Pottering About Bezoars

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research.

by Stephen Drew, AIR staff

The book Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has awakened an interest in bezoars. Two years ago bezoars nudged briefly into the public consciousness, but they somehow lacked staying power. This was not due to any lack of bizarreness, for this was a case of doll’s head bezoars. And they were real, not fictional.

Bezoars are tough, literally indigestible masses that, one way or another, got into the stomachs or intestines of an animal. A hairball is a bezoar. The bezoars in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince are of a different sort -- stones taken from the stomachs of goats.

The doll’s head bezoars were, simply, dolls’ heads. These plastic crania made their first public appearance in a set of x-rays taken at the Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Washington. Two Harborview radiologists celebrated the bezoars in print, publishing an illustrated report in the American Journal of Roentgenology.1

Drs. Ken Linnau and Frederick Mann played the role of J.K. Rowling, using clear prose to describe a curious interplay of childhood themes and dark adult doings.

They tell a strangely gripping tale. It begins with a 35-year-old man who suffers from
abdominal pain and distention. The doctors (who, in addition to being authors, play vital roles in the story) take an abdominal radiograph. As the x-rays develop, so does the plot.

The image is most curious. It “showed multiple rounded objects, some of which projected in the shape of a head with a pointed nose.” The hospital staff are intrigued.

At this point, we have a detective story. Someone named Clara L. Cone assists in the radiologic evaluation of the dolls’ heads. She then vanishes from the report.

The leading theory about the patient is that he is body-packing -- ingesting packets of illicit drugs for the purpose of smuggling. Through skillful questioning, the doctors tease out the real story: “The patient stated that he had ingested multiple heads of a popular children’s toy doll over the course of several days. He declared that swallowing dolls’ heads was his habit for anal autoerotic gratification.” In other words: delayed gratification. The doctors accept this explanation, or imply they do, and perform surgery for mechanical small-bowel obstruction.

The patient gets on with his life. But like the only-once-mentioned Clara L. Cone, he disappears from the story. Does he go on to partake of other dolls’ heads, or does he turn his gaze in some other direction? Drs. Linnau and Mann leave us in the dark here. They devote the rest of their report -- indeed, the bulk of it -- to certain intricacies of identifying dolls’ heads by means of radiographic equipment. “The entire head of the doll, including nose and hair, are radiodense,” they explain.

J.K. Rowling insists there will be only one more book in the Harry Potter series. It will be our last chance to see how, and perhaps why, the dashing young wizard advances in his knowledge of bezoars.

“Trauma Cases From Harborview Medical Center. Doll’s Head ‘Bezoar’: Complete Craniocervical Dislocation Causing Bowel Obstruction,” Ken F. Linnau and Frederick A. Mann, American Journal of Roentgenology, vol. 180, no. 4, April 2003, p. 986.

(Thanks to Scott W. Langill for bringing this to our attention.)


This article is republished with permission from the September-October 2005 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can purchase back issues of the magazine or subscribe to receive future issues, in printed or in ebook form. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift! Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.

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