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Harmful Healing

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"If this is the cure, I'd hate to see the disease."
Flavor Text for card "Maggot Therapy", Magic: The Gathering

Meet the doctor. They may be the greatest, most talented surgeon in the world, or have a miracle drug that can cure any illness, or even a horde of tiny robots designed to heal with precision a scalpel can't even touch. They can patch up your wounds, treat your injuries, rescue you from the brink of death... and make you wish you were never born.

It's entirely possible to be great at your job and yet have absolutely no idea what you're doing. This trope is one of the nastier consequences.

Harmful Healing is what happens when a purported "cure" ends up causing more harm than good, either by accident or design, and often with horrifying results. Best-case scenario, the victim ends up Cursed with Awesome due to the botched healing process inadvertently enhancing their body (albeit with a bevy of unattractive, if not outright deleterious, side effects); worst-case scenario, the victim suffers a Fate Worse than Death. When unintentional, can be thought of as the medical equivalent to Nice Job Breaking It, Hero. When the "cure" is infectious, it's an accidental Synthetic Plague. Compare Came Back Wrong. Also compare Comically Inept Healing, where the harm is caused by the would-be helper's stupidity rather than the "cure" itself. If the doctor is treating a Fantastically Challenging Patient, there's a fifty-fifty chance of this trope happening. Contrast Beneficial Disease.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Ayakashi Triangle: An ayakashi medium's control over Life Energy is usually used to heal or create life, but when corrupted by The Power of Hate it sends that life out of control and kills it. This is demonstrated on a field of grass, causing a bunch of plants to instantly grow enormous, then disintegrate.
  • In Blassreiter, Gerd accepts a "secret experimental wonder pill" from a stranger, reasonably guessing that whatever it is, things aren't going to be any worse for a half-paralyzed racing champion ditched by his girlfriend. Turns out that it was not quite a correct assumption, even though he got to ride a bike again.
  • Miranda Lotto's Innocence in D.Gray-Man functions something like this. She doesn't so much heal injuries as temporarily take them away, and once her Innocence is deactivated they all come flooding back at once (which has, on one occasion, led to characters taking fatal injuries and fighting on, only to have to face their death at the end of the fight anyway.)
  • In EDENS ZERO, Sister Ivry has the special ability Heal Atomizer, which grants her extremely powerful Healing Hands. One of her most dangerous abilities is "Overheal Destroy", when she restores her target's stamina far beyond what their body can handle, causing them to overheat and blow up. And as she boasts, there's nothing stopping her from doing this as many times as she wants.
  • Franken Fran will keep her patient alive by any means possible. Quality of life, however, is beyond her comprehension. Needless to say, many of Fran's patients usually wind up in some truly horrific bodily state by the time she's done with them.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • Part 4:
      • When Josuke gets angry, the ability to heal/repair objects of his Stand, Crazy Diamond, goes a bit out of his control. Ask the guy whose nose was basically turned into a pig snout after he insulted Josuke's trademark pompadour. Done deliberately against the user of Highway Star; the guy was already injured and tried to pull a "Don't Kick Them While They Are Down" defense... so Josuke healed him back to perfect health and then threw him out the window.
      • Pearl Jam's powers give food this effect. Any food or beverage affected by it will be especially delicious and restorative but also detoxes the affected by forcefully expelling things such as rotted teeth and even intestines, though afterwards you'll feel better than before.
    • Part 5:
      • Giorno Giovanna's Stand, Gold Experience, can turn inanimate objects into living organisms. As the part progresses, he eventually learns that he can use this ability to perform a kind of pseudo "healing", for example by transforming bullets inside a person who has been shot into the flesh and bone the bullets destroyed, however this process is also stated several times to be quite painful.
      • Speaking of Giorno, there's also the time he managed to survive the effects of Fugo's Stand, Purple Haze, a virus that melts those who have been infected into goop in thirty seconds. He did this by turning a brick that was inside a cloud of the virus into a snake, and since the snake had come to life in an environment filled with the virus, it developed an immunity, which Giorno took advantage of by having his own stand inject the snake's blood into him as an antidote. While it worked, it is apparently also quite painful, since the scene ends with Giorno writhing on the ground and screaming his head off.
  • The Yakuza leader Overhaul in My Hero Academia has a Quirk that lets him break apart things at a molecular level and reassemble them however he wishes. He can use this on people, rebuilding them and thus healing wounds and curing injuries. The victim does, however, have to experience the agonizing pain of being torn apart and put back together.
  • Naruto:
    • Tsunade developed a form of this as her emergency backup, the Creation Rebirth Seal. While it instantly heals all her wounds, the downside is that the healing is based on rapid cell division. Due to the Hayflick limit, this means that each use shortens her lifespan and ages her body.
    • Naruto himself faces a variant of this. When he draws on the Kyuubi's tainted chakra it damages his body. At the same time, his Healing Factor prevents this from becoming critical, but the rapid healing works to shorten his lifespan like with Tsunade.
  • Oboro from Psyren uses his healing ability to inflict Body Horror on his enemies as readily as he heals his allies.
  • Doctor Reynold's medicine in Superior is supposed to hurt when it heals. The guy is a self-proclaimed sadist.
  • Members of the Eye of Michael in the Trigun manga are able to use special vials to regenerate injuries, but these also cause rapid aging. This is the reason why Wolfwood appears to be in his thirties despite only being in his late-teens, and ultimately he ends up overdosing to defeat Livio and Razlo, and dying.

