Earlier this month, news broke that a doctor found a 28-year-old contact lens lodged in a female patient’s eyelid. According to reports, the lens was implanted during a badminton accident and had since caused the patient’s eyelid to droop. Surprisingly, that seems to have been the only side effect — the patient experienced no pain, swelling, or infection.
This made us wonder — what OTHER objects have doctors unearthed in patients’ bodies, and how did they get there in the first place? We reached out to the American College of Emergency Physicians, which connected us with ER doctors from around the country. Their foreign-body-removal stories are below.
“This was a guy, and this was about 10 years ago now, approximately 50-year-old male, came to the emergency room and his chief complaint was, ‘I have a candle in my rectum.’ Which I initially thought was a joke. I go to talk to him, and he explains this is one of the only ways he’s able to get sexually stimulated. So he described to me the candle, which was at least three inches around and maybe four. It wasn’t like a candle stick, but a big, fat candle about a foot long. I don’t know how he even got it inside himself. It didn’t make any sense. But I gave him an X-ray, and sure enough, you can see the candle on the X-ray.
Typically, when I try to remove rectal foreign bodies, I put the patient under a lot of sedation using propofol, which is a profound muscle relaxant, which is what you need to really get your hand up inside the rectum. So I get my hand up in there, and I can feel the candle. The problem is, being inside your body, where it’s 98.6 degrees, the candle becomes very malleable and soft. So I’m trying to grab it using a couple instruments, and I was able to dilate the anus and see it, and I tried to grab it with a speculum, which is really designed for the cervix, but I would get a grip on it with that, and it would just kind of pull through the wax. I tried everything I could, but eventually I gave up. So then they have to go to the operating room, and the surgeon either has to go through their abdomen and open up the bowels, or they have to actually cut through the anus muscle and remove the body that way, and then repair the anus. So there’s a couple different options. I don’t remember now which way the surgeon removed it.” —Dr. Eric Ketcham
“Even though dental extractions are ‘outside the scope of practice’ of an emergency physician, I have removed a tooth from a patient, but from his ear. —Dr. Bob Sanders
“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I took care of a middle-aged couple at 3 a.m. They both had sheepish looks on their faces. Apparently, it was the wife’s 50th birthday, and one thing had led to another and one of the birthday candles — you know, the little spiral ones that you put on the cake — ended up inside her urethra. Google it if you can’t picture it. Apparently, there was some red wine involved with this birthday celebration. In any case, the husband panicked when he lost possession of said candle. In the end (pardon the pun), I was able to retrieve said candle, and the couple was on their way.” —Dr. L
“Patient arrived by helicopter, walking, talking, and smiling with an arrow through his chest. The back end or feather was sticking out his front, and the front (pointed) end was sticking out his back. Allegedly an accident, the source was a friend’s crossbow while they were out hunting. The arrow went through his heart and lungs and was removed in the OR.” —Anonymous
“Many years ago in the ED where I was working, we saw a young child who was sent in because she had an off-white, segmented something sticking out of her bottom — apparently a worm of some sort. The chief of pediatric surgery had already been summoned, and he sent instructions that nobody should attempt to remove the worm until his arrival. Eventually, a hushed and crowded room full of physicians watched as the chief of pediatric surgery gently removed … a plastic lizard the child had swallowed the day before. Much chagrin, and a happy ending.” —Dr. Eric Lavonas
“A patient had an infection in his penis because he had cut one of the metal foreign bodies [he’d previously inserted] out himself. The penis was swollen despite being on antibiotics, so we had him admitted. He was pretty nonchalant about it all. As I examined him, he had at least 10 to 12 of these small foreign bodies in his foreskin. When I asked him, he just shrugged and said it was just something he liked to do. We had him admitted to the hospital and he had to have them removed by surgery. The skin had grown over the foreign bodies. They were a mix of metal and nonmetallic things. Turns out this is a somewhat common practice in prisons.” —Dr. Nicholas Vasquez
“While an attending [ER physician], we received a patient who fell on a glass table causing it to break. He had multiple cuts, and on the chest X-ray we could see a triangular piece of glass in the lower chest field. We found a wound on his back we thought corresponded. I let the resident remove the shard of glass. Were we surprised when he pulled out a piece the length of the Mayo stand [a metal tray often used to hold surgical instruments], well over a foot long. Repeat chest X-ray was clear. Whew.” —Dr. Kathy Hall-Boyer
“Other than coke bottles removed from the rectum, I have removed tapeworms, jewelry, coins and paper bills, iPhones, tampons, dildos, miniature dolls, and stuffed animals (bears). Some of these were also vaginal. The patients were generally embarrassed, but some stated that they had done it before. I also had an older woman with ear pain and hearing loss for a few years. She thought the cause was wax, but on exam I found a plastic cap from a hearing aid along with ear wax that accumulated. Needless to say, she was relieved to not only hear better, but also ecstatic I found the missing cap!” —Dr. Rob Glatter
“One patient came in for lower abdomen pain. She was in her mid-30s. I did a pelvic exam, and found a foreign body during it. I retrieved it and saw it was a quarter. I told the patient, and her comment was, “Wow, so that’s where it went!!!” I was dumbfounded, as was the nurse, and then the patient stated she was playing quarters while in college and they could not account for a quarter. To this day I am still trying to figure that one out. Sounds unbelievable, but it happened.” —Dr. Juan Fitz