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A Man Drunkenly Swallowed A Live Spiky Catfish. It Did Not End Well


Rachel Baxter

Copy Editor & Staff Writer


The 5-centimeter bronze catfish in question. Its skeleton can now be found in the Natural History Museum Rotterdam's 'Dead Animal Tales' exhibit. Benoist et al, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Ever gotten home from a night out and thought "what I fancy right now is a few tasty live fish to sober me up"? No? Me neither. Still, a group of drunk men in the Netherlands thought it was a great idea. After a night of booze and drugs, they decided to down live fish from their aquarium. And one little fishy didn’t go down without a fight.

Writing in Acta Oto-Laryngologica Case Reports, doctors from the University Medical Center in Rotterdam tell the tale of an intoxicated 28-year-old man who “got a surprise” when he attempted to swallow a prickly catfish. He was apparently inspired by the TV show Jackass, leading to the case report’s excellent title “A jackass and a fish.”  


The unnamed man and his friends had been drinking beer and taking ecstasy, and decided to swallow some of their unsuspecting, and very much alive, pet goldfish. These smooth-scaled creatures slipped down swimmingly, but a spikey bronze catfish (Corydoras aeneus) did not.  

Quite rightly alarmed by the fact it was being swallowed, the fish defensively stuck out its sharp spines and lodged itself in the man’s throat. Then, “after several hours of unsuccessful self-applied treatment with more beer, honey and ice cream,” he finally sought medical help.

Doctors spotted a "fish-like structure" in the man's throat. Benoist et al, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

He arrived at the hospital clutching a two-minute home video of what had happened. Succinctly summed up by the case report’s authors, here’s a blow-by-blow account of what the video entailed:

“Drinking and shouting [“grote vis, grote vis!” (“big fish, big fish!”)]; person A drinks from a glass containing clear water and a live fish; person A spits out water and fish, catches fish in his hands and throws fish on table; fish flounders in distress on table; agonised fish handed over by person B to patient; patient gulps beer from bottle and subsequently engulfs the fish; patient unable to drink more beer as fish apparently got stuck in his throat; patient gags vigorously; patient clearly in distress, vomits liquids; patient in extreme distress, uses two fingers to induce gag reflex, but apparently fish remains stuck; person C administers wrongly applied Heimlich manoeuvre; patient still gagging; patient spews blood in bucket.”


Peering down his throat, the doctors spotted what they describe as a 5-centimeter (2-inch) “fish-like structure”. Luckily, through surgery, they managed to remove it, but a CT scan two days later showed that part of the fish was still embedded in the patient’s throat, so a second procedure was required. Following two weeks on antibiotics, the man recovered successfully.  

Here you can see the fish trapped in the patient's throat. Benoist et al, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

The unfortunate fish was examined by scientists at the Natural History Museum Rotterdam, where it now rests in peace as part of the Dead Animal Tales exhibition. The exhibition aims to show that when animals and humans collide, there are often “dramatic consequences for both parties.”

As the authors note in their report, “this case illustrates how a reckless drinking game, imitating Jackass and/or A Fish Called Wanda, can turn into a dangerous and critical medical situation with serious consequences.”

Don’t drink fish, kids.


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