Despite our best intentions, life can take an unexpected turn for the worse. Bad things happen to good people – and everyone else, for that matter. Stories about misfortune that befalls other people can be useful cautionary tales to prevent the rest of us from courting disaster. You are about to read two more such riveting tales.
- This story may be a bit hard to swallow but it’s completely true: a 72-year-old British man showed up the local emergency room (ER), reporting throat pain, difficulty swallowing, and a bloody cough. Six days before this happened, he had undergone a minor operation to remove a harmless lump in his abdominal wall tissue.
The patient told the medical staff that he hadn’t been able to swallow any solid foods after his surgery. A chest x-ray led the doctors to believe their patient had a respiratory infection and that the pain was due to the throat tube used during the operation. They wrote the man a prescription for antibiotics and discharged him.
Two days later, the man returned to the ER with even worse throat pain and still coughing up blood. In a hoarse voice, he told the physicians that he had been unable to swallow any of the ordered medications. He said he felt short of breath, especially when lying down.
Still suspecting a severe chest infection, the doctors performed a procedure to examine his throat and voice box, only to find a metal, “semicircular object” lodged across his vocal cords that was causing internal swelling and blistering.
After his doctors told him about their unexpected discovery, the man revealed the fact that his dentures had gone missing during his surgery. This new information led the medicos to x-ray their patient’s neck where – lo and behold – the missing dentures were stuck in his throat.
Three false teeth attached to a metal roof plate had been sitting inside this surgical patient’s throat for over a week! It took an emergency operation to remove the dentures and a six-day hospital stay to solve the problem.
Except the problem wasn’t solved. The Englishman visited the hospital four more times during the next few weeks with episodes of throat bleeds and bloody coughing. Doctors finally determined that a torn neck artery near the area where the dentures had gotten stuck produced tissue damage.
Six weeks after a second emergency surgery and several blood transfusions, the patient seemed to be healing well and stopped going to the hospital for medical treatment.
Not only should the “presence of any dental prosthetics should be clearly documented before and after any [surgical] procedure,” wrote Dr. Harriet Cunniffe, an otolaryngologist (eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist) at James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Great Yarmouth, UK. She also emphasized that doctors need to “listen to the story the patient is telling you,” because, in this case, the chest x-ray distracted doctors from the real diagnosis.
- A stroke
- can be a life-changing and debilitating event but a 49-year-old Brazilian man presented a “novel” personality change after he survived brain cell death caused by bleeding in his brain that was related to a high blood pressure condition.
The post-stroke patient, called Mr. A, developed what his doctors called “pathological generosity” – he began to give things to others, including passing acquaintances. According to the man’s wife, Mr. A bought soda, candy, and other junk food treats for random children he met on the street.
Although this condition sounds harmless enough, the urge to give freely in all directions led to Mr. A’s inability to control his financial affairs or perform his duties as a department manager in a large corporation.
Dr. Leonardo Fontenelle from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro reported that Mr. A displayed “excessive and persistent generosity.”
Viewing this case as an excellent opportunity to learn more about how changes in the brain affect human behavior and personalities, doctors studied Mr. A’s brain scans. The patient’s stroke damaged a subcortical region – located below the cerebral cortex where higher-level thinking occurs. The professionals theorized that the damage could have affected brain areas linked to regulating normal behaviors.
The researchers hoped to glean new information about “the delicate balance between altruism and egoism, which make up one of the pillars of ordinary social motivation and decision making.”
Mr. A displayed no symptoms of mania (raving) or dementia (mental deterioration) but he did report feeling depressed, forgetful, and unable to pay attention. He also lacked persistence and planning with impaired judgment, traits associated with damage in the frontal lobe of the brain.
Doctors prescribed medication to treat Mr. A’s depression. Two years later, the patient claimed he felt cured and stopped taking mood-elevating drugs. His new-found generosity, however, lingered, along with a new perspective on life:
“I saw death from up-close, now I want to be in high spirits.”
As for returning to his previous occupation, Mr. A opted out, saying he had already worked enough and that he was now going “to enjoy life, which is too short.”
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Whether you’ve unintentionally swallowed your dentures during a surgical operation or recovered from a stroke with a brand-new personality, Mr. A’s advice is sound: life is short so we might as well enjoy it.