Talk about a bad case of indigestion.
One Rhode Island hospital has spent more than $2 million in the past eight years removing foreign objects -- including knives, batteries and bedsprings -- from the bodies of patients who swallowed them on purpose.
That’s according to Dr. Steven F. Moss, a gastroenterologist who counted 305 cases of intentional consumption of odd objects at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence between 2001 and 2009. Moss decided to study the issue after noticing a peculiar trend.
“We have patients swallowing things almost every week or two,” said Moss, whose findings are published in the latest issue of the journal Clinical Gasroenterology and Hepatology. “We’re a pretty busy clinical service and the last thing we need is to spend a lot of time taking these things out.”
It’s not clear why so many patients showed up after swallowing objects that included teaspoons, toothbrushes and razor blades, Moss said. He doesn’t think there’s anything strange about the local region that would contribute to it, and, besides, a hospital in Los Angeles reported similar findings in 2008.
What is clear is that nearly 80 percent of the 33 people in the study who consumed foreign objects suffered from psychiatric disorders. Most were either prisoners or patients in a local psychiatric hospital. And even many of those who came from home settings were suffering from severe mental illness, Moss said. One mentally ill patient was responsible for 67 separate swallowing incidents.
Most of the patients were aware enough to know what they were doing and some were manipulative, Moss said. For prisoners, a trip to the hospital can be a chance to escape. Mentally ill patients sometimes swallow objects to ensure a change of scenery.
The tough part, Moss said, is getting the objects out. He and other doctors had to use complicated endoscopy tools, including snares, nets and rat-toothed forceps to do the job. Fortunately, only two cases required surgery and there were no deaths or serious injuries.
Still, the problem continues to confound Moss and others.
“We haven’t really come up with a good way to prevent people from doing it,” he said.
Many of the patients seem to be compelled to swallow things and will often awaken from anesthesia only to try to ingest nearby medical supplies. One patient managed to swallow something even while being watched by two guards in an acute care hospital.
The obvious answer of getting rid of objects too small to swallow doesn’t always work, Moss said. Eventually, you have to give a person a toothbrush. And many of the patients become psychologically stable enough to be discharged.
“Once he’s out,” Moss said, “he’ll do whatever he wants."
Want more weird health news? Find The Body Odd on Facebook.