    Comic Books 
  • Healing in ElfQuest relies not on regenerating flesh so much as on reshaping it—a bit like Vicissitude. The Big Bad happens to be the most powerful healer alive. Draw your own conclusions.
  • The Flash: Impulse's accelerated healing caused him problems when he was shot in the kneecap by Deathstroke — the flesh quickly regrew over the bullet, requiring intensive and painful surgery.
  • When The Savage Dragon's bones are prevented from setting, they simply heal in whatever position they're already in, so having all his bones broken and being stuffed into a smokestack leaves his body horribly malformed, requiring that he have his bones broken again so they can be set properly.
  • Deadpool weaponized his healing factor in Secret Invasion by giving his blood to the Skrulls to create regenerative Super Skrulls. What they didn't realize is that Deadpool's cancer acts as a balance to his healing factor, and without it constantly keeping him near-death, his regeneration causes the Super Skrulls to continually grow more body mass until they explode.
  • In the Superman: Savage Dawn storyline, the Man of Steel learns that Kryptonite can burn away the changes done to his cells by killing the altered cells, granting him brand new powers in the process. However, the Kryptonite is also killing his healthy cells in the process. Superman, being Superman, is quite fine with it... though it would later become an important factor in his eventual death.
  • In The Transformers (Marvel), a substance called "Nucleon" was developed on a robotic planet to serve as a miracle cure, but the patients who were treated with it went insane and murdered their doctors. Grimlock tries to access Nucleon in order to revive his deactivated Dinobot comrades and battles through a series of robotic zombies. Once at the island where the Nucleon is stored, he learns that the patients were not hoarding the substance, but protecting others from it. Nucleon revitalizes mechanoids but has horrible side effects; in one instance, a patient was brought back to life along with the malfunction that killed him, and must now suffer through yet another slow, painful death. Grimlock tests Nucleon on himself and it results in paralysis, followed by the loss of his transforming ability. He has to literally shed his old body and get a vastly superior and improved form of his humanoid self, though without any transforming ability.
  • Wolverine's healing factor is so powerful that he's basically immortal. The catch is that this healing applies to mental trauma as well, which in practice means that Logan's brain "heals" traumatic memories like his body heals injuries, which is why Logan has suffered from various forms of amnesia throughout his life, even to the point of forgetting decades of his life, and his own name.
    • This ability has also been exploited by others. Specifically, it's possible to wipe Logan's memory by inducing severe brain trauma and then letting his healing factor repair the physical brain tissue minus the memories.

    Fan Works 
  • Changing Gears: Gearshift can be used to accelerate a body's normal healing, but if Izuku is careless it can cause cells to die prematurely, make cells cancerous or even kill a person.
  • Ebott's Wake: When Frisk gets shot, healing magic initially seems to help… but it seals the bullet inside them, even causing an artery to regrow around it. Different doctors seem to have different opinions on whether the time bought by the healing was worth the complications to the surgery.
  • The Emerald Phoenix: Normally, Izuku's healing flames don't hurt in the slightest and actually feel rather pleasant. But when Izuku uses them to regrown his arm that he burnt off nearly two months ago, it's excrutiating due to having to rip open his healed over flesh first.
  • With This Ring: Paul is able to heal many of the Colombians' injuries with his power ring, but for a few of them, something about the Sheeda's magic causes them to get worse when he tries, so he has to leave them for a magic user to fix.
  • Your Heart a Haven of Thorns (Naruto): During Kabuto's preliminary match with Sakura, he intentionally misuses his healing abilities to discreetly tamper with her vocal cords, rendering her unable to verbally call for help and end the match.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • District 9 has the prawn fluid. Word of God states that it's a nanite solution that the prawns use as a general biological and mechanical fix-it. It gets on a human, starts trying to heal a cut on his hand and it all goes south. Apparently it decided that being human was a repairable condition.
  • I Am Legend reveals that the cause of the virus that killed most of humanity and turned the rest into Darkseekers was a cure for cancer involving a modified measles virus.

