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The Woman Who Swallowed Her Cat: And Other Gruesome Medical Tales

The Woman Who Swallowed Her Cat: And Other Gruesome Medical Tales

by M.D. Myers

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Join Dr. Myers in his quest for unusual case studies as he unravels medical mysteries.

  • Depressed and lonely, a man decides that pills and alcohol are too gentle an exit. How did he end up in the driver’s seat without his head?
  • Drunken neighbours decide that beautifying the hedges on their property can be easily accomplished without hedge


Join Dr. Myers in his quest for unusual case studies as he unravels medical mysteries.

  • Depressed and lonely, a man decides that pills and alcohol are too gentle an exit. How did he end up in the driver’s seat without his head?
  • Drunken neighbours decide that beautifying the hedges on their property can be easily accomplished without hedge clippers. Removing the handlebars of a lawnmower, they lift the mower and its whirring gas powered blades, and quickly lose their buzz.
  • A teenager, obsessed with self-stimulation, elects to use uncooked spaghetti during his amorous exploits with disastrous consequences that only a urologist can deal with.
  • Vending machines are heavy and formidable foes; no match for an angry high school football player who wants his dollar back.
  • Pool balls are round, smooth, and heavy, qualities that make them very difficult to remove from locations they should never have been placed.
  • Chlorine is a concentrated toxin. Very little is required to sanitize a pool. What happens when you swim in the wrong liquid?
  • Sexual escapades have been known to include all varieties of farm animals. But is it possible to fulfill one’s carnal desires with a John Deere tractor?
  • A fisherman hooks a flopping one pounder, and both die in the process without jumping into the lake.

In The Woman Who Swallowed Her Cat, Dr. Myers presents intriguing, humorous, unbelievable, and dark vignettes of real medical life. You’ll be surprised by the truth as patients present to their doctors with usual symptoms that are masking very unusual diagnoses, and you’ll be left wondering how anyone in the world could be affected by these one-of-a-kind medical maladies.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Cardiologist Meyers (The Woman Who Swallowed a Toothbrush) offers 50 new case histories. Meyers insists that he isn't writing from personal experience, instead scouring medical journals from the near and distant past. While the stories he recounts are certainly gruesome, they may only attract a select, tenacious readership. The book opens with an account of a junior high-school student who hoped to gain friends by performing magic tricks, one of which was belching fire. To achieve this, he swallowed lighter fluid, and as might be expected, suffered an ulcerated colon. In the title story, a woman—who apparently suffered from untreated bipolar disorder—killed her cat in a frenzy, then cut and ate it, swallowing its eyeballs, paws, tail, and other body parts, before choking on a kidney. Meyers embellishes this tasteless account with the comment that the woman at least "had enough foresight to flavor it with her favorite steak sauce." He also tells of a would-be criminal, suffering from the "Santa Claus Syndrome," who, stuck in a chimney overnight, had to have his arms and legs amputated because of tissue damage. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

"[T]hough the stories are sometimes cringe-worthy, this book, much like the proverbial car crash it includes, is hard to resist peeking at." —www.PittsburghLive.com (October 2011)

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ECW Press
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Read an Excerpt

The Woman Who Swallowed Her Cat

And Other Gruesome Medical Tales

By Rob Myers, Randi Chapnik Myers


Copyright © 2011 Rob Myers
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-77090-077-6



* * *

Sheldon learned his first card trick at age seven, and by fifteen, he considered himself an accomplished magician. Obsessed with learning more than simple sleight of hand, he spent his nights reading from books and practicing magic tricks on anyone and everyone. Like a drug addict, Sheldon needed progressively fancier tricks to fuel his passion. After a month of unsuccessful attempts to swallow swords, Sheldon turned to fire breathing in hopes of wowing his adolescent audience.

Small and socially awkward, Sheldon was an academic underachiever. As his math and science skills continued to disappoint his parents, he worked harder at magic, trying to gain approval, and even awe, from his peers. He hoped that breathing fire was a cool enough trick to boost him up the high school social ladder at least a couple of rungs.

Surprisingly, Sheldon picked up the art of fire breathing in no time. All he needed was to score some butane lighter fillers, mainly composed of isobutane. That was easy. He saved up his lunch money, and the next time his dad asked if he wanted to tag along to Home Hardware for windshield washer fluid and other household crap, he said sure. Then, in the store, he wandered around on his own.

How hard could it be, he thought, patting the lighters he had safely stowed in a bulge in his jean pocket under his sweatshirt. "A mouth full of lighter fluid, a lung full of air and I'm an instant dragon."

