You never really know who -- or what -- you're going to find in an emergency room. One night it could be a couple of people with chest pains. The next day, it could be populated with a slew of folks suffering from a severe respiratory infection. Most of the time it's a mix. Cardiovascular problems, diabetes complications, injuries from falls and accidents, psychological disorders and varying infections are behind most emergency room visits [source: Elixhauser et al].
These, of course, are serious conditions in need of immediate attention, but as far as ER excursions go, they're pretty run-of-the-mill. Every now and then, however, things get bizarre. People show up with foreign bodies in unusual places, and suddenly the ER more closely resembles the afterlife waiting room in the movie "Beetlejuice" than it does an actual clinical setting.
A recent survey of American emergency department visits showed that more than 500,000 people who visited ERs had foreign body-related diagnoses [source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. Some of the objects people have had removed are odd. From a swallowed cutlery set to a cell phone shoved up a rectum, there seem to be no reasonable explanations for some cases [source: Daily Cognition]. However, many accidents involving foreign objects are more common than you might think, and the patients involved run the gamut from infants to the elderly. Basically, anyone is at risk of having an accident where an object gets stuck in the skin, eyes, ears, throat, nose or … elsewhere. To learn more about the freakish possibilities, keep reading for the most common places on the body for an ER extraction.
Eyebrows and eyelashes aren't just adornments to be groomed and made up; they're meant to protect the delicate, exposed organs on our faces -- our eyes. Sometimes, however, they fail.
It's inevitable that people will get things in their eyes. Many of the objects that end up there are irritating, but minor -- like dirt and sand. Others, such as pencils, pocketknives and fishhooks, are painful to even read about. Then there are the ones that are truly unusual -- chopsticks, a fish jaw and a faucet handle, for example [source: Wasfi et al].
While the eyes are particularly vulnerable to small debris that floats in the air, they can also make contact with an object when a person falls against something or has something thrown in his or her direction. These kinds of accidents can occur in a variety of situations. Often, people get objects stuck in their eyes when they're on the job. A Massachusetts survey of work-related emergency department visits found that in a year's time, more than 3,000 workers went to the ER because of a foreign body in the eye [source: Massachusetts Department of Public Health].
Debris can usually be washed away without requiring a trip to the ER, but any object that penetrates the surface of the eye should be removed immediately by a health care professional.
On the next page, we'll take a look at objects that get stuck in other areas of the face and head.
A wide variety of objects can get stuck in an ear or throat, or up a nose. But there's something they tend to have in common: They're usually put there by a child. Children are notorious for seeing what they can get in one of these three orifices. Often, this experimentation involves toys. For instance, balloons are extremely common causes of choking in children [source: Home Safety Council]. But kids are curious creatures, and that means anything and everything is a possible candidate for bodily insertion. The list of items children have shoved in their ears, noses or mouths is a long one, and includes buttons, batteries, marbles, jewelry, coins, safety pins, hair pins, toothpicks, beads, crayons, ball bearings, stones, staples, computer parts and more.
In addition, food can get stuck in a child's airway. Around 19 percent of kids under age 15 who are taken to an ER with a choking emergency have candy caught in their throats [source: Home Safety Council]. Items like bones, popcorn kernels and raisins are also common culprits. Adults aren't exempt, but about 90 percent of deaths caused by foreign objects occur in children under 5 years of age [source: B.E. CPR].
Often, things children swallow will eventually pass through their systems. And an adult with a clean, steady hand or a pair of tweezers can usually remove items from ears and nasal passages. However, if something is lodged in a person's throat and making breathing difficult, an emergency room visit -- or ambulance -- is recommended. In addition, objects that are toxic (such as batteries) or sharp need to be removed by a doctor so that they don't poison or do damage to the digestive system. Anyone with objects too far in their ear or up their nose to reach should also go to an ER. Items not removed immediately can cause infections.
Keep reading to learn about items removed from the human body's largest organ.
A car wreck victim is rushed into the ER with a shard of glass lodged in her chest. A young man arrives with a bullet in his leg. Another man has a nail piercing his arm.
These kinds of incidents happen every day in emergency rooms across the country. The skin is the body's largest organ, so it's a pretty big target for flying objects and those that are deliberately placed, shot or inserted. And once an item has penetrated the skin, it can make its way to other organs, like the brain or lungs.
Often, when an object gets lodged in a person's skin (or through the skin to another organ) it's because of a car accident or an attack by another person. For example, it's not uncommon for people to show up to an ER with knife blades stuck in their skin [source: Sobnach, et al]. And a Colorado boy actually had a BB successfully removed from his brain [source: CBS News].
Gruesome accidents on the job can also land someone in the emergency room. Nails shot out of nail guns are frequently removed from ER patients [source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].
A lot of people would prefer having an object stuck almost anywhere other than the next locations.
"Every proctologist story ends in the same way: 'It was a million to one shot, doc. Million to one.'"
In a Seinfeld episode called "The Fusilli Jerry," that was Kramer's take on people who inadvertently get objects stuck in their rectums. And it resembled Frank Costanza's reaction when, in that same episode, he landed bottom-first on a pasta figurine. While it's highly unlikely that many (if any) people wind up in the ER with fusilli pasta lodged in their rear ends, it's not that unusual for patients to arrive with other things stuck there.
Often, objects removed from the rectum involve things that were put there as part of a sexual act. Condoms and sex toys (and objects used to replicate sex toys) are top culprits. In women, the vagina is another body cavity where foreign objects sometimes find their way. Not only can the usual suspects, condoms and sex toys, get lost in there, but sometimes tampons and contraceptive devices (like diaphragms) get stuck, too.
A decidedly less sexy -- but more organic -- object that can require removal from the rectum by an ER doctor is stool. People with chronic constipation sometimes suffer from fecal impactment. In these cases, enemas don't always cure the problem, and a doctor must manually break up and remove the stool with his or her fingers.
As you'll also see on the next page, not everything that needs to be taken out of the body is a foreign object.
When you think of people showing up at the emergency room needing an object removed, you probably envision someone staggering in with a visible, manmade item -- such as a knife -- jutting from their body. In reality, some of the things most frequently taken out during ER visits are internal organs.
Appendicitis is one of the top reasons for an emergency room visit, and it almost always results in an appendectomy (the removal of the appendix, a vestigial organ that serves no obvious purpose in the human body, but can become dangerously inflamed).
Another common organ removal that often originates with an emergency medical visit is the gallbladder. Gallstones are the most common cause of abdominal pain in people who are admitted to an emergency room [source: University of Maryland Medical Center]. And in the case of an acute gallbladder attack, an emergency physician may recommend a cholecystectomy (surgical gallbladder removal).
Sometimes, however, it's not an organ that needs to be removed; it's a formation in the organ that's causing trouble. Kidney stones are notorious for sending people to the ER, and if they can't be passed easily, they may need to be removed surgically.
Want to learn more about what goes on in an emergency room? We have lots more information on the next page.
HowStuffWorks looks at the evolution of ambulance services and why the idea that they don't pick up people in some neighborhoods is incorrect.
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