Field of Science

TMI Friday: The Grinch Syndrome

Last week, I blogged about the "Santa Claus" Syndrome. Taking inspiration from the "Worst ever Christmas story ever" from the "Gremlins" film, I clawed through the medical case literature to see whether there was any truth behind this story.
After much googling, I tracked down a paper entitled "The Santa Claus Syndrome", which appeared to answer all of my questions, but was locked behind a pay-wall. So I posted the awesome abstract of the paper and left it at that.
But I must have been a good little boy this year, because Santa* left me a present underneath my Christmas tree. A copy of the full paper !
So gather 'round children, you are in for a gruesome tale.

Our story begins with a 17 year old burglar who saw a tempting target of opportunity. It was in the early morning hours, the sun had not risen, and the store was empty. The doors were locked, but our enterprising thief noticed that the owners had left their chimney unguarded. I imagine a Grinch like smile crossing his face, and him rubbing his palms together. For he would not be going down that chimney to give presents, like Santa Claus. The plan was sheer elegance in its simplicity.

The paramedics found him fourteen hours later, jammed in the chimney, his hand caught in a heat vent.
You might be wondering what happens to someone when they get stuck in a chimney. I am here to give you the facts in all of their gory details.
They managed to get the burglar out of the chimney and he was immediately transported to a burns unit. His nostrils and tongue were coated with soot, and he had first and second degree burns all over his chest, abdomen and lower body. But it wasn't just the burns that were the problem for this young gentleman.
He was also covered in pressure sores. These occur at points on the body where bone is close to the surface of the skin (like your elbows, or your knees).  When you put pressure on these "bony prominences", the skin, the bone squeezes and tears at the body tissue it's pressing against.
 Effectively, the burglar's skin was been worn away, with the chimney acting as the pestle, and his very bones acting as the mortar.
The tissue around the burglars knee had already been severely damaged, and had become "Necrotic", and his hand had become infected and "gangrenous". But these weren't even his biggest problems.
His biggest problems was that there really wasn't much oxygen in that cramped chimney shaft. The oxygen levels in his blood were dangerously low. They intubated him, but his condition just kept getting worse.
He was soon suffering from "Acute respiratory distress", which happens to the cells of the lung that have suffered from so much injury that the immune system kicks into overdrive. In order to get as many immune cells as possible into the lungs, the blood vessels entering the lungs become "leaky". They leak fluid into the lungs as well as inflammatory cells, essentially flooding the lung. It's not unlike drowning.
The physicians prescribed steroids in the hope that they would bring this under control, as well as giving him antibiotics for his infection and intravenous fluid to keep him hydrated.
Yet it still got worse. The burns he had sustained, combined with the severe pressure sores and the gangrene had lead to his muscles breaking down. All muscles contain a compound known as myoglobin, which is like haemoglobin in that it stores oxygen, but only to be used for the muscles. Whilst it is useful, it is also very poisonous to the kidneys if a large amount of it enters the blood stream.
The burglars muscles had been damaged to the point that they were now leaking myoglobin into his blood, and his kidneys were now shutting down. The doctors put him on dialysis to take the pressure off the kidneys.
But his gangrene had now effectively "mummified" the patients hand, leaving it shrivelled, dried out and dead. The surgeons were forced to amputate his whole arm to prevent the spread of the gangrene.
Various parts of his "lower extremities" suffered from the burglar having been stuck so long in an upright position. The blood had flowed down to his legs under the pull of gravity, raising the pressure in his lower limbs, giving him "Compartment Syndrome".  The surgeons treated this by cutting the affected areas open so that the pressure can be relieved.
But all of this was for nought, because on the twelfth day after admission, the patient suffered from cardiac arrest and died.

The physicians who had attended this unfortunate ill fated burglar recognised that actually, people get stuck in chimneys more often than you would think. There were a number of cases reported in newspapers of people getting stuck in chimneys during burglaries, or in the process of performing pranks, many of them with fatal consequences. So the researchers devised the "Santa Claus Syndrome". These are series of specific symptoms for other physicians to watch out for if they need to treat someone who had been stuck in a chimney, so that they would have enough preparation to save their patient.
This paper was published in 1994 , and should have been a warning for us all. But housebreakers are still dying from getting stuck in chimneys.
It should be clear now that only Santa Claus is able to enter a chimney with his magic. The poor grinch is probably still stuck in some abandoned chimney in Whoville, legs swollen like melons,  skin crackling and popping from the heat, and desperately inhaling lungfuls of soot and ash.


Boglioli L. & Taff M. (1995). The Santa Claus Syndrome' Entrapment in Chimneys, Journal of Forensic Sciences, 40 (3) 499-500. DOI:
*or an interested reader of the blog, who I'm assuming wishes to remain nameless, but I wasn't really very clear on that.

An Unpleasant Pheasant

Winter is open season for pheasant hunting. Families and friends come together to bond over the hunt. Dogs are released into the underbrush to scare up a few of the birds into the gunsights of the shooters.
But there are occasions when the prey can turn the tables on their predators, to spit their last breath at them in defiance. 
Our story regards a man, who was trying to impress his wife with his shooting. She was sat behind him, watching him as he shot at panicked pheasants. Her husband managed to hit one low flying pheasant as it was headed towards them. 
Although the pheasant had died, the laws of momentum allowed it to maintain it's trajectory. Had it been alive, it may have been able to manoeuvre out the obstacle that intersected with the aforementioned trajectory. Thus, it hit that object square on at full speed. That object was the man's wife with enough force to burst her spleen.