After a few weeks of practicing in his garage, singeing a few walls and burning some trash in the process, Sheldon was gaining popularity. After school, he was dazzling his new friends by swallowing small amounts of lighter fluid then morphing into a dragon before their very eyes. Flames leapt from his mouth in all directions.

"More fire breathing today?" Lester asked Sheldon as he passed him in the hall.

"Same place, same time," Sheldon said, referring to the alleyway a block east of Colton Junior High. He smiled, but his stomach hurt. Sheldon hadn't felt right for weeks. He was pale and nearly constantly dizzy. Even his parents noticed how sickly he had become. At first, he had treated himself with antacids with milk but in the last week or two, the concoction seemed to have lost its effectiveness.

When the bell sounded the end of the school day, Sheldon gathered his books from his locker. Standing with his combination lock in hand, he had to bend over as pain flashed through his belly, gnawing at him from the inside.

"You don't look so good," said Les, who was waiting to walk with Sheldon to the alley.

Lester, like Sheldon, was a bit player in the social games at school. But Lester's stable home life grounded him in confidence. The week he started ninth grade, Lester picked up on the stupidity of trying to look cool by abusing alcohol and drugs. A math whiz, he calculated that by staying straight and sober, his chances of addiction, teen fatherhood and early marriage would be far lower than that of his designer-clothes-wearing, beer-sneaking, unsupervised peers. And, of course, his dedication to karate helped him avoid the peer pressure that was closing in on some of his pals. The cool crowd knew better than to mess with Les. He confounded them with his quiet air of superiority, and of course, there was that darn black belt.

"It's this fire breathing stuff. I think it's dangerous," Lester told his friend. "Why bother with it? I mean it's all show. You and I both know the real skills are in your hands, and you're a great magician. You could get real paying gigs, man. Birthday parties, corporate events. Come on, buddy. It's time to put an end to this show-off stuff."

"That's what they told Houdini, Les," Sheldon replied, catching his breath. He stood up straight and managed a smile.

"See you soon, pal," Sheldon said, as he rushed to the bathroom down the hall. He locked himself into a stall, sat down, and exploded. He lay on his thighs, woozy again. After a few minutes, he stood up, pants around his ankles, and turned to look inside the bowl. There it was again. It looked like someone had dumped coffee grounds into the toilet. This had been going on for a couple of days now and guess what? He didn't drink coffee.

There was no time to stand around worrying. The show must go on, Sheldon thought, as he buckled up and hightailed it down the hall and out the school doors to make it to his next performance. After all, he was the star.

Today, there was a small crowd bunched in the alley. Waiting, bored, a group of boys had amassed a mound of flammable trash in a Dumpster. When Sheldon ran up, they were kicking bottles against the brick wall.

"About fucking time, Superhero," said a tall boy with straight black hair shading his eyes. It was Tim, a popular kid from one grade up. "Keeping your fans waiting is a no-no."

Sheldon was an idiot, Tim thought. Then again, he thought everyone was an idiot. Destined to be either the CEO of a large corporation or a high-level cocaine dealer, Tim loved nothing more than directing younger kids into acts of violence. Lucky for him, Sheldon required little direction. Tim got a kick out of watching the skinny kid breathe fire like a dragon. His interest was, however, waning. He wondered what else he could cajole the sucker into doing.

Tim gripped Sheldon by the shoulder, a little too tightly. "Remember what we talked about, Shel. This'll be your biggest show of the season. See if you can cover the length of that pile of garbage over there and we can watch the entire alley go up in flames."

Sheldon was eager to please Tim, but the pain in his belly was spreading like fire in a building doused with gasoline. Sweaty and light-headed, he glanced at Les. Then, turning his back to the crowd, he removed a small bottle of isobutane from his inside coat pocket.

After swigging an enormous mouthful from the pressurized container, Sheldon spun around, lifted his lighter and used his thumb to strike metal against flint. He turned to the crowd and spread his arms, making a great show of blowing the vaporizing liquid toward the flame. Aiming straight for the garbage, a huge river of fire erupted from his mouth and the crowd whooped and hollered.

Very few people noticed as the human flamethrower himself then collapsed on the concrete with a clunk.

Tim noticed, but didn't care. He was more interested in the crowd, standing mesmerized by the frenzied flames flying from the rusted Dumpster. Les raced to his friend's side. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and, with shaky fingers, dialed 911.

