Chandigarh: When a patient shows up at a hospital with severe abdominal pain and ultrasound reveals a mass in his stomach, it’s only logical to think first of a tumor, perhaps cancer.
And that’s just what surgeons at Amritsar Corporate Hospital in India at first assumed, according to a hospital news release. But then they put a camera down his stomach Friday “and saw a very different kind of thing,” Jatinder Malholtra, the chief surgeon, told The Washington Post.
So different was it – they had never seen such a sight – that they did a CT scan to confirm what they saw, as it simply defied belief. And they found not just one of these things but many of them.
The things were knives, pocket knives, each about seven inches long. “In 20 years, I’ve never seen such a patient,” Malholtra said in an interview. “I was amazed.” “We asked the patient whether he had consumed these knives in a few days or a few months,” said Malholtra. “He said he had taken 28 in number in the last two months.”
The scan did indeed show 28 knives inside. A team of five surgeons opened him up. They found exactly 28 knives, just like the man said. But while some of the knives were folded up, some were not. Their blades exposed, the man was bleeding profusely, said Malholtra. He could not have survived much longer, he added.
The surgeons carefully removed each of the 28. But “we were not satisfied,” Malholtra said. Perhaps the man, a 42-year-old police officer, had miscalculated. Perhaps his appetite for knives was greater than even he knew. Perhaps he had lost count. After all, a man who eats knives is not normal, perhaps not of sound mind, never mind his body.
They did another scan in the operating theater and sure enough, found another 12, bringing the total to 40. They too were extracted. Why would a man swallow any knives, let alone 40? “This was the big question,” said Malholtra. “But the answer was very erratic.” The man simply said “‘I have made my mind to take the knives. I don’t know why. Impulse.’ They were taken on impulse only.”
Did the man have a mental problem? That “seems to be,” said Malholtra. But otherwise “he’s very much a normal man.” In fact, there is a condition called Pica, once described in the Journal of the American Board of Medicine, as “common, but commonly missed.”
Pica, said the article. “is the compulsive eating of nonnutritive substances and can have serious medical implications. Although it has been described since antiquity, there has been no single agreed-upon explanation of the cause of such behavior.”
But there’s been a number of cases reported. “Pica,” reports WebMD is an eating disorder that is characterized by the repeated eating of non-nutritive substances over a period of one month or longer. Patients may eat nonedible objects such as paint, plaster, dirt, ice, or laundry starch. Pica generally affects small children, pregnant women, and people whose cultural environment is most compatible with the eating of non-food items.”
Metal is not to be forgotten on list of non-edible edibles. Probing a little deeper led to this 2012 CBS article: “Michael Lotito: The Man Who Ate An Airplane And Everything Else”
“Michel Lotito, better known as ‘Monsieur Mangetout,’ which appropriately translates to ‘Mr. Eats All,’ has certainly lived up to his nickname. The Frenchman has eaten everything from bicycles (including the spokes) to an entire Cessna 150 airplane. Between 1959 and 1997, he ate an estimated nine tons of metal. That’s right, nine tons.
“Lotito suffered from Pica, which is a medical condition that causes cravings to eat such things as dirt, glass and, apparently, anything metal. The disorder, as you might guess, can lead to a blocked intestine and other surgical emergencies in normal people. Lead poisoning is also a risk.”
Perhaps a further study of the police officer from India who ate 40 knives will shed more light on Pica. But Malholtra will be happy to never see him again, at least not in that condition. Indeed, the man told the surgeons “‘I will not do it in the future.'”
The Washington Post