These may be some of the most experienced surgeons, but nothing could have prepared them for how bizarre and disturbing these particular patients would turn out to be. The cause of these patients' immense suffering? The grossest and most random objects known to man. Be warned, the stories do contain some very intense imagery, but they also contain some surprising methods that ultimately saved these poor patients' lives. Content has been edited for clarity.
Weird Disease, Weirder Treatment
This one will leave you stunned, trust me. I was an intern in 2012. A 23-year-old female presented to our hospital casually at 1:30 a.m. with severe abdominal pain. On detailing the history and performing an exam on her, I noticed that this patient had psychiatric issues which were unnoticed and unattended by her family. It was my job to inform my seniors about my findings of the patient. And so I did! A few investigations followed, like an abdominal x-ray and ultrasound and a few blood tests, to find out the cause of the abdominal pain. Meanwhile, we started symptomatic treatment.
It was strange that nothing really worked and she was shrieking with pain. Almost all kinds of pain respond to analgesia to some extent. This one totally did not. After the work up, my boss made a diagnosis of trichobezoar, acondition in which patients with clinical depression pluck, eat, and swallow their own hair. This lady had been depressed for the last two years and had been doing this for eight months (later revealed). She had eventually developed a hairball in her stomach that obstructed the passage of content and caused severe spasmodic pain in the abdomen.
We had two options from the treatment aspect. First option: open the abdomen and surgically remove the hair ball. But she was a young patient with a psychiatric abnormality, so we kept this one as our last resort. Second option: Use an endoscope to try to retrieve the hairball. This would probably not work because the ball was stuck at the opening of the intestine, in the last part of the stomach.
We then came up with a third option, something that blew my mind. I had read about it in a book but never heard or seen it anywhere. My boss asked me to get two large Coca-Cola bottles, 2 liters each. We inserted a tube through her nose and into her stomach. We connected the Coke bottle and reversed the bottle mid-air to rapidly transfuse all of the liquid into her stomach in one go. I was left shocked. But she just burped. Nothing happened.
Then we picked up the second bottle and repeated the maneuver. Nothing happened. We decided to take this woman for surgery. Just then she said she wanted to sit up. Before I could even reach her, she started puking massively.
And guess the content of her vomit? Hair, hair, and more hair. She kept puking hair for 20 minutes and then she slept, all night, like a baby. She was kept overnight for observation and sent home the next day with medications to control her depression. Today she is a proud mother of two babies and a regular visitor to my office for consults. She jokingly says that it was a couple of Cokes that saved her from killing herself.
Weird disease, weird treatment, but an amazing outcome. The beauty of medicine: saving lives, sharing lives.”
What Was He Hiding?
“I was the surgery resident covering the ER, and of course, all sorts of trauma at a busy inner city hospital. It was 1978, and ER doctors had not yet been invented. The police brought in a prisoner who, the story was, had been stabbed in the chest during a fight. The guy looked fine. He was up, standing, breathing easily, good color, no distress whatsoever.
Following protocol, we got him on the trauma table and got him undressed. I began my exam the way I did lots of times. Airway was fine. I listened to his chest from the head of the table. I heard equal and normal breath sounds bilaterally. The police were right there in the trauma room, standing in the corner. I went to the right side of the patient and took a look at the stab wound over on his right side between the ribs. It was about a half inch long and not bleeding. On closer inspection I could see that it was very superficial, barely through the skin.
Well, in spite of the incredibly unimpressive stab wound, I was obligated to go over him head to toe. He was fully undressed under a sheet. I walked to the foot of the table, lifted the sheet, and checked his feet and legs. I was about to move to the other side when I saw, under the sheet, something black, metallic, and shiny tucked up behind his privates.
He immediately knew that I had seen it, because his head popped up and he looked right at me. I reacted quickly. I reached up there, pulled out a loaded .45, and handed it to the embarrassed cop behind me.”
Fighting Terrible Giggles
“My friend works at a children’s hospital. A small boy, about 2 years old, had developed the unfortunate habit of swallowing all kinds of small objects. Most passed through, but despite the parents trying to watch him every second, it still happened. Something he swallowed caused major problems. He had to be admitted to the hospital, and among other treatments, he had to have a tracheotomy to breathe.
So he’s recovering in the hospital just after surgery, when a friend came to visit and brought him a little gift bag full of goodies. One of those goodies was a light-up bouncy ball. Guess what the child immediately did? That’s right, he attempted to eat the ball.
But it was too big, and got stuck in his throat. Normally this would be an urgent emergency, cutting off his air supply. Fortunately, he already was breathing through the trach. So the boy was pretty calm, until the doctor started trying to dislodge the ball, when he started trying to cry. The crying constricted his throat enough to trigger the ball’s flashing lights, which was visible through his throat.
So every time the kid got upset, his throat would light up, and the very professional medical staff are fighting terrible giggles at the sight. They did eventually have to sedate him in order to relax his throat enough to get the ball out. Those poor parents. Hopefully he got over that stage quickly!”
“I was operating on a patient to remove his kidney. The patient had multiple surgeries in the past on his kidney, and at this point was just a continuous source of infection. The kidney no longer functioned. The patient wanted me to remove it. I removed the kidney laparoscopically and opened it to see what was inside.
I was shocked. It was a laser fiber that had broken inside the patient while being operated on by another surgeon 18 years prior. It had been left to form a stone and caused endless infections. After the surgery, I informed the patient as to what I had discovered. He knew right away who the surgeon had been. It is very sad to have your kidney damaged and your life affected because of a bad surgeon who didn’t have the appropriate ethical guidelines. He could have referred the patient to someone else, so the problem could be fixed before the damage became permanent.”
“Time Stops, Along With My Heart”
“I’m an anesthesiologist, not a surgeon. I was able to participate in and observe the surgical process thousands of times without having to scrub and gown! The strangest thing found inside someone, and believe me there have been plenty of strange things, was what was found inside a 23-year-old male (Dale) with a bowel obstruction. Dale was so obstructed that nothing was passing through his gut. He was vomiting, was in exquisite pain, and unfortunately for all involved, was a horrible historian. Dale couldn’t tell us when he last ate, pooped, or when he started feeling badly. It could have been days, a week, or hours. He had no idea.
He was brought to the ER by his boss, a restaurant manager. The boss told us that Dale lived in an adult residence for people with cognitive challenges. A quick telephone call to his facility yielded no additional information, except that Dale had no known allergies and took no medications, and no one had noted anything ‘off’ about him of late.
Clearly Dale had peritonitis; he was febrile with a very tender belly and demonstrated free air on abdominal X-ray. Something, somewhere in his gut had perforated, spilling gas and gut contents into the abdominal cavity. AND the X-ray looked weird. Stool impaction? Maybe? Foreign body? If so, what would cause that appearance? We were all puzzled: the radiologist, surgeon and I.
There were no non-surgical options for our patient, so off to the OR we go. The usual procedures ensue and the bowel is run, which is the process whereby the surgeon inspects the bowel for anomalies, damage and/or perforations, and repairs the bowel. While the surgeon is having fun operating, I’ve got my hands full trying to keep Dale alive and anesthetized. He is sick, septic and hypotensive. I’m pouring fluids and pressors into a bottomless pit of hypotension, wishing that my surgical colleague would just hurry up and fix the problem already. But there he is, Sherlock Holmes-ing the bowel. Then I hear the surgeon exclaim, ‘Oh my god!’ and time just stops, along with my heart.
Surgeon: ‘What on earth is this? Look at this! What the!?’
These are not the usual exclamations this surgeon utters over the surgical field. Alarmed, I peek over the sterile screen and observe my surgical colleague teasing, then tugging, and finally pulling a poop-encrusted rope-like foreign body out of the colon. And he keeps pulling. AND PULLING. Whatever it was, there were feet, no, yards of it. It was black, slimy and NASTY. After what seemed like ages, the foreign body is completely removed, packaged up, and sent for pathological analysis. It is 3:00am and now time has expanded infinitely. We wait for the pathologist to call.
‘Hey, it’s Bob (pathologist) here. This is a very interesting case.’
‘Drum roll, please.
‘The foreign body is composed of two black plastic trash bags linked together at the perforations. The total length is 110 inches. Incidental findings include a carrot and a corn cob both in entirety. Do you need anything else? All right then.’
To this day I don’t know what possessed Dale to ingest those trash bags, nor can I imagine how that feat was accomplished, let alone how someone could take in an entire corn cob or carrot. All I can say is that Dale was made of Hefty stuff and we were all Glad that he made it!’
Sudden Solid Mass
“I was the scrub nurse on this case. I don’t remember exactly what we were doing, but we were in between the patient’s liver and spleen (very large incision across the abdomen) when suddenly the surgeon, the most unflappable man I know, shouted, ‘What the HECK is that thing?!’
Attached by some kind of stretchy cords was a solid, white, perfectly round ball. The surgeon snipped it from the patient’s body and dropped it into the basin I had offered to him. That ball was so heavy that I nearly dropped the basin! The surgeon tried to cut into it to see what was inside, but it was solid.
The best guess was that it was an old infection that the body had encapsulated, which had hardened over time. I never did hear what Pathology’s final conclusion was.”
How Did He Miss That?
“Well during my general surgery rotation, I once assisted in a Surgery that lasted five hours and the outcome was not what it seems. There was a 50-year-old lady who was admitted to the hospital. She first presented with Abdominal Pain, associated with Right Lower Quadrant Tenderness. Rebound sign was equivocal. As she had no pre-existing medical illness, we thought it would have been a simple case of Appendicitis, so we posted the case for Diagnostic Laporotomy.
It was messy as access to her abdomen was difficult. Cutting through the fat is not as easy as it seems. When we arrived at the peritoneum; we noticed there was generally nothing wrong with it. As usual, we explore the abdomen for any signs of anomalies. The appendix was not inflamed, bowel appeared healthy, and the liver and spleen were good. Wait a minute, what’s this round structure here? To our horror, there lies a 20 cm x 20 cm ovarian Cyst in the Abdomen.
Frantically, we asked the Scrub Nurses to call for the Gynecologist on call that day. Within 10 minutes, he was in and the operation resumed. Under his skillful hands, the Cyst was evacuated in a matter of 30 minutes.
As we reflected upon this case, we realized we wouldn’t have lost our heads this way if some form of screening was done prior to the Operation. Perhaps a simple Ultrasound for this lady would have alerted us to this possibility. Perhaps General Surgeons should not just diagnose in the realms of their fields, but entertain other possibilities as well.
This was an interesting case, as I managed to see how surgery requires quick thinking, a meticulous approach, and teamwork. Referring a patient on the operating table is certainly no easy feat, as it requires clear, straight to the point communication to the accepting surgeon. Ultimately, being cordial to everyone in the Operating Room is critical, as we need each other to get things done.”
How Did It Get There?
“I am a heart surgeon, so for me to anything ingested is extremely extremely rare. A 27-year-old chap had presented to our ENT surgeon complaining of neck and throat pain for the last 2 months. Apparently this young chap had ingested a piece of iron wire about 5 centimeters long in a wasted state two months back. When the ENT surgeon could not find the wire in the throat or esophagus, he asked for x-ray, which showed a wire somewhere in the upper chest.
CT Scan showed this wire was lying in the mediastinum near the arch of aorta, between carotid arteries. So the wire had penetrated the esophagus (food pipe), migrated down, and it was found nestled near the aortic arch. Crazy location, and it was nowhere close to the food pipe.”
“Bigger Than A BasketBall, Barely Fit”
“The most bizarre experience I had was finding a 12” soft plastic worm fishing lure, that the patient had stuffed up their urethra completely into their bladder. This guy did this activity more than once, and he ended up with a psychiatric consultation after the second event.
I’ve also encountered a woman that swallowed the entire contents a picture hanging kit on one occasion and 7 AA batteries on another. Yet another psychiatric consultation after she came in to see us.
I’ve also seen a parasitic worm wrapped around a patient’s pituitary gland, which is at the base of the brain.
Dermoid cysts are incredibly strange. They develop in ovaries and have the potential to become any type of cell in the body, but most frequently become hair, teeth, occasionally bone, and are usually accompanied by a yellow custard like pus.
I’ve also seen a woman with a 30-pound ovarian cyst she’d been growing for over 20 years. She never got it taken care of before, because it didn’t bother her, even though it looked like she was pregnant with a calf. Eventually it began to hurt and she had it removed. We didn’t have a specimen container big enough to put it in, so we got a big ice cream tub from the cafeteria and poured formalin over it. It was bigger than a basketball and barely fit. The nurse that put it in basically had to shove it in.
And then there are all of the things that people get stuck up their butts. I could go on and on all day.”
“There Were Several Pounds Of Them”
“Once as a second year surgical resident, I was doing an appendectomy. Usually what it takes is a small incision that uses the technique of serially splitting the fibers of the abdominal muscles. You then insert a finger to feel the indurated, or hard, swollen appendix. Most structures are soft, but an infected appendix feels something like a pencil. The specific patient was a 10-year-old southern boy. I couldn’t believe it. There were appendices everywhere! Too many undurated swollen structures that should not be there.
I called over the attending physician, who felt the same thing. We opened the abdomen and fully filled a large washbasin with Ascariasis worms. The container was mounded with a pile of moving worms, about 9 or 10 inches long. There were several pounds of them. That such a small child’s abdomen could contain such a huge volume of parasites was astonishing.
It was just worms. So many of them they were distending the bowel and causing pain. There were no perforations. It was beyond comprehension that a child could have pounds of worms, enough to fill a standard sized stainless OR washbasin. And the basin was filled completely and mounded. The worms were moving in the basin, like a mass of writhing, twisting, squirming lengths of large spaghetti.”
“My mother was not a surgeon, but she was instead an emergency room nurse. Early in her career, she worked at a mental hospital in New Jersey. One of the patients she helped care for was a nun, who had the unfortunate habit of swallowing cutlery, specifically knives, forks and spoons, whenever the staff’s back was turned. Even when they tried to hide the cutlery from her and give her just finger food (like sandwiches) to eat, she always managed to persuade other patients to smuggle her some cutlery to consume.
She had had multiple surgeries to remove these objects, but that didn’t dissuade her from this peculiar obsession. Otherwise, Mom said, she seemed normal and was one of the most pleasant and gracious people you’d ever want to meet. Unfortunately, the scarring from the surgeries and perforations from the sharp objects eventually took their toll really hurt her.
Why Do People Do This?
“People are beyond strange. I will share a couple of things we have found over the years in my professional experience. We were resecting a lung mass. In the center we found a toothbrush. The patient at some time in the past had inhaled an entire toothbrush and forgotten about it.
We were removing a foreign object from a colon. It turned out to be a small full can of pomegranate juice. Patient said he brought it into the shower to drink, set it on the floor, only to slip and fall on it. I have no idea how that sort of thing could happen.
We also had another case of urinary obstruction When we scoped him to look down the urethra, much to our surprise, we found a miniature troll doll with the crazy hair, among other things.”
“I also have experience as a first responder, where I somehow saved a man once he was impaled with a chisel! It fell at least six stories, and brutally nailed him in the wrist. It was almost coming out in his palm. He staggered in to where I was working, where I immediately yelled at him, ‘Don’t Pull It Out!’
Unfortunately, he did, which made everything worse. He immediately passed out from the fountain of blood that escaped over his head! I leaped to catch him, placing a cloth on his head and putting his bleeding hand to the cloth. I knocked his legs into the corner to form a human tripod, in order to keep his form upright. I was also holding the cloth to aid the closure of the wound. I now had him safe for my next magic feat, which was to run down four flights of stairs, report the accident, grab the med kit, and return to the victim. It all worked out somehow, and that was enough work for that day. I still have the chisel and I found out later why it looked so familiar, The other worker, who was up 70 feet and had apparently dropped it, had borrowed it weeks before and meant to keep it as his own. My tools found unique ways of coming back into my hands.”
So Much Corn
“Corn. Lots and lots of corn. This patient consumed so much corn, and specifically ate it so fast off the cob that they almost almost died due to a giant corn blockage in the colon. From the results, it looks like they didn’t actually chew the corn but rather swallowed it as fast as they possibly could. No idea why the patient was acting this way, but at least, they came to me just in time. I can only imaging that people in the past actually died after such dietary indiscretions that couldn’t be surgically managed. It’s the strangest case that I’ve come across by a long shot.”
Way Too Chill About This
“Way back when, when I was doing my cervical screening training, the nurse that I was mentoring found a coin pressed up against someone’s cervix. The coin was slightly green and had left a green mark on the patient’s cervix. The patient simply laughed it off. Apparently a few months ago, she was messing around with her friends, trying to insert and push things out of their bodies. She inserted the coin, it had never come out, and she compeltely forgot about it. She had been regularly hooking up since. The nurse that I was working with was totally appalled. She sent the patient straight to a colonoscopy, as we all believed she had a severe risk of infection. That was the last I saw of this mysterious patient.”
Head And Shoulders Above The Rest
“We were flabbergasted upon opening the abdomen of a middle-aged man who came with severe abdominal pain, high fever, vomiting, and signs of shock. He had been ill for two days, according to the guy accompanying him, who happened to be his friend. Long story short, we labelled him as a case of peritonitis (infection/inflammation inside the belly, which was fatal, unless operated), and rolled him to the OR after resuscitation. There was no need to do an ultrasound or CT scan, as it was obvious that his belly must have been opened. Now guess what we found upon entering the peritoneal cavity down there?
You guessed it right. It was America’s #1 dandruff shampoo, Head & Shoulders. It was full, not used yet, floating between the bowel loops.
You probably don’t want to know how it got there, right? Well, in case you want to know, there are two ways a man can get it inside his belly (and note we are not talking about surgically opening his belly and placing it there): one is from the upper end of the alimentary tract (from the mouth) ,but it is too big to swallow. The remaining, and most likely, site of entry is the back passage.
We checked carefully after cleaning his peritoneal cavity and found a rent on his upper rectum. It seems he would stick objects up himself for this sort of intimate gratification, but I had never seen something so large. At the height of his ecstasy, he had let it slip from his hand and couldn’t retrieve it. Ashamed to seek medical attention, he had kept the bottle inside until it had perforated the rectum due to pressure necrosis.
We fixed him and he recovered well after the surgery. I gave him the shampoo bottle to use (remember, it was full), but told him not to use it like before, since it was obviously dangerous. I reminded him to use the shampoo only for his hair. But I failed to ask if he had dandruff.
Was it dangerous? No, it was not dangerous. Throughout my career I’ve seen cancer all over, dead and stinking, black colored bowels, poop all over, but the one is in a special category all on its own.”