Ten minutes later, the crowd heard the sirens and ran, leaving firefighters and paramedics to find a frightened Les and an unmoving Sheldon alone in the heated alley.

"I can't get a BP! Start a line!" a medic shouted. The team rushed in, inserting two intravenous lines that poured cold saline into Sheldon's veins.

"70 systolic. Let's move," the medic said. With that, the team bundled Sheldon into the back of the ambulance and sped to the hospital, leaving Les to explain the sequence of events to police.

Sheldon's blood pressure hovered dangerously low, while his heart raced. Unstable, he was sedated, intubated and hooked up to a ventilator.

"He's bleeding," Dr. Dibin said in the emergency room. "Cross and type him and call gastroenterology, we need to get him scoped. Now."

Looking after kids made Dr. Dibin nervous. The boy was bleeding from somewhere inside, and based on the information the medics had relayed, it was obvious that the kid's esophagus, stomach and duodenum needed examining.

An hour later, Sheldon had lost half of his blood volume and desperately needed a transfusion. Through a subclavian line, the two units of fresh blood that hung above him in bags zipped through a tube and into his body.

Dr. Likornik, the on-call gastroenterologist, was equally fearful about caring for a teenager, but she had no choice. Sheldon couldn't be shipped to Sick Kids Hospital; he was too unstable. Steeling herself, the doctor arranged for an OGD to examine the boy's upper gastrointestinal tract.

As the patient lay sedated, Dr. Likornik inserted an Olympus high-definition flexible scope with a tiny camera on its end down his throat. Looking down the tube, she saw a flood of blood coating the mucosa of his esophagus.

Ingesting butane, a highly flammable component of natural gas, had caused Sheldon to suffer from a severe case of hemorrhagic esophagitis. It worked to freeze parts of his esophagus and stomach, killing the tissue and resulting in blood oozing from his esophagus and stomach, now home to a large bleeding ulcer. The ulcer was rhythmically ejecting blood into the stomach with every heartbeat. Via a port in the scope, Dr. Likornik used a needle to inject adrenaline into the source of bleeding. The drug constricted the blood vessel, damming the bleeding on impact.

It took two weeks before Sheldon had the strength to get out of bed. He had lost so much blood that his hemoglobin, which had dropped to 41, was among the lowest rates ever recorded in the hospital. The medical staff all agreed that while his recklessness had threatened to kill him, the boy's youth had saved his life.

In addition to heating, isobutane has some important functions, including refrigeration, and use as a propellant in aerosol cans. As for fire breathing, it's an activity that is surprisingly popular. It is described on the internet as a fun party trick that's not as dangerous as it looks and a surefire way to draw attention to yourself. But unless your goal is to gain the attention of coroners, fire breathing is best left to professional magicians, or, even better, to the dragons that made the term famous in the first place.



* * *

Five years back, when her husband Chester first showed signs of dementia, Bea didn't think much of it. Eventually, though, it became clear that the man she had been married to for fifty-five years was a lot more absentminded than usual. The first signs were small: misplacing the keys to his tractor, wearing his nightshirt inside out, little mistakes like that. But Bea just attributed her husband's behavior to failing eyesight or the rusty mind that comes with age. After all, he was seventy-five years old. What did people expect?

But when Chester, a professional sheep farmer, forgot to graze the sheep, Bea knew there was something seriously wrong. He even forgot how to operate his Dixie Chopper zero-turn mower, and his acres of property quickly went wild when untended. Now that was unlike Chester, forgetful as he could be at times.

Perhaps more disturbing, Chester's naturally sweet disposition had turned surly and morose. He became incensed at the slightest perceived provocation. Usually up with the roosters, now Chester dropped into bed at dusk and slept past noon. Bea now knew, for certain, that this was not the Chester she had married and grown old with.

"We have to send in papers, Ma," said Becky, the oldest of Chester and Bea's four kids. "Otherwise he's gonna end up in hospital and we won't have choices. They'll send him wherever they darn well please."

"I know, honey," Bea replied. "But he was born and raised on this farm and this is his home. I can't just send him away, you know that. It would break my heart to see him in an institution."

And so, as is often the case with demented patients, Chester remained at home longer than he should have, barely recognizing his lifetime of possessions. And with her arthritis and metal hips constantly acting up, Bea was having a devil of a time keeping her eye on him.

Dementia refers to symptoms affecting cognitive function that result from the loss of brain cells. The condition is diagnosed when two or more central brain functions are affected. By then, the person has lost both intellectual and emotional ability; forgetfulness alone is not enough for a diagnosis. Today, more than ten percent of those over age sixty-five and half of people over eighty-five suffer from dementia.

