Don’t you just hate it when you accidentally swallow your cell phone right when you need to make a call? Yeah, me too. That really happened to an unfortunate Irishman, according to a new report in the International Journal of Surgery Case Reports. And the challenges doctors faced removing the mobile device might be cause to rethink the conventional strategies for dealing with similar cases in the future.

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It all started when a 29-year-old male prisoner was brought to the ER of the Adelaide and Meath Hospital in Dublin. He’d been vomiting for four hours after swallowing his cell phone six hours earlier. No, I have no idea how he got it down his esophagus in the first place. And yes, as one might expect, the case report notes the young man “had complex psycho-social issues.” A chest X-ray confirmed that the man was telling the truth:

All images: O. Obinwa et al./International Journal of Surgery Case Reports

Other than that, the guy was fine, so the doctors decided to admit him and just wait for the phone to pass through his digestive tract—painful though the prospect of passing a cell phone through one’s rectum might be. But after 18 hours, the phone hadn’t budged: it was still in the patient’s stomach, and nowhere close to passing into the small intestine to begin snaking its way through the digestive tract. And that meant surgery was in order.

The first option is usually to try minimally invasive surgery, in this case attempting to insert instruments down the esophagus to grasp the foreign object and pull it out. It didn’t work, because surgeons couldn’t get the cell phone into the correct alignment. Forcing the issue would have damaged the esophagus.

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So they opted for a more invasive approach, making larger incisions in the abdominal wall and yanking the phone out with forceps—kind of like a caesarean section. Then they stitched the patient back up and kept him under observation for a few days.

By day six, the patient’s gastrointestinal function seemed normal, and after a psychiatric evaluation, he was discharged.

So it all turned out okay in the end. The moral of the story, per the case report’s authors, is that it might be wise to revisit standard procedure when it comes to trying the minimally invasive option first—if someone swallows a cell phone, it’s probably more efficient to go right to surgery. Alternatively, perhaps it’s time to improve the design of the various instruments used for retrieval of foreign objects so that it’s easier to manipulate those foreign objects into the optimal position for removal.

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Of course, it would be nice if people would stop doing stupid things like swallowing their damned cell phones, but that’s probably too much to hope for.

[Improbable Research]