Views & Reviews Review of the Week

The inside story on ingested foreign bodies

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 06 July 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4213
  1. Eamonn Clarke, general practitioner, Norfolk
  1. eamonn.clarke{at}

The story of a doctor who built up a collection of objects patients had swallowed proves fascinating to Eamonn Clarke

Most doctors have a tale of an unusual foreign body retrieved from a patient. Few, however, can rival the record of the American laryngologist Chevalier Jackson. Between 1886 and 1930 Jackson removed more than 2000 objects from the upper airways, lungs, and gastrointestinal tracts of his patients. All of the foreign bodies were retained, carefully catalogued, and later donated to the Mütter medical museum in Philadelphia. He redesigned rigid bronchoscopes and gastroscopes and invented many of the tools he used to snare the foreign bodies. Yet he declined opportunities to patent his inventions, preferring to share his skills and tools with his students.

Many of his patients were children and most underwent endoscopy with no anaesthetic other than a cocaine throat spray. Jackson used a darkened operating room and his own calm and steady voice to reassure his frightened patients. The survival rate for his procedures was over 95%, including patients who had been turned away by other doctors. He …

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