The terms dementia and Alzheimer's disease are often used interchangeably; however, Alzheimer's is but one cause of dementia. Other causes include Lewy body and Creutzfeldt-Jakob (mad-cow disease). The predecessors to these diseases — men with the names Alzheimer, Creutzfeldt, Jakob and Lewy — were all, oddly enough, German scientists. Another cause of dementia, indistinguishable from Alzheimer's, is multiple small strokes.

Sadly, as was the case with Chester, most forms of dementia are untreatable, eating away at personalities from the inside out. Very quickly — in just a matter of months — his personality seemed to fade to pale. Soon, the once vibrant, gentle farmer found himself reduced to a dependent 200-pound infant.

Chester, wearing a diaper, wandered around the farm. He started to pick up bits of food and garbage from around the property. It didn't matter what form the organic matter took; it was all food to him, and so into his mouth it went. By then, he had forgotten how to chew, though, so scraps just sat on his tongue, soaked in saliva.

Fearing Chester would choke and die, Bea lugged her robotic husband to the neurologist one last time.

"Mrs. Bleeker," Dr. Lavesky said, her chin propped on her hands. "I'm frankly surprised you're able to care for your husband at this point. His dementia is quite advanced. I think you have to seriously consider moving him to a home. There is nothing I can do here. There are no drugs to offer, no test. There is no cure."

Chester sat mute, his gaze empty. His brain was a tangled mass of confused neurons.

Bea sighed. None of this was news, but still, it was hard to hear.

"I am sorry to be so blunt," Dr. Lavesky said. "But you need to understand this situation. There is no hope for recovery. Dementia always gets worse. There are no drugs, no herbs and no diet that we know of to slow down the process in a meaningful way."

Bea's tears dripped onto her floral dress. Of course the doctor was right. Chester increasingly ceased to exist. The farm animals were more responsive to her than her own husband. In her heart, she knew that Chester had died long ago.

On the ride home, Chester sat in the passenger seat of his 1979 Dodge Dart, chewing his cheeks. In a flash of thought, Bea imagined driving straight off a bridge into the river. Now that would end their suffering. And yet, she wasn't sure that Chester was suffering at all. But she was. It was, she knew, time to do what she had always swore she would never consider.

A week later, Junior set to work lugging his father's belongings into Sunnyvale Retirement Home. There was Chester's worn wingback chair, the bureau he had built fifty years back, and a box of old, familiar clothes. In the lobby, Chester sat staring at urine-colored walls, a wad of pancakes still bulging in his cheek. Bea was at home, dusting. The thought of accompanying her husband to what would be his final resting place was too painful.

"Okay, Dad," Junior said with a grin. "You're all settled in. I'll come by soon." He knew he wasn't talking to the man he had known all his life. This was now just a shell of his wonderful father. Chester Junior thought he had accepted that fact years ago, but it still felt unbelievable.

It took a day for the staff at Sunnyvale to identify Chester's compulsive ingestion of just about any old thing, edible or not. Recently, Chester had graduated from organics to objects. In the absence of physical restraints, it was impossible to stop his compulsive behavior. The staff was constantly fishing stuff from his mouth: Kleenex (new and used), toilet paper (new and used), soap, and all manner of table scraps. Chester required twenty-four-hour observation, a luxury that Bea could not possibly afford.

Whenever nurses or orderlies heard choking, they rushed to find Chester, his throat clogged, his cheeks stuffed like an insatiable chipmunk.

Just two weeks after he arrived at Sunnydale, Chester awoke at 3 a.m. He was gasping for breath, but this time, the night nurse heard nothing. The following morning, another nurse chirped in with the sun, and stopped at the doorway. She almost vomited from the stink.

"Oh Lord," she said when she saw Chester. He lay cold on his single mattress, an island in a sea of feces. The smelly guck was all around his bed, and smeared on his mouth and nose. With excrement all over his face and hands, Chester looked like a child who had eaten chocolate pudding without a spoon, but that's not what he smelled like. Thankfully for the CPR staff, it was too late to breathe life into the patient's body via those lips.


Excerpted from The Woman Who Swallowed Her Cat by Rob Myers, Randi Chapnik Myers. Copyright © 2011 Rob Myers. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Rob Myers is a cardiologist at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. He is the author of Take It to Heart (ECW, 1998) and The Woman Who Swallowed a Toothbrush (ECW, 2003), which has sold over 40,000 copies.

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