem: He used too much baking soda and drank it with Coke instead of water. It completely wrecked his intestines. Not sure if it fixed his heartburn.” We’ll stick to Tums, thanks.