Patients Get Bottles, Cell Phones, Buzz Lightyear Stuck Inside


Why Do People Do It?

Many patients are reluctant to tell emergency doctors and nurses just how a beer bottle or a pair of nail clippers wound up stuck inside their bodies. Dreben said he's heard one excuse after another.

"Some of my favorite excuses all involve someone who was doing something in the nude," Dreben said. "'I was vacuuming in the nude, when I fell.' Usually, it's some naked activity and a resulting accident."

Generally, doctors say most vaginally or rectally lodged items are the result of an attempt at sexual gratification gone awry.

On the other hand, patients with mental illness also comprise a handful of these cases. In 2010, doctors at Rhode Island Hospital examined 305 cases of swallowed foreign objects over a period of eight years, and found that all of the cases came from the same 33 patients, 79 percent of whom had been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder.

However, Knight emphasizes that most patients who need a doctor to remove a stuck object are not mentally ill, just curious.

"I don't think anyone purposefully wants to get something stuck inside of them," Knight said. "A lot of the patients I've spoken with said they were just curious how far they could go with the limits of their bodies. And ultimately they find it."

Medical Consequences

It's easy to laugh at an x-ray of an unimaginable item in someone's colon, but doctors emphasize that these cases can have serious medical consequences. An object that gets stuck can cut into the lining of the stomach, colon or rectum, allowing the bacteria lining the gut to filter into the bloodstream and cause an infection. If an object is sufficiently stuck, it can require surgery.

Dr. Michael West, chief of surgery at San Francisco General Hospital, said doctors deal with the patient's state of mind and emotions as much as the object they have to remove from their bodies.

"The reality is that it's probably extremely difficult, frightening and embarrassing for patients to seek medical attention, attention that they really need and sometimes delay," West said. "Trying to call the patient on an implausible story may lead to the patient's signing themselves out of ER or dangerously delaying appropriate care or trying to remove it themselves and thereby causing more damage."

No matter how or why someone gets a cell phone or a child's toy stuck inside of them, emergency department doctors emphasize that a patient's health and safety is the priority in the emergency room.

"Most people who we see are just regular people. They're working, educated people who were trying something different and it went wrong," Vilke said. "It's amazing what people will do when they're lonely or bored."

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