Medical Zambia

Foreign Body

This is the term health workers use for something which has entered a body cavity where it should not be. For example, a child might have pushed a plastic bead up its nose. But expanding this concept a bit, one could say that I was a foreign body working in Kakumbi Rural Health Centre.

On Friday last week, a mum told me that her child had something stuck in his ear. Looking inside with an otoscope I could see only dry, impacted wax. To make sure there wasn’t something deeply imbedded in the wax, I suggested that mother should put a few drops of oil into her son’s ears every night for a week and return for syringing. I confirmed with the clinical officer that we did have an ear syringe.

A week later the child returned. The wax looked soft and I thought it should easily flush out with gentle syringing. I found the large metal syringe but the plunger was lodged in the barrel of the syringe and I couldn’t budge it. I tried adding hot water to expand the metal, I used some detergent and finally employed brute force, but it was jammed solid.

The clinical officer said she would get a normal plastic syringe and flush out the wax while I attempted to fix the metal syringe.

Finally, I unscrewed everything I could and took it apart. The plunger was still immoveable, but there was an odd bit of rubbery material inside the barrel. At first I thought it was a sort of rubber diaphragm, but it wasn’t attached to anything. I fished it out and discovered it was a condom.

Having worked for over 20 years in a sexual health clinic in Leicester, my mind immediately plunged to the depths of depravity. “What kind of perversion is this? Having sex with an aural syringe, but maintaining the presence of mind to use a condom?” I thought, “That’s new one on me.”

I formed a mental image of what this might have involved, but after a few seconds I realised that someone had tried to use the lubricant on the condom to help the plunger to move. Unfortunately, it hadn’t worked but I take my hat off to whoever came up with that idea to solve the problem. Pure ingenuity.