Many have heard the Timex slogan “takes a licking and keeps on ticking,” but how about a pen lodged in a woman’s stomach for 25 years that still works. The unusual case, which was published in the British Medical Journal, described a 76- year-old British woman sent to a gastroenterologist because of weight loss and diarrhea.
She was diagnosed with severe diverticulosis, a condition that is common in older people in which small pockets bulge out from the colon. However, when she underwent a computed tomography (CT) scan, the radiologist noted a strange image: “a linear foreign body in the stomach.”
When she was informed of the CT findings, the woman remembered accidentally swallowing a black felt-tip pen 25 years earlier. According to Dr. Oliver Waters, her gastroenterologist and author of the case report, she was standing on her stairs using an uncapped pen to poke a spot on her tonsils. She was also holding a hand mirror to guide the pen to the exact spot. Somehow, while doing this, she lost her balance and stumbled. The fall managed to push the pen down her throat. It glided down her esophagus and dropped into her stomach.
She informed both her husband and her physician about what had occurred; however, they were skeptical of her story. X-rays done at the time were normal and found did not image the pen. Twenty-five years later, when she underwent a superior imaging procedure, a CT scan, the swallowed pen was found in her stomach.
Although the woman’s current intestinal problems had nothing to do with the swallowed marker, her physicians decided to remove it. Their reasoning was supported by a case in the medical literature: a child accidentally swallowing a ball-point pen, which penetrated the wall of his intestines.
Amazingly, the pen, which had resided in her stomach for more than two decades, did not cause her any discernible damage to her stomach. After a 25-year exposure to stomach acid, the pen was corroded and the plastic was flaky; however, the pen still contained usable ink and could write,
This case highlights the fact that a normal X-ray may not mage plastic objects. It also points out that a physician should take a patient’s description of an event seriously. Most likely, the woman checked for the pen while performing her “daily duty.” I am reminded of a case where a child swallowed a bobby pin. Her conscientious mother checked for it on a daily basis. After several days, the bobby pin was found.