  • Discussed in Robin Cook's Acceptable Risk when Kim and Edward visit the grave of Kim's ancestor who died in 1734 at the age of 81. Edward comments, "To reach such a ripe old age he must have been smart enough to stay away from doctors. In those days with all the reliance on bloodletting and a primitive pharmacopoeia, doctors were as lethal as most of the illnesses."
  • Anne McCaffrey's Acorna books: Healing effects that mend broken bones may cause the bones to knit together and regrow before the fracture has been properly set, leading to pain and deformity. This happened to a character.
  • Artemis Fowl:
    • In The Eternity Code, Butler gets shot through his bulletproof vest. Holly dumps all of her magic into him to save him, and while it works, it has two nasty side effects. First, her magic wasn't enough to fully heal him, so some of Butler's lifespan was used to complete the spell, aging him about fifteen years. Second, some of the vest's Kevlar fibers got caught, replicated by the magic, and irreversibly intertwined with his flesh; it's only a small patch, but it's enough to slow down his breathing without providing any actual bulletproofing.
    • In The Arctic Incident, the narration mentions that if a fairy passes out in the middle of magically healing themselves, things can go badly wrong. Holly specifically remembers a comrade who woke up with his knee pointing backwards.
  • Magicians in The Black Magician Trilogy 'verse heal their wounds automatically when unconscious. As above, this can lead to bones healing in warped and deformed ways, which requires re-breaking and resetting by a properly trained healer.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Visitors to the Wonka Factory who don't pay attention to The "Be Careful!" Speech might wind up undergoing this.
    • Violet Beauregarde is changed from a blueberry back into a human by having the juice squeezed out of her, though she remains permanently blue-skinned and haired. In the 2005 film adaptation, she also ends up with Rubber Man abilities as a side effect, which to her credit she regards as more than making up for her new complexion. In the 2013 stage musical, she explodes offstage as a result of the transformation, but the others are informed by Mr. Wonka that — provided she hasn't started to ferment — she can be restored to normal. "Well, maybe not normal, but you know, near enough."
    • Mike Teavee, upon being shrunk to an inch high, is put on a machine that tests chewing gum stretchiness to restore his height (according to Mr. Wonka, boys his age "stretch like mad"), and given Supervitamin Candy to fatten him up. But not only is it a side effect of the candy his toes growing out to the same length as fingers, in a crossover with Comically Inept Healing, he also gets overstretched and winds up 10 feet tall! It gets worse in the 2005 film — the candy is left out so he's now an example of Paper People!
    • In the novel's sequel Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, administering a huge overdose of the Rapid Aging drug Vita-Wonk to Grandma Georgina's -2-year-old form (long story) results in her being aged to well over 300 years old. The good news is that the heroes manage to return her to her original age after that, with none of the side effects the bratty kids received.
  • The titular substance of the Coldfire Trilogy can be used to heal, but the process isn't pleasant.
  • Discworld: In Maskerade, Granny Weatherwax does this to some injured thugs, involving old sewing supplies that were not intended for stitching people. She may have to heal people she doesn't like, but she doesn't have to make it pretty.
  • In Eccentric Neighborhoods, Damián has a nervous breakdown and is treated with electroshock. The treatment does help his mental state, but unknown to him, it weakens his heart. When he and his wife visit Mexico on vacation, he cannot tolerate the altitude and has a fatal heart attack.
  • Expecting to Fall into Ruin, I Aim to Become a Blacksmith: Neko-sensei proposes two options to treat Kururi's Identity Amnesia. One of them is to use a wooden stake on his brain, with the disclaimer that it may change his personality as a side effect, but with the benefit of being free. Kururi naturally goes with the second, expensive option: Shock and Awe magic applied to his head which knocks him out and leaves him covered in soot but seeming otherwise fine.
  • In The Garden of Sinners, Araya Souren repairs Fujino's cracked vertebrae and restores her sense of feeling. Yes, this is an evil act. Araya knows good and well why, and a lot of people wind up dead.
  • In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Gilderoy Lockhart fixes Harry's broken wrist... by making the bones vanish entirely. Of course, this being the wizarding world, there's a cure for that too. (Maybe this is a common side-effect of botching a bone-mending spell?) It's called "Skele-Gro". Unfortunately, Skele-Gro regrows bones gradually, so the patient will have to endure a night or two of bone splinters forcing their way through muscle, blood, and nerves, since, for reasons unknown, even competent doctors don't use anesthesia for that process.
  • In the Iron Druid Chronicles this is the reason why druids only practice healing magic on themselves. Healing magic can easily harm the subject before making him/her better and if you use druid magic to directly harm a living, sentient being the magic will kill you instantly. Only the druid's own body is an exception to the rule so druids have Super Healing for themselves but cannot even try to heal even the simplest cut on someone else without risking death.
  • In Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders and Fool trilogies, the Skill can be used to accelerate healing or fix otherwise irreparable injuries, but it badly taxes the patient's body and drains their energy reserves.
  • Marie-Josèphe from The Moon and the Sun blames this for her father's death. She thinks he would have recovered from his illness if the doctors hadn't bled him, because after they did, he just got worse and worse. In the present day, the King's doctors try to cure her of her "delusions" about the sea woman by pinning her down and cutting her arm while she struggles. The wound becomes infected, and shows no sign of healing before the Sea Woman licks it.
  • In the Newsflesh universe, two well-meaning scientists engineered viruses, one to cure the common cold, the other to cure cancer. Both did what they were intended to do. The problem is that when "Kellis flu" met "Marburg Amberlee", the result was a Zombie Apocalypse. Pesky side-effect.
  • In An Outcast in Another World, healing magic and Skills such as Regeneration will leave a person exhausted and weak as a result. Overuse of these can cripple a person if they’re not careful; Riardin ends up temporarily confined to a wheelchair after being healed from a near-death experience, and he cites being healed too many times over the course of his life as the cause.
  • Charles Jacobs in Stephen King's Revival uses his experiments in electricity to cure people of various ailments. It soon becomes apparent that there are dangerous side effects.
  • The Spectra Universe:
    • Miras Griffin has the Big Bad gain the abilities of all six clans, but not the experience to use them. He tries to heal the main character and causes brain damage that a skilled healer and griffin together must fix.
    • Sprites require precise healing. Main character Keita was denied a proper education and usually causes intense but brief pain as she heals.
  • The Sundering presents a character who'd previously been healed this way, and, as a combined preparation for war and punishment for disobeying his master, has the bones of his right arm magically restored to normal so he can wield a sword. Unfortunately for him, the original breaks must all be recreated before the damage can be repaired.
  • Background information in the world of Tolkien's Legendarium implies that Orc medicine is actually really good, but incredibly painful. This accounts for the numerous instances of Orcs surviving things like severed limbs and split skulls in a world that is otherwise stuck in Medieval Stasis. In The Two Towers, Merry and Pippin are given Orc draughts that let them keep pace with their captors and ignore the pain from being knocked out and wounded earlier but leaves Merry with a permanent scar on his forehead.
  • In the Towers Trilogy, one of the side-effects of Xhea being an Un-Sorcerer is that healing magic causes her agonizing pain. On one occasion, she's taken to a hospital and a well-intentioned doctor gives her a magic IV, which nearly kills her. Later, an attempt to heal an injury to her knee using magic causes permanent damage and renders her incapable of walking without a crutch.
  • Tree of Aeons: Treetree's early experiments in restoring a lost hand involve manually crafting the soul of a tail for a hamster, attaching it to the hamster's soul, then using a healing spell to make its body match the soul. However, it turns out that that early effort only resulted in a piece of skin, without describing all of the blood vessels that should be in the tail, with the result that the healing spell flooded the tail with blood and explosively killed the hamster. It takes a long period of messily destructive experimentation before the results are usable or safe for humans.
  • The Twilight Saga: When Jacob's ribs get broken in Eclipse, his Healing Factor causes them to heal before they're properly set, and the doctor has to re-break them.
  • The Wandering Inn: Healing potions will cause wounded flesh to knit and regrow, but they won't remove foreign material, so if the wound isn't cleaned first, it will end up infected.
  • Healing in The Wheel of Time normally causes mild discomfort approximately equivalent to being dunked briefly in ice water. Sometimes, when the ailment that is being Healed is too strong, it can give the subject seizures. And when Semirhage is Healing you, she always makes it very painful so as to remind you not to get injured again. Because Healing (at least of the type taught to Aes Sedai) draws on the energy in the patient's body to do its work, if the person is very weak (for instance, from blood loss) it can actually be fatal to Heal them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In a distant Seven Days Alternate Future, a good Girl of the Week doctor's present-day invention of the cure for cancer wipes out all humanity.
  • Shawn from The 4400 has healing powers that can be turned to the opposite side. Mostly he has control over them, but in one episode, he's being affected by a plague and tries to cure Maya's scraped knee, almost killing her. Since he's a good guy and only ever has used that part of his powers accidentally (the time with Maya and once when he was new to his abilities), no one actually dies from this until in the finale, when he has to kill his brother Danny.
  • Doctor Who:
    • It's very common for a character to try to apply a simple treatment to a species it's not designed for. Taken to extremes with the Third Doctor's first appearance, where a surgeon wants to amputate his second heart, although in that instance the Doctor simply waits until he is alone, harrumphs and walks out.
    • In the Seventh Doctor's last appearance a nurse tries to perform exploratory surgery because of his "abnormal" heartbeat and winds up "killing" him. Worse, the anesthesia he was under at the time made the regeneration less than smooth.
    • "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances": Tiny nanobots get loose on Earth and start "healing" everyone they encounter. Since they're alien in origin (and don't recognize humans), they take the first human they find as the default blueprint — it's a dead young boy with a gas mask on! They start mutating everyone they can find into zombiefied gas-mask creatures because they think everyone who doesn't look like that is "sick".
    • "The End of Time": The Master hijacks a medical device designed to cure entire planets at once by applying a set template. He alters the device so that it applies a particularly specific template to the entire Earth: his own body.
    • "The Girl Who Waited": Amy ends up stranded in a quarantine zone on a planet in the middle of a plague outbreak: the plague is harmless to humans, but the cure is lethal to them. (The plague is also lethal to the Doctor, so he can do little but wait in the TARDIS and serve as Mission Control.)
  • Because of their Healing Factor, both Sylar and Claire on Heroes have had their regrown flesh lodge foreign objects inside.
  • Happens Once per Episode on House, or very nearly. Usually because the doctors administered a treatment for an early diagnosis, which triggers symptoms that make it turn out to be wrong.
  • House of the Dragon: The Traumatic C-Section performed on Queen Aemma has a chance of saving the baby (a male heir to Viserys), but at the inevitable cost of killing her due to Westerosi surgery being akin to, well, butchery. It ends up bleeding her to death. Years later, Laena Velaryon opts for a Mercy Kill by fire from her dragon instead of the same fate as Aemma.
  • Kamen Rider Drive: One of Drive's Shift Car helpers is the aptly-named Mad Doctor, whose treatments can themselves hurt as much as death; Shinnosuke found this out the hard way the first time Doctor was used, to save him from a deadly neurotoxin.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): The nanomachines in "The New Breed" cure a man's inoperable cancer, return him to his physical prime, and give him a Healing Factor, but further testing prompts them to take a proactive approach and start adding various disfiguring mutations in order to pre-emptively protect him from any harm. These include eyes on the back of his head, gills, and an external ribcage that shocks anyone who touches it.
  • In Seinfeld, Kramer cures Elaine's back with some chiropractics, only for it to get worse the next day.
  • Stargate Atlantis: In "Miller's Crossing", Rodney McKay and his sister Jeannie are kidnapped by a wealthy industrialist to modify experimental nanoprobes so that they can cure his young daughter's cancer. The McKays reluctantly agree (not that they have much choice) and it seems to work successfully until it turns out that the probes are far too aggressive and tried to fix a minor heart defect by killing and reviving the girl... after several minutes of oxygen deprivation to her brain. While the nanites will eventually repair the brain damage as well, it's effectively a Death of Personality, since all her memories are gone. Unfortunately, the man who kidnapped them injected McKay's sister with the nanites to give him an incentive to help, and the nanites almost do the same thing to her.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Genesis", a treatment for a minor illness ends up turning the entire crew into primates, except for those who were conveniently away.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The only way to cure vampirism in Dungeons & Dragons is to kill them and bring them back from the dead afterward. Curing the vampirism by non-murderous means is close to impossible, and very impractical since the victim is undead: it will cause the poor unfortunate soul to immediately die anyway since there is nothing animating them anymore.
  • The Lazarus Health Center in the GURPS Illuminati University setting approaches their job not unlike Ork Doks. It's usually easier to just die and get resurrected.
  • Magic: The Gathering: Liliana Vess, a cleric desperate to cure her brother Josu, uses forbidden dark magic...and inadvertently turns Josu into an undead abomination, a move so traumatic that it activates Liliana's Planeswalker spark.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Ork Doktors (otherwise known as "Painboys" or just "Mad Doks") have a delightful tendency to "eksperiment on da subjekts" when they are given their "anastetiks" (i.e. knocked out with a hammer), to the point that orks (being naturally rugged to the point of surviving decapitation for a little while) will use the dok only as a last resort. To quote the book: "An unfortunate ork who goes to the Dok to have his toothache fixed might wake up with a set of lungs that allows him to breathe water instead!!"
    • This is also how healing magic works for the forces of Chaos. Healing comes from Nurgle, the God of Plagues. It isn't so much "healing" as cancerous growths filling up the space left by the wound.

    Video Games 
  • Alluded to by the doctor's lines in Assassin's Creed II.
    • "I've concocted a tincture of lead and pomegranate! Ideal for the liver!" "A weekly bleeding is part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle!" "I've fresh caught leeches today!" An altogether likely Truth in Television for the setting's time period.
  • Reflected in the mechanics of the first three Avernum games — attempting to apply first aid with no knowledge of the skill usually does damage, often killing the unfortunate victim.
  • BioShock 2 combines this with Blessed with Suck. One audio diary mentions that Little Sisters have such a ridiculously fast Healing Factor that their broken bones will near-instantly mend themselves before they can be properly set, resulting in deformities/disabilities. Fixing this requires re-breaking and re-setting the bone as many as dozens of times, slowly getting it back into the right position little by little, and Little Sisters are not immune to feeling pain.
  • In his story in BlazBlue: Continuum Shift, Sissy Villain Protagonist Jin Kisaragi is wounded courtesy of his encounter with Ragna from the first game. He's so badly hurt he can barely walk properly, nevermind fight (which he continues to do quite effectively anyway) and receives a temporary healing treatment of this type from Rachel, so he can go on and fight Hazama. Apparently, it's a last resort, and not even the legendary hero Jubei would've been able to handle it, but naturally, being the Determinator he is, Jin manages it.
  • Starting with The Reaper's Due DLC, rulers in Crusader Kings II can retain a Court Physician to treat their illness when they get sick, with three choices of treatment: risky but highly effective, well-tested with a moderate chance of adverse side effects, and mild symptomatic treatment with almost no chance to cause further harm to the patient. Generally it's best to reserve the risky experimental treatments for ailments like cancer, rabies, leprosy, or the Black Death that are likely fatal and won't go away on their own—because the "treatment" in serious cases involves amputation of limbs, or the removal of... other organs. It's almost never worth it for a Frontline General warrior-king to lose his hand (and all his dueling prowess) to cure a case of the flu, and God help your family if you become a eunuch before siring an heir.
  • The Imperium Amper from Dark Reign is a ranged healing unit that fires a dart that heals infantry to full health, but poisons them, slowly reducing their health over time until they die. It can be used against enemy infantry too...
  • The Occultist in Darkest Dungeon has a healing skill called Wyrd Reconstruction that heals a random amount and has a chance of inflicting Bleed. Depending on how much the Random Number God hates you, this can result in a character getting healed for 1 point of damage and then immediately losing it on their next turn and then some later on, or alternatively, getting healed for about 10 HP and resisting the Bleed condition entirely. If the RNG is merciful, you can even get a 40-point critical heal, which will bring anyone back from the brink no problem. Worst possibility is, the action heals for 0 and makes the targeted hero on Death's Door bleed, killing them on the next turn. Judging by the icon for the skill, it involves invoking the Eldritch Abomination that the Occultist serves to forcefully regrow the victim's flesh.
  • The description of the Imperial Guard General's healing ability in Dawn of War II: Retribution states that it doesn't so much heal the recipient as fill him with a sense of well-being. It is also explicitly stated to have long-term side effects, but very few guardsmen live long enough to experience them.
  • Disgaea:
    • Starting with Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, the Healer class takes advantage of this trope with a skill that deliberately heals so excessively it harms the patient instead as an attack.
    • In Makai Kingdom, The Syringe can heal the target for free with its basic attack, but the more advanced attacks all cause harm (and replenishes the user's health by an equal amount — it essentially drains away life). Furthermore, it uses the RES stat (which Healers and Medics tend to focus on) to determine its effectiveness, so it can become a very powerful weapon for a class that usually hangs back in the rear.
  • In Elona, you can kill the world's pantheon if you so choose if you prepare to fight their second form. Among the gods, there's Jure of Healing — which as can be seen from the name, is the goddess of healing. Killing Jure will cause her next form named Blessed Jure to sprout out of her corpse, and Blessed Jure has an offensive skill named Excessive Heal. The text message of skill being used says "Excessive heal breaks tissue of target!" and it gives the target hemorrhage status debuff.
  • Fallout:
    • Super stimpaks from the series cause damage after healing and can be used as a potential assassination tool.
    • A lot of Fallout's healing food items also come with side effects like radiation.
  • Grief Syndrome: Regenerating health consumes a character's Soul Limit. In most cases, this is either a moot point (you get KO'd in one shot and so need to have a new body generated anyway) or not a particularly worrisome issue (your characters start each stage with five-digit numbers of Soul Limit and so a non-KO hit eats only a small percentage of that total — this is especially true on earlier laps). It comes around, though, if you're low on Soul Limit and get hurt non-lethally. Health automatically regenerates and eats Soul Limit, and so as soon as Soul Limit reaches zero, you die. Players would rather forego the healing and conserve Soul Limit (it normally depletes at about one per second) for the boss fight.
  • The novella that serves as a sequel to Infinity Blade says that the healing magic used in the game has a nasty side effect: in addition to healing wounds, it ages your body by the length of time it would have taken the wounds to heal naturally. In other words, each time you heal yourself, you're shortening your life span by a few months. Of course, since the main character is a Deathless, this is not a big deal for him.
  • Urgot in League of Legends was a warrior brought back from death to exact vengeance on the one who killed him. As a spider-crab cyborg. As he tells you in champion select: "Eternal life... endless torture..."
  • Sojiro Sagara in Lost Dimension has a skill that weaponizes his role as The Medic. It lets him heal enemies past their maximum HP, which causes damage.
  • Source info for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor states that Uruk medicine is actually really good, but incredibly painful. This accounts for the Death Is Cheap factor for Uruk Captains. Off with His Head! is the only assurance that they won't be revived (and in Shadow of War even that's no guarantee). Uruks can even survive headshots with a bow (returning with a metal plate grafted to their heads) and being set on fire (returning covered in bandages).
  • Demons in Nexus Clash have their basic healing item in the Stygian Bone Leech, a vicious demonic symbiote that gnaws its way into exposed flesh, sanitizing wounds, repairing bones and muscles, and eating infected tissue as it goes. Here is a picture of one. Sweet dreams! Despite being hideous and painful, it does actually heal its 'patients', curing poisons and performing other medical miracles as it eats you. Angels get more benign Healing Herbs instead.
  • In One Step From Eden, the Booster Shot spell fires a pair of syringes — the first shot heals the target for 100 HP, and the second applies a slightly harsher Poison effect that deals 120 HP of Damage Over Time.
  • Pathologic has multiple different health stats, and many items that increase one will decrease another. Lemons, for instance, will reduce your exhaustion and boost your immune system, but make you hungrier. Painkillers will restore some health but greatly increase exhaustion. Children's powder is one of the very few ways to reduce your infection level, but it reduces your health to critical levels. And so on...
  • Space Station 13:
    • Most medicines can be overdosed, which is bad when the medical staff is clueless about their job. At best it will cancel out the healing effect, at worst it will cause further harm and possibly other nasty consequences such as addiction. Add in the fact that different drugs can react inside the patient's body, resulting in a nice case of Gone Horribly Wrong.
    • Due to the chemical composition of their body, Slime People are healed by poisons and harmed by antidotes. And incompetent medical staff may be inclined to administer them even more medicine seeing their patient is not getting better.
    • And god help you if your doctor is a traitor in disguise, with an objective of assassinating you — their "medicines" get the job done quickly and silently, without you knowing what they are or what do they do, or that they are here at all.
  • Team Fortress 2: Heavily implied to be happening with The Medic's healing beam. The Medic himself considers healing to be a generally unintended side effect of satisfying his own morbid curiosity.
  • This is weaponised in Terraria Calamity by Providence, the Profaned Goddess through one of her attacks which instead of dealing damage normally like her other attacks, rather "heals" the player by a negative amount, completely bypassing defence, damage reduction and even invincibility frames.
  • In WildStar, Dr. Victor Lazarin created an immortality serum and gave it to his entire race, the Mordesh. Unfortunately, it turned out to cause their flesh to rot while still alive and their minds to deteriorate similarly. He did manage to come up with a treatment for the insanity though.
  • Given that magic in World of Horror is powered by the Old Gods, it's only natural that healing spells work this way. Renegeration is straightforward — you gain two Stamina but lose two Reason. Flesh Regrowth, on the other hand, forces the flesh you still have to replace the flesh you've lost, giving back three Stamina but reducing your maximum Stamina by 2. The only healing spell that doesn't hurt you some way is Cauterize, and It Only Works Once.
  • According to lore in World of Warcraft, healing an undead with the power of the Holy Light is incredibly painful, like having your entire body cauterized as a downplayed version of Revive Kills Zombie. This never comes up when playing as an undead Forsaken.
  • Late in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Rex and Nia are locked in a stalemate against a powerful opponent, to which Rex's mortal exhaustion means that it will eventually break one way or another. While Nia's restorative powers are able to counter Malos' destructive field, the two are deadlocked in terms of power output, so Nia and Rex pull a gambit that weaponizes this trope; the ether-infused particles the combined attack injects into Malos cause his physical body to overheal in a manner similar to cancer, reasoning that even an Aegis like Malos is still comprised of the same matter as any other organic being. His limbs started to inflate like balloons and he staggered back as they burst open until he fell off a cliff ledge behind him. Granted, he's an Aegis and can repair his damage more rapidly than a normal Blade once it's run its course, though it does cause him enough agony to break the stalemate and let Rex and Nia move on.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Fate/stay night, the interaction of Shirou's Reality Marble and Avalon allows his body to rapidly heal by replacing damaged tissue with blades. One bad end involves this going out of control, resulting in blades erupting from his chest and shredding his internal organs. During Heaven's Feel Archer's Reality Marble begins to intrude into his body, causing it to break down. His own Reality Marble generates blades to counter the damage which then pierce his remaining flesh and cut him apart even more.
    • Kiritsugu's special Anti-Magic bullets in Fate/Zero also use this trope. They work by damaging the target's magic circuits, then ineptly healing them. The damage can then never be reversed because it already "has been".
  • In Saya no Uta, Fuminori Sakisaka is introduced as the unfortunate victim of a rare form of agnosia that was inadvertently caused by the brain surgery that saved his life after a horrific car crash. The agnosia distorts his perception monstrously, causing him to see, smell, taste, feel, and hear the world and people around him in a nightmarish and grotesque way. In fact, only one person appears normal to him as a result of his surgery: a mysterious girl known as Saya who is actually an Eldritch Abomination.

