So a week back or so, a number of friends read an article about death by rectal eel and immediately thought of me. For those of you who missed the story, it went a little something like this:
* Chinese man gets drunk with friends and passes out
* Friends think it would be hilarious to insert a large living swamp eel into the man’s butt while he is unconscious
* Hilarity does not ensue. In fact, the man dies. Chinese doctor says the eel “consumed the man’s bowels”
The article was widely reported in major news outlets like CNN and the Times, but I am linking instead to the UK edition of Practical Fishkeeping. Like the other articles, it is a cautionary tale about the dangers of combining booze, Chinese people and eels. However, also like the other articles, it is suspiciously short on detail.
Well I, for one, was skeptical. #1 Wouldn’t there be a near total lack of dissolved oxygen in aqueous solution in your intestines? #2 Wouldn’t it be challenging for an eel to open its jaws in there? Realizing that I was a bit out of my depth, I shared these concerns with two doctors who know a thing or two about a man’s bowels. I would like to share the thoughts of one in particular who we will call “Saylor Tchreiber” to protect his reputation:
First of all, thank you for adding a solid dose of hilarity to what has otherwise been, a fairly mundane Monday.
Assuming that these ‘friends’ were actually able to wriggle the eel through the poor guys a-hole, it is technically possible that this eel could have caused the death of this person…though probably not as stated, and the process would likely have been more sensational than it sounded in the article.
First of all, the wall of the intestine itself is quite elastic, so there would be plenty of room for the eel to open it’s mouth and bite the mans intestine. Second, the intestine is constantly turning back and forth on itself, so it would likely be the case that the eel could have bit through one of the many in-foldings of the intestine, thus leading to the intestinal contents spilling into the peritoneal cavity. Once this barrier was breached, the eel would find itself in an acqueous environment, low, but not devoid, in oxygen. This whole process would be INTENSELY painful, and I find it unlikely that someone even in the utmost depths of a drunken stupor would not have awoken. The article gives no time-frame to the death, but were the eel to sever one of the major arteries passing through the peritoneal cavity, it is possible that he could have died due to a massive internal hemorrhage. This would have occurred quite quickly. A much longer, more miserable, and unlikely possibility is that the eel may have eventually died within the guy, but that the combination of bacteria, physical trauma and blood loss within the peritoneal cavity would have provided an environment ripe for developing sepsis.
On the other hand, a search for medical case studies describing any medical case involving (eel AND intestine) does not bring up any hits whatsoever….I’ll make sure to write it up should I ever be given the opportunity…
So there you have it. Sometimes death by anal swamp eel is really just what it sounds like.