Death by Ass Eel (not) Debunked

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.

swamp eel.jpg

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.

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A similar case is in fact the Medical Literature:

Siu Fai Lo, Sin Hang Wong, Lok Sang Leung, In Chak Law, Andrew Wai Chun Yip, Traumatic rectal perforation by an eel, Surgery, Volume 135, Issue 1, January 2004, Pages 110-111

Chinese newspapers have been known to republish old stories, sometimes with details revised or added, so I'm curious to know if this new case is really not just a retelling of this (apparently legit) story from a few years back.

Also I'm guessing the "consumed the man's bowels" line is likely a mistranslation - "punctured" or "perforated" might easily be transformed to "consumed." The teeth of Synbranchids are very small. But who knows?

Dr. Tchreiber's explanations are interesting to contemplate...and pretty horrifying.

This is just basic materials science - The process exceeded his eelasstic limit.

As amusing as this entire situation is - the funniest part for me was the last bit in the "Practical Fishkeeping" version where they talk about past occurances and mention a person who had an eel go into their penis while he was "holding the fish in his hand, while simultaneously urinating and maintaining his aquarium."

I would love to see how someone holds an eel and urines while maintaining an aquarium ...

Lauren - sounds like another Saturday night at the Bleiman house

Chinese newspapers have been known to republish old stories, sometimes with details revised or added, so I'm curious to know if this new case is really not just a retelling of this (apparently legit) story from a few years back.

Also I'm guessing the "consumed the man's bowels" line is likely a mistranslation - "punctured" or "perforated" might easily be transformed to "consumed." The teeth of Synbranchids are very small. But who knows?

evve As amusing as this entire situation is - the funniest part for me was the last bit in the "Practical Fishkeeping" version where they talk about past occurances and mention a person who had an eel go into their penis while he was "holding the fish in his hand, while simultaneously urinating and maintaining his aquarium."

I would love to see how someone holds an eel and urines while maintaining an aquarium ...

Swamp eels do not have much in the way of dentition, they don't bite in defense, and to be honest I would expect the eel was dead to begin with anyway - live eels are extremely difficult to handle, and this will have been hard enough even without having the eel struggling to avoid its grim fate.

However, imagine the amount of violence and force needed to force an eel up someones rectum. They'll likely have had to use some sort of tool to open the sphincter to get the eel in. I think his friends inadvertently killed him, while the eel was just an innocent and extremely unfortunate prop.

evve They'll likely have had to use some sort of tool to open the sphincter to get the eel in. I think his friends inadvertently killed him, while the eel was just an innocent and extremely unfortunate prop.This is just basic materials science - The process exceeded his eelasstic limit.Chinese newspapers have been known to republish old stories, sometimes with details revised or added, so I'm curious to know if this new case is really not just a retelling of this (apparently legit) story from a few years back.nakliyat