Enjoy your Christmas meal everybody !

Wilkinson M.C., Klein G., Cornell M. & Rainsbury R.M. (1987). The pheasant's revenge: an unusual zoonotic injury., BMJ, 295 (6613) 1659-1659. DOI:

TMI Friday: The Santa Claus Syndrome

The Journal of Forensic Sciences has one article that I've been attempting to dig out with whatever resources I can muster, but all I could find was the abstract. Thus, I present it to you in it's full form now, until such time as I can find the full journal article and furnish you with the details.
In recent years, there have been sporadic reports in the lay press of individuals stuck in chimneys primarily during burglary attempts. Most of these individuals suffered from suffocation or soot inhalation. Because of the similarities between this form of breaking and entering and Santa Claus' traditional entrance into homes on Christmas Eve, we define the “Santa Claus Syndrome” as postural (positional) asphyxia, inhalational injuries and body burns, and/or complications related to compartment syndrome due to entrapment in chimneys. We report a case of a man who became trapped in a chimney during a burglary attempt and died a delayed death due to postural asphyxia associated with inhalational and burn injuries and anterior compartment syndrome. An analysis of this unusual case is presented. Exhaustional and postural asphyxia, compartment syndromes, and confined space-hypoxia syndrome are also discussed.
 Basically, if Santa Claus isn't dead already, he is probably some kind of horribly injured zombie.
 G'night kids !

Boglioli L. & Taff M. (1995). The Santa Claus Syndrome' Entrapment in Chimneys, Journal of Forensic Sciences, 40 (3) 499-500. DOI:

TMI Friday: Rectal Repositories !

On today's TMI Friday, we are once again contemplating colon contents, this time looking at the stories of four people who've used their rectums as repositories for interesting objects. I shall recount those takes to you now.

Case 1. For want of a Wine cabinet
We kick off this series of cases with a 52 year old man who stumbled into the emergency room with a real pain in the ass. He owned up to the emergency room staff that he had a habit of placing objects in his own rectum for sexual gratification. His latest attempt involved a wine glass. Unfortunately the wind glass got turned around in his rectum, making it impossible for him to remove it. After two days, he finally took himself to hospital. All of the doctor attempts at pulling the glass out failed, and eventually he had to go into surgery.
They opened up his abdomen and squeezed out of the colon via a surgical incision.

Case 2. Ball in the buttocks
Our next victim had managed to insert a ball into their anus. At first, the doctors tried giving him a hefty dose of laxatives. When this didn't work they tried to pull the ball out with an endoscope, but the tiny pincers on it couldn't get any purchase on the ball. In the end, they had to put the patient under general anaesthesia and scoop out the ball with two sets of forceps. This was successful, and the patient could go home the next day.

Case 3. Bottling it
 The victim (and I guess perpetrator) in this case had a history of inserting objects up his arse for sexual pleasure. The staff couldn't get any purchase on the object just by going through the anus. They had to perform surgery, which revealed that the offending object was an eight centimetre wide bottle.

Case 4. Design Flaw
One must assume that the people who design vibrators try to ensure that the don't get lost in whatever orifice they are inserted in. That would be a key safety feature, unless they thought that their customers first thought after vaginally or anally engorging the vibrator would be to buy another one. Repeat Sales !
In this final case, we have a gentleman who had suffered from that exact problem during sex with his partner. The vibrator was to slippery to grip with endoscopic forceps, and so the patient had to go into surgery to get it out. If only there were easy holds for endoscopic forceps designed into vibrators, it would save on surgery. Think about it vibrator manufacturers ! 

Sangar P., Henry G. & Sood S. (2013). Foreign bodies in the rectum: report of a case series and review of the literature, Sri Lanka Journal of Surgery, 31 (2) DOI:

TMI Friday: The worst way to be caught dead

There are many things that we all do in our private time when no-one can possibly see us. Things that could potentially embarrass us. Like farting yourself a warm spot in bed. Or rearranging ones testicles to ensure that they don't undergo the dreaded "Testicle Torsion Injury". Or perhaps ordering a whole bucket of Choc-Chip Ice cream to yourself. But no-one would want to be found dead in bed with half a bucket of melted ice cream smeared on ones face whilst having one hand frozen mid scratch and the dreadful aroma of your farts presiding over the affair.
Today's TMI Friday was simply asking for this fate.
There is a sexual practice known alliteratively as "autoerotic asphyxiation". The idea behind this practice is that suffocating at the point of climax is meant to somehow improve the experience. But it can be dangerous, especially if the person engaging in autoerotic asphyxiation is doing it alone, and as a result we will no doubt encounter this practice in the future.
There are a number of ways to induce asphyxiation. The subject of today's topic decided to use a plastic bag to help improve his masturbatory experience. He set up a complex series of luggage rack straps to control the degree of asphyxiation he experienced, but some how it all went wrong.
But it get's worse. Here is the full description of how he was found.
A case is reported of a 36-year-old male, found dead in his locked room, lying on a bed, dressed in his mother's clothes, with a plastic bag over his head, hands tied and with a barrel wooden cork in his rectum. Two pornographic magazines were found on a chair near the bed, so that the deceased could see them well. 
Atanasijević T., Jovanović A.A., Nikolić S., Popović V. & Jasović-Gasić M. (2009). Accidental death due to complete autoerotic asphyxia associated with transvestic fetishism and anal self-stimulation - case report., Psychiatria Danubina, PMID: