- Emergency physicians have found a range of strange objects inside their patients.
- Patients have come to the ER after swallowing toothbrushes, lightbulbs, and kitchen utensils.
- Doctors will often let swallowed items pass the natural way, unless there’s a risk of internal injury.
Part of being an emergency physician is pulling foreign objects out of patients and deciding when to let things pass the natural way.
Sometimes, even seemingly dangerous items can pass through a patient’s stool — one woman swallowed an entire box of nails and they made their way out “just fine,” Charles Pattavina, an emergency physician in Maine, told Insider.
The most commonly swallowed objects seen in medical settings are coins, which may be accidentally ingested by children and often pass without a problem, according to pediatricians at Mayo Clinic.
Items like button batteries and razor blades are far more dangerous if swallowed, as they pose a risk of internal injury. The small, round batteries can burn a hole in the esophagus if not removed promptly, while sharp blades could slice open the digestive tract.
Swallowing regular batteries isn’t a great idea, either — a teenager who kept swallowing AA batteries eventually amassed a small pile and needed gastrointestinal surgery to remove them, emergency physician Valerie Roth told Insider.
Here are some of the strangest things emergency-room doctors have seen swallowed by patients, and how they got them out.
One patient accidentally swallowed her toothbrush
Torree McGowan, an emergency physician in Oregon, told Insider she once saw a patient who gagged on her toothbrush and accidentally swallowed it.
The toothbrush was lodged too deep down for the emergency team to pull it out, so McGowan said she ended up calling a gastrointestinal doctor to help with the removal.
Toothbrush ingestion may require surgical retrieval — either by cutting into the stomach or inserting a small tube down the throat to pull the brush out.
A young boy swallowed a single Christmas light
In a more festive tale from the ER, McGowan said one of her favorite holiday X-rays came from an elementary school-aged kid who swallowed a tiny light bulb.
The young boy was chewing on a bulb from the Christmas tree lights when he accidentally swallowed it, she said.
“When I confirmed with an X-ray and told his mom, she rolled her eyes and said, ‘Again?!'” McGowan wrote in an email to Insider. “Apparently he had swallowed several foreign bodies in the past.”
The bulb passed on its own, and McGowan still has the scans to this day.
“If you look closely, on his X-ray, it looks like the small bowel has a great idea,” she said.
A prisoner swallowed dozens of metal utensils
People in prison are more likely to swallow foreign objects on purpose compared to the general population, according to a medical review published in 2015.
Prisoners who intentionally swallow objects typically do so repeatedly, and often escalate both the frequency and number of items ingested.
For instance, one patient who was in prison for many years had a habit of swallowing eating utensils — both metal and plastic — according to Kathleen Clem, an emergency physician in New Hampshire.
Clem said the individual was brought to the hospital more than a dozen times for the removal of forks and spoons that he swallowed on purpose. The prisoner needed to have an endoscopy or surgery each time.
A woman ‘felt like she was crazy’ until doctors pulled a sprig of rosemary out of her throat
Valerie Roth, an emergency physician in Illinois, told Insider she pulled a tiny piece of rosemary out of a woman’s throat while she was awake.
The woman had visited the emergency department because she “felt like she was crazy” after eating lunch and feeling like something was stuck, Roth said. It turned out a sprig of rosemary got stuck on her tonsil.
“Somehow the pointed end lodged perfectly to look like a little tree growing in the back of her mouth,” Roth said.
Roth used forceps to remove the rosemary without bleeding or damage to the tonsil.
A woman swallowed a spider after drinking Kool Aid
At least the previous patient’s tonsil tickle was just a sprig of herbs.
Puneet Gupta, an emergency physician in Los Angeles, said he once pulled a live spider out of his patient’s throat.
“I had a patient who felt scratching in her throat after drinking some Kool Aid,” he wrote in an email to Insider. “I look back there and a little spider is clinging for his life on a tonsil!”