  • Adventurers!: In the cast pages, it's mentioned that Karashi has a ninja healing technique which works by cutting off bits of the people to be healed. This is probably why Tesla refused to acknowledge her offer of "ninja healing" late in the comic.
  • Girl Genius: Most attempts at Spark medicine follow this. One section follows the long story of Agatha curing another Spark of a disease. In the process, she infects two other people, one of them being herself, everyone involved is electrocuted two or three times, all three of them have a rolling death lasting several minutes, and Agatha comes within forty-five seconds of exploding or melting. It works but bear in mind that the three people involved are all very good Sparks, and fairly disciplined as they go. Their reaction when they've finished? Let's try that again with more people!
  • Homestuck:
    • Terezi is talked into letting Aranea heal her eyes, despite her blindness being a major part of her persona and isn't even a handicap to her due to being able to see in other ways. She considers it a big mistake the instant her vision is healed, and it severely damages her confidence and self-esteem. Luckily, John retconning the timeline undoes this for the new alpha-timeline Terezi.
    • Aranea also "heals" Jake's mind against his will; this causes the enormous "Hopesplosion" that does significant damage to Derse and LOFAF and makes Jake a danger to his friends, since he has no control over it.
  • Ruby Quest makes use of this. The all-purpose "Miracle Cure" has some... unfortunate side effects. Essentially, it's some sort of Eldritch Abomination that can heal any injury or illness or even revive the dead, but the longer it's applied the more horribly mutated the subject will become. Mild cases may result in an extra pair of hands, More Teeth than the Osmond Family, or a third eye; a severe case turns the afflicted into... well... this or this.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: This seems to be a big problem with potential cures for the Rash, judging from what is seen of Siv's old job at an institute that has been working at it for 50 years without success. And then there is the cure discovered in Year 0, that works perfectly well on the physical symptoms, but has the unexplained side effect of slow brain death. The picture is completed by hostile ghosts visible only to mages, which tend to be present in every old Rash hospital that had access to the cure in question.

