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8 Strange Items Surgeons Have Removed From People's Bodies

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Our bodies have a number of naturally-occurring orifices, the purposes of which you’ve probably already discovered on your own. But sometimes—through misadventure, poor judgment, or sheer happenstance—these cavities can provide entry for foreign objects, whether inanimate or other living beings. Their extraction can prompt embarrassment and possibly an entry in a medical journal, like the guy who thought he had lung cancer but discovered it was a just a toy traffic cone that had lodged in his lung after he aspirated it by accident 40 years previously.

Traffic Cone Guy is but one example. Check out other instances of people who have had to have some awkward conversations with emergency room physicians.

1. A LIVE EEL // RECTUM

An eel swims in water, unaware it may one day find itself in a rectum

In January 2004, the medical journal Surgery published the details of a very eventful day at Kwong Wah Hospital in Hong Kong. A 50-year-old man had been admitted for stomach pains, and an x-ray showed the outline of a 20-inch eel, which the man admitted he had inserted into his rectum to relieve his constipation. It’s unknown how he thought the eel would have resolved his issue, but it certainly complicated matters. The eel was alive and found biting into his splenic flexure when he was opened up for surgery. A perforation in one of the walls of his rectum necessitated a colostomy. Notably, this was not the only case of a man presenting with rectal eel issues. In 2012, New Zealand's Auckland City Hospital confirmed that a man had been admitted for the same problem.

2. 40 POCKET KNIVES // STOMACH

A pocket knife appears unfolded

Pica is a term used to describe the need to eat the inedible: coins, metal parts, and other non-nutritious objects. Surgeons at Amritsar Corporate Hospital in India were able to experience this phenomenon first-hand in 2016, when a 42-year-old police officer was admitted for stomach pains. Gas? Taco Bell? Nothing so mundane. He had swallowed exactly 40 pocket knives, most seven inches in length. Some were folded shut, while others were open and causing internal bleeding. The man said he had swallowed them whole over the past two months. All were successfully removed from his stomach. He described his compulsion as an “impulse” but swore he would not repeat the practice.

3. A COCKROACH // EAR

A dead cockroach is ready to repulse anyone who stumbles across it

Hendrik Helmer of Darwin, Australia—one of the few patients brave enough to attach his name to this kind of story—told ABC Radio Darwin in 2014 that he awoke in the middle of the night with a sharp pain in his ear. Suspecting an insect had crawled in and “hoping it wasn’t a poisonous spider,” Helmer tried vacuuming the pest out of his canal before going to Royal Darwin Hospital. As a doctor poured olive oil in his ear to try and drive the creature out, Helmer reported his pain intensifying. Finally, the doctor used forceps and retrieved a cockroach measuring nearly one inch in length. Aside from some lingering issues with balance and jaw pain, Helmer was fine. (The cockroach was not. It had expired.)

4. A NAIL // BRAIN

A hammer is ready to hit a nail

The fateful day began like any other for Chicago resident Dante Autullo, who was busy remodeling his residence before being sidelined by headaches and nausea. As it turns out, he had accidentally shot himself in the head with a nail gun the day prior and failed to notice it, believing the nail had just missed his head. The spiked projectile was lodged in his brain for 36 hours before being removed, apparently without any ill effect.

5. A LEGO TIRE // NOSE

A LEGO toy tire

Someday, we’ll marvel at how we allowed children free access to their nostrils without equipping them with some kind of fine mesh safety guard. Until then, we’ll continue to come across stories like that of 6-year-old Salt Lake City boy Isaak Lasson, who rammed a LEGO vehicle tire up his nose at the age of three and began having chronic sinus problems. Upon questioning, Lasson would only admit he had “put some spaghetti up there” at one time. A pediatrician uncovered the tire, which was covered in fungus, and removed it. The theory was that Lasson had managed to fold the tire so it fit in his nostril.

6. A PEA PLANT // LUNG

A pea pod sprouts up

In 2010, a 75-year-old Cape Cod man named Ron Sveden was relieved to find out the chest discomfort he had been experiencing was not due to lung cancer as doctors suspected, but a pea plant attempting to grow in his lung. Sveden had apparently aspirated a pea seed, which began to spout. (It didn’t grow very much, as pea plants need sunlight.) After being treated, Sveden was served a meal in the hospital with a side of peas. "I laughed to myself and ate them," he told a Boston TV reporter.

7. A SODA BOTTLE // RECTUM

A collection of soda bottles

Every year, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issues a very serious and professional list of things that have been found stuck up patients’ butts and other orifices, from peanut butter jars to remote controls. In 2009, the Saudi Journal of Gastroenterology detailed one such case, this one of a man who visited a local hospital after failing to retrieve a soda bottle he had inserted into his rectum. Initial attempts to retrieve it were unsuccessful, as mucus made the surface too slippery to grasp. Instead, doctors lightly sedated the man and asked him to bear down as though he were having a bowel movement. Once the bottle was partially out, they were able to grab it with forceps. The paper went on to note that broomsticks and axe handles had previously been reported in the literature; the patient was advised to seek counseling for his “perversion disorder” to “prevent recurrences.”

8. A PLASTIC WENDY’S FORK // LUNG

A Wendy's restaurant sign

Eating your food as though you were vying for sustenance in a pack of wolves can have consequences, but none more absurd than the North Carolina man who suffered from chronic coughing and fatigue for two years before doctors discovered he had a piece of a fast food fork stuck in his lung. John Manley, 50, sought medical attention in 2009 for the symptoms: a pulmonologist at Duke University who scoped Manley’s lung spotted a plastic part with the word “hamburgers” embossed on it, typical of Wendy's "old-fashioned hamburgers" slogan. The object was removed and Manley’s symptoms resolved.

All images courtesy of iStock.

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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images
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5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:

1. ELVIS’S NUNCHUCKS

Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.

2. PRINCE’S GUITAR

A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.

3. KURT COBAIN’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.

4. MICHAEL JACKSON’S WHITE GLOVE

A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.

5. WOOD FROM ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS

A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
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An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.

1. BEZOARS

Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?

2. MITHRIDATES

This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.

3. HORNS

An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.

4. PEARLS

Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.

5. THERIAC

Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.

BONUS: WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS

Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.

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