When a patient shows up at a hospital with severe abdominal pain and an ultrasound reveals a mass in his stomach, it’s only logical to think first of a tumor, perhaps cancer.
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 the patient up. They found exactly 28 knives, just like the man said.
Although some of the knives were folded up, some were not. With the knives’ 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 found an additional 12 knives, bringing the total to 40.
They, too, were extracted in what became a five-hour surgery.
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 in the United States. In fact, pica is on the rise, according to Psychology Today, which reported on it in 2009, noting that:
Pica gets its name from the Latin word for magpie. Magpies eat just about anything, but humans who eat nonfoods are choosier. The compulsion usually focuses on a single item. Doctors have operated on people whose intestines were blocked with nuts, bolts, or screws. People who regularly consume twigs, newsprint, or bathroom deodorizers are not as rare as you might guess.
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, “the number of hospital stays for patients with pica increased from 964 to 1,862 during the decade up to 2009, and there was an overall increase of nearly 25 percent in cases of eating disorders.”
“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 the list of nonedible 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.
The man told the surgeons, ” ‘I will not do it in the future.’ “