Warning: this article contains graphic medical images
Here’s a reminder to always double-check the label on the bottle of pills you keep by the sink.
A 65-year-old man in Switzerland was suffering from a headache so decided to take a few painkillers, as you do. Unbeknownst to him, he had actually picked up a bottle of sodium hydroxide tablets and proceeded to knock back a pellet of highly corrosive cleaning agent.
Sodium hydroxide, sometimes called lye, can only be ingested if it’s of a certified food-friendly quality. However, in high concentrations, this highly alkaline agent can lead to severe chemical burns by decomposing proteins and lipids in living tissue.
As reported in BMJ Case Reports, the man noted an “immediate burning sensation” in his throat after he swallowed the tablet and begun to violently cough. Fortunately, this coughing managed to spit up part of the tablet. Nevertheless, he required immediate medical attention.
Within an hour of his near-fatal blunder, he was at Geneva University Hospital in Switzerland, where he was monitored. His vital signs appeared to be remarkably normal, despite his mounting discomfort. However, over the next few hours, the situation went from bad to worse and an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist noticed his trachea was showing signs of necrosis, the mass death of cells within a tissue. He also lost the ability to speak as the pain in his throat grew.
“I was drowsy, my throat was painful and I could not really talk any more,” the patient said. “Much later, an ENT finally came to examine me again: he left quickly and returned with four or five doctors in green clothes.”
“I remember that I needed to urinate but it was denied to me because ‘there was no time’. I don’t have any more memories from this moment and until I got out of coma weeks later.”
Doctors were forced to give the man a tracheotomy, a procedure whereby a hole is bored through the neck into the trachea to allow air into the windpipe. He stayed in this condition in intensive care for two weeks. Eventually, the tracheotomy pipe was removed and he was allowed to start his transition from liquid food to solid food. One month later, the man appeared to be recovering well, hopefully, wiser from the experience.
The moral of the story, according to the doctors: Keep corrosive cleaning products in different place to your medicine.
In another recent bizarre medical case study, a man in Australia became so constipated his fecal matter gave him paralysis in one of his legs.