    Web Original 
  • One fanmade item for D&D games is the Rock of Healing, a fist-sized rock that deals 1d4 damage and then heals 1d4 damage.
  • Mortasheen: The Streptile is an artificial reptile-like creature which feeds on sickness. Its body is intensely lethal to any sort of microorganism, but it does not differentiate between beneficial and harmful microbes, so being "healed" by the Streptile is often very painful, if not deadly, and its side effects are often just as bad as being sick, if not worse.
  • SCP Foundation:
    • An amulet with healing properties (SCP-427) that, if used improperly, will continue to "heal" the target even after bringing them up to perfect health. They eventually mutate into a nigh-invincible mass of flesh with beyond human intelligence and a desire to make other people become like them.
    • There's also a fixing robot (SCP-212) that likes to rejuvenate your organs and makes other alterations based on its own unknown criteria. It's about as likely to make you able to breathe underwater as just killing you. Employees are allowed to volunteer for treatment by it, obviously at their own risk.
    • There's also SCP-135, a girl with an aura that makes her and any other organic matter within a 10 cm radius immortal while causing rapid and uncontrolled cell growth — a.k.a. cancer — within 2.25 m. Having developed this aura in utero, she is stuck in a fetal position and permanently encrusted in a constantly growing mass of plant, fungus, and microorganisms. The most that can be done for her is to have robots cut off some of the excess matter when it gets too big. She has full brain activity.
    • To some extent, SCP-049 could be thought of as this. An entity resembling a bird-masked doctor from the time of the Black Plague, SCP-049 can apparently sense some form of "disease" in randomly determined human subjects. His "patients" are forced to undergo a fatal surgery once he's picked them out. Trouble is, they consistently reanimate after surgery, attempting to violently [DATA EXPUNGED] any un-surgerified humans they find.

