If you've worn braces, you know it's a pain when orthopedic wires poke into your gums. As an Australian woman can attest, it's no fun when they pierce the small intestine, either. Doctors initially cited a gallbladder issue when the 30-year-old arrived at a hospital in Western Australia complaining of stomach pain. But when she returned two days later with worsening pain, a CT scan revealed "something metallic" was poking into "quite a large loop of dilated, unhappy bowel," Dr. Talia Shepherd tells ABC Radio Perth and Popular Science. "Something metallic" turned out to be a nearly 3-inch-long wire from the patient's braces, which had been removed a decade earlier. "We were all a bit dumbfounded," says Shepherd. "It wasn't what I was expecting to find at all."
The woman "did not recall ingesting the wire or having her braces wire go missing," reads a description of the "unique" case in BMJ Case Reports. Shepherd describes the case as especially rare given that the wire must have been lodged in the digestive system for years. Normally, an item presents itself in the stomach soon after it's been swallowed because that's where "it has a high risk of causing a perforation," Shepherd says. In this case, doctors found the wire had punctured several spots in the small intestine, causing it to twist into what is known medically as a volvulus, reports Live Science. The wire was removed in an emergency surgery and the woman has since recovered, Shepherd says. (A 10-year-old girl swallowed part of a fidget spinner.)