You swallowed what? Tales from the ER

Los Angeles TimesNovember 30, 2010 

Most hospitals have their share of weird cases, but Rhode Island Hospital may win some kind of prize for having an abundance of patients who have intentionally swallowed things that were never meant to be put in one's mouth.

A study released last week in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology analyzed 305 cases over eight years of people intentionally ingesting foreign objects.

If you're at all squeamish, you should probably stop reading.

Down the hatch

The most common items swallowed were pens (whole or in parts), followed by batteries, knives, razor blades, other metal objects, pencils, toothbrushes, spoons and coins. Most of the objects were removed with snares, forceps and nets. Some objects passed through the body naturally, and in two cases the objects had to be surgically removed. Despite the number of sharp objects ingested, no deaths or perforations were reported.

Amazingly, all of these items were swallowed by only 33 patients. One of them was single-handedly responsible for 67 cases. More than half of the patients were residents of a state-run chronic psychiatric inpatient facility.

The study authors pegged the cost of removing all these foreign objects at $2 million, most of it paid by Medicare and Medicaid. The researchers also noted that recurring cases of intentional swallowing are "often resistant to treatment."

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