When you’re a kid, you want to investigate pretty much everything you can by any means available. You’re a curiosity powerhouse, poking around at things, chewing on others, and sometimes trying to eat stuff. According to an extraordinary case study, published in BMJ Case Reports, one particular four-year-old in Saudi Arabia decided to “investigate” a bobby pin by swallowing it, which went on a strange adventure through his body and ended up piercing his kidney.
By the time his parents brought him to the medical center at KAMC-JD, National Guard Health Affairs in Jeddah, they informed doctors that he had been suffering sharp pain in the upper right section of his abdomen for around three months, and he’d also been experiencing a fever and chills. They informed the staff there that one doctor previously diagnosed the boy with a urinary tract infection (UTI) and gave him antibiotics, but the boy’s condition had barely improved after he finished the course of medicine.
After being admitted to another medical facility, an X-ray revealed the true cause of his abdominal woes: A bobby pin appeared to be lodged into an area in his abdomen. Caught red-handed with evidence of his digestion-based error, the child confessed in front of his bemused parents that he had indeed swallowed the hair clip.
At KAMC-JD, a CT scan revealed the precise location of the pin: It was lodged in his right kidney. Curiously, he ate the bobby pin about a month before he began showing symptoms, suggesting that the small accessory went on quite the journey around his digestive system before reaching his right kidney.
The ends of the pin had reacted with the alternatively acidic and alkaline digestive fluids within the boy’s body, causing it to rust and become incredibly sharp. The two-inch-long pin managed to get as far as the upper section of the small intestine – the duodenum – before getting stuck. The sharp end pierced it, reaching through and spearing the right kidney.
A specialist registrar at Charing Cross Hospital, London (who wished to remain anonymous) told IFLScience that the case was particularly unusual. "The kidney is quite far back in the abdomen, so the pin must have been pushed out by the natural rhythmic movement of the gut at a very weird angle."
Kids frequently turn up in hospital wards after swallowing objects, including small magnets. One on its own would pass through the digestive tract, but two will try and pull towards each other and potentially rip through parts of the intestine. Perhaps most oddly, a 16-month-old boy in Saudi Arabia earlier this year managed to swallow his sister’s Spongebob Squarepants toy, with his big grin and his tongue sticking out viewable on the X-ray.
After a successful operation to remove the pin, the boy has made a full recovery without any further complications. "The perforation (tear) would have been quite small, so I'm not surprised that he turned out fine; these things normally seal themselves," the registrar added.
Image credit: The full abdominal X-ray. BMJ 2015