    Real Life 
  • Heroin was invented by Bayer Pharmaceuticals ("Heroin" was originally a Bayer trademarked name for the chemical diacetylmorphine) and marketed as a cough suppressant and a cure for morphine addiction. It technically worked—heroin actually is a good cough suppressant, and people who took it were no longer addicted to morphine.
  • Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva or FOP, a disease that causes the body's self-repair system to replace damaged soft tissue with bone. It has the potential to eventually lead to And I Must Scream when the afflicted individual's limbs become too rigid to move.
  • Even when done correctly, life-saving techniques such as CPR and the Heimlich can injure or break your ribs, leading to several weeks of it being painful to breathe. This is still generally considered preferable to not being able to breathe at all.
  • While often incorrectly attributed to a case of the doctors in charge treating him as an unwilling test subject to study the effects of a lethal radiation dose, the agonising decline and death of Hisashi Ouchi following the 1999 Tokaimura nuclear accident was, in a particularly tragic form of irony, the result of his family refusing to believe the doctors couldn't save his life. Japan has very strong laws regarding power of attorney, and as the doctors were unable to successfully turn Ouchi's family towards seeing the unfortunate truth that he would not be able to survive, he suffered through 83 days of a Fate Worse than Death, all while the doctors and nurses in charge of him had no choice but to continue administering treatments that they knew were ultimately useless,note  suffering their own psychological trauma as a consequence. In the end, Ouchi's family didn't relent until the night before he died, but by then his organ systems had failed one by one, his skin had fallen off most of his body, and his heart had stopped multiple times, rendering him braindead.
  • Rarely, medication can give you Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS), or worse, TEN. Both diseases happen from the immune system abnormally reacting to medication, drugs, or infection. Something as simple as taking ibuprofen for a fever can cause you to get both.
  • Some antipsychotics can cause horrible physical symptoms like skin chapping in often-used places, constant shaking, and suicidal urges.
  • Treatment for burns can be excruciatingly painful, especially when you get up to second-degree. Debridement and Escharotomy are common treatments, and are, respectively, to scrape the burned tissue of the skin and to slice the skin open in long incisions. They are as horrifyingly painful as they sound.
    • Debridement in particular is often necessary, because burned skin is dead skin, and if it isn't promptly removed, it'll harbor bacteria and possibly contract gangrene (your skin literally starts to rot). Though he doesn't name it, Christopher Titus describes the procedure being done on his hands after he fell into a bonfire.
      Then the doctor pulls out the stiffest brush I have ever seen — don't PUSS OUT ON ME now! — and this green soap, which I don't even think was soap, I think it was a piece of lava rock with nails and broken glass stuck to it. And I've got so much painkiller in me, I don't feel, but I get to SEE and HEAR (describes the sound of his skin being scraped off before making a crying face)..."That's gonna hurt tomorrow, huh?"
  • Melarsoprol, the treatment for sleeping sickness, is a toxic derivative of arsenic which can cause poisoning and has horrible and very common side effects. Its nickname, "Arsenic in Antifreeze", is actually the basic recipe for the drug; two lethal poisons combined to make something used medically (though not the only one). If you try to inject it with standard syringes they'll melt in your hand, as the nasty fluid is corrosive — it needs glass apparatus to be handled properly. Oh, and it's fatal all by itself in around 8% of cases. And if that's not enough, injections with it are so painful that it's been compared to mainlining molten metal. However, since "Sleeping Sickness" unless treated always leads to permanent brain damage, coma, and death, the Godzilla Threshold dictates Melarsoprol is worth a try, even if it involves using something that utilises a toxic element which is just as dangerous if used incorrectly.
  • Cancer often comes about when cells try to repair damage done... and get damaged themselves.
    • The treatment for cancer often winds up being this as well, since chemotherapy is designed to kill cells that divide rapidly (like cancer cells) but unfortunately takes out many beneficial cells in the process, perhaps most well-known being hair cells, which often begin to fall out, and extreme nausea and fatigue. You can also have someone who is getting chemotherapy for cancer but winds up with a deadly infection that their body would normally be able to fight off.
  • Treatments for serious conditions often seem designed to replace them with something less debilitating. This is especially true for mental illnesses whose symptoms are partially subjective to the point where there is often conflict over designating them as illnesses in the first place.
  • Ever had a wart frozen off with liquid nitrogen? Yeeoooowwww.
    • The technical term for this treatment is cryo-ablation and in layman's terms, it means intentionally causing frostbite of the offending growth to induce blistering of frostbitten tissue that will (if done correctly) detach the wart from the rest of the skin, allowing it to be shed, so the patient can be rid of it.
  • Before modern suturing techniques were developed, the prevailing method of closing a major wound was cauterization, meaning the doctors literally burnt the wound shut.
    • Nowadays, blood vessels that are too small to be stitched are cauterized with an electrically charged instrument.
    • And in some cases, when a patient suffers frequently recurring nosebleeds, treatment is to chemically cauterize the sinuses.
  • Using alcohol as a disinfectant on wounds. It lowers the heat tolerance threshold in the inflamed tissue to the point that your own body temperature sets off the pain receptors and makes your brain think you've been burned in that area.
  • This kind of thing can happen with punctures if the offending object manages to get deep enough into a fleshy part of the body; sometimes it's better to just leave it in there than to damage all the tissue it would take to dig it out.
  • The infamous Thalidomide was marketed as a treatment for anxiety, insomnia, and nausea, and was briefly used as a morning sickness suppressant. It worked very well. It just also led to nightmarish birth defects in many of the children born to women using it. Turns out it interferes with the formation of new blood vessels, resulting in abnormal fetal development. In a subversion, this horrible side effect actually makes the drug very useful in treating certain types of cancer, and despite its unfortunate history, it's still used today as a first-line treatment for multiple myeloma, with strict monitoring to prevent pregnant women from using it of course.
  • For those who have problems with blood clots, a common preventive measure is to take warfarin. It thins the blood and breaks up clots before they become a problem. The other common name of the drug is rat poison. In fact, blood tests must be taken regularly because it's a very fine balance between having too much in your system or not having enough. The former is dangerous for obvious reasons and the latter will give you the drawbacks without the benefits. Plus, no matter how you slice it, having thinner blood will cause you to bleed more when you are hurt and it will take longer for your body to stop the bleeding. This is why the medical community is trying to develop viable supplements that help warfarin users. Also for obvious reasons, warfarin users aren't allowed to donate blood.
  • Immunosuppressive drugs. As their name implies, they suppress the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight intruders. However, they are vital for transplant recipients, as otherwise the immune system attacks and eventually kills the transplanted organ.
  • Many historical treatments, such as bloodletting, leeches, and shock therapy, did little to nothing to actually help the patient's issue while causing all kinds of harm to the body. They are still used today, but mostly only in special cases. Use of bloodletting and leeches originally was based on scientific ideas now known to be false. Shock therapy can be used for treating some mental disorders, but now is mainly used if medication doesn't work since it induces seizures, though actually doesn't usually have long time side effects. A far worse historical treatment is lobotomization, which involve inserting a tool into the eye socket and cutting up the front of the brain to treat mental disorders. The result was unpredictable and often resulted in the patient becoming a vegetable, and for a lot of the people this procedure was done to it was completely unnecessary due to the lack of understanding of mental illnesses at the time.
    • During the Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793, many of the doctors available to treat the epidemic had absolutely no idea what they were doing. A majority of them (such as Dr. Benjamin Rush, who was considered one of the city's best physicians) resorted to practices such as bloodletting, castor oil, and jalap in an attempt to rid the body of whatever was making them sick. As stated above, bloodletting was common but incredibly dangerous. Some doctors even treated their patients with mercury (which ended about as well as you think). It was French doctors in city (such as Dr. Jean Deveze) who had been in Africa and actually seen similar epidemics that knew the right way to treat the fever (bed rest, fluids, and treating symptoms as they appeared). Doctors like Rush were criticized for their actions during the epidemic for the rest of their careers. Read more about the epidemic here.
    • In Victorian Britain, medical professionals often went beyond simple ignorance into borderline malice. Not only did they tend to have worse bedside manner than The Grim Reaper, but unsanitary conditions were seen as a source of pride as they implied experience. It was so bad that being operated on in a hospital increased your chances of dying horribly, while the upper classes paid to have surgeons make house calls. Since surgery had to be done quickly due to anesthesia not being an option, surgeons were more prized for speed and ferocity than skill and many didn’t attend university or medical school with some even being illiterate. The average medical practitioners of the time were so comically inept that Mad Doctor Robert Liston managed to be the only man in history to (allegedly) perform a surgery with a 300% mortality rate (moving so fast he injured two bystanders and the patient died of gangrene) and still be The Ace of the time. When pathologist Joseph Lister discovered the importance of sterility, he was vilified by the British medical community who were in denial that they had been actively killing people, and he wasn't taken seriously until he went to America with his findings.
      • Some historians have argued that it's not a coincidence that Snake Oil Salesmen proliferated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – with doctors like these, people (especially women, who were less likely to be taken seriously by the overwhelmingly male medical profession) would have been eager to find an alternative!
  • The Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huangdi is believed to have died from ingesting mercury on his doctors' advice. Why would they recommend ingesting mercury? As part of an immortality potion.
    • Mercury continued to used be as a medication into the 19th century, becoming a particularly popular treatment for syphilis. The Lewis and Clark expedition path has been tracked in part by mercury deposits left over from the pills they were using as a laxative. Mercury thermometers (which only really posed danger if broken) weren't banned in the United States until 2002, although compounds are found to this day in some over-the-counter drugs with the FDA asserting they lack the necessary data to prove or refute their safety & effectiveness.
  • Allergic reactions, ranging from hay fever to potentially lethal anaphylactic shock, result from the immune system overreacting to foreign substances, many of which are only harmful because people are allergic to them.
  • The Cutter incident, one of the worst pharmaceutical disasters in US history. In 1955 something went catastrophically wrong during Cutter Laboratories' development of a polio vaccine, leading to 120,000 doses that contained a live polio virus, 40,000 children who caught polio, and 5 deaths. Worst of all, the whole thing could have been prevented — in 1954 a scientist noticed that monkeys used as test subjects were suffering side effects including paralysis. She reported this but was ignored.
  • During the 1970s and 1980s treatments for haemophilia — produced by the aforementioned Cutter Laboratories, among other companies — were contaminated by HIV and hepatitis C. Because of this many haemophiliacs (estimates range from 6,000 to 10,000 in the US alone) were infected with HIV.
  • The strange and tragic case of Gloria Ramirez is widely believed to have been caused by this, but in a very unusual way that borders on being a freak accident. She was rushed to the hospital for severe heart palpitations, but while administering treatment, a majority of residents suddenly began suffering from nausea, muscle spasms, feeling chemical burns, and those who were close to Ramirez outright fainted, requiring an evacuation of the hospital and leaving only a skeleton crew in hazmat gear to attempt saving her until she finally succumbed (official cause of death was kidney failure). While it's impossible to conclusively say what happened to her even with three separate autopsies, the most widely-accepted theory is that she had been taking dimethyl sulphoxide (DMSO) as an unauthorized attempted remedy for her cancer (she'd been diagnosed with late-stage cervical cancer only weeks before her death), likely from a hardware store solvent. As paramedics administered her oxygen and attempted to defibrillate her, they unknowingly gave her the chemical composition and necessary energy to convert the DMSO in her system into dimethyl sulfate (DMSO4), a highly toxic gas that would result in the symptoms the personnel experienced. In this case, there was no medical mismanagement — all doctors involved did everything in their right mind to save Ramirez, and only suffered because of the worst possible combination of coincidences.


Video Example(s):


Shift Mad Doctor

The Mad Doctor Shift Car is capable of immediately healing the killer poison circulating through Shinnosuke's system. However, as Mr. Belt explains, the treatment can be "as painful as death". But despite the indescribable agony, it works.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / HarmfulHealing

Media sources: