X-Rays in the News

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How far can cameras go to make the personal into the public? Pretty far, considering how many news stories I've seen in the past year illustrated with x-rays, MRIs, and medical tomography. The idea of seeing inside the human body is strange enough, without seeing the weird things that can happen inside the body of someone on the other side of the world. Some of the images in this story may be disturbing to some people.

77-year-old Jin Guangying suffered from lifelong headaches when she was finally x-rayed at Shuyang Leniency Hospital in China. Doctors were stunned to find a bullet in her head! Jin remembered she had been shot during the Japanese invasion in 1943, but had only used herbal treatments for the wound at the time.
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59-year-old Margaret Wegner had a brain scan in Berlin to find the source of her constant headaches. It was a pencil. She had tripped and embedded the pencil in her skull when she was four years old! The bigger part of the pencil was finally removed, but a smaller part was left, as delicate nerves had grown over the 2cm piece.

More curious cases, after the jump.

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A duck with a broken wing in California was x-rayed and found to have an alien from outer space in its gut. The duck did not survive, and an autopsy found the alien was formed by grain in the bird's digestive system. Still, the x-ray was sold via eBay auction to raise money for the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Fairfield, California. Note: this is the only patient in this story who is deceased.
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31-year-old Luo Cuifen went to a hospital in China complaining of blood in her urine. X-rays showed that she had 26 needles embedded in her body, affecting her lungs, kidneys, brain, and other organs. Doctors believe the needles were inserted when Luo was an infant by grandparents who were disappointed that she was born a girl.
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Then there was a curious case reported in The Lancet last summer of a middle-aged man whose braincase was almost completely filled with fluid. His actual brain was reduced 50 to 75% below normal size, but he held a civil servant's job and was not considered mentally impaired or retarded. This scan shows his brain compared with a typical brain on the right.
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Gavin Docherty was hit by a nail gun in a workplace accident. His co-worker immediately drove him to the hospital, but they were stopped by Canada's finest on the way for speeding. After seeing nails sticking out of Docherty's forehead, the officer allowed them to continue to the hospital, but followed them so he could issue the driver a $167 ticket for not wearing a seatbelt!

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This one isn't exactly an x-ray, but it's a 3D medical image showing how a chair leg went through 19-year-old Shafique el-Fahkri's head during a bar brawl. The Melbourne man survived the incident, and medical intervention saved his eyesight.

Although these images are quite sensational, what struck me about this series of stories was the public nature of these cases. All these were news stories I remembered from the past year or two; I didn't have to search for any of them. Excluding the duck, all but one patient are identified by name, and all are from nations other than the US (with the possible exception of the unidentified patient). In the US, privacy laws allow medical images to be shared with medical personnel, insurance companies, lawyers, law enforcement, and others, but not the press. I don't know what the laws governing such images are in other countries; maybe some of you do. Would you consider allowing pictures of the inside of your body to be published by a news outlet? Or does our concept of privacy only apply to our skin?

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September 24, 2007 - 11:34pm
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