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Home --> Medical --> Emergency Room --> The Human Couch

The Human Couch

Claim:   Obese woman brought to emergency room is discovered to have various household items concealed in the folds of her flesh.

Status:   Undetermined.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1998]

A woman with shortness of breath and who weighed approximately 500 lbs. was dragged into the ER on a tarp by six firemen. While trying to undress the lady, an asthma inhaler fell out of one of the folds under her arm. After an X-ray showed a round mass on the left side of her chest her massive left breast was lifted to find a shiny new dime. And last but not least, during a pelvic exam, a TV remote control was discovered in one of the folds of her crotch. She became known as "The Human Couch."

Origins:   "The Human Couch" popped up on the Internet in 1998, making several lists of "Darwin Award" winners (although the subject hadn't met the requirement of "removing herself from the gene pool"). Its probable source was a collection of emergency room stories published in 1996, where the tale was related in a slightly longer form:
A mordibly obese woman was brought to the Emergency Department for shortness of breath on a tarp dragged by six firemen. After positioning two gurneys side by side, we somehow managed to lift her up. She was in respiratory Television remote control failure due to her weight, which we estimated to be approximately five hundred pounds.

Attempting to undress her, we lifted her arms to pull her very large blouse over her head. To our surprise, an asthma inhaler fell out from under her right armpit. It had been enveloped in the skin.

Reviewing her chest X ray, we noticed a round density in the left chest. With the help of an assistant, we lifted up her massive left breast to find a shiny dime. No telling how long it had been there.

Finally, a nurse and two technicians attempted to place a Foley catheter in her bladder. After spreading apart one tree-trunk leg at a time, they found a handful of industrial paper towels, apparently being used as a sanitary napkin. But they also found an even larger surprise in her crotch — a TV remote control.

When I gave a report about the patient to the unhappy admitting physician, I tried to cheer him up by reminding him that if he did a thorough exam, he too could find buried treasure. We nicknamed our patient The Human Couch.

The patient's family was very happy that we found the remote.
The same basic anecdote has been circulating on the Internet since at least the early 1990s:
While examining an obese woman a third year medical student moved the patient's left breast to the side in order to listen to her heart. Beneath her breast he found a sandwich in a ziplock bag. The patient stated: "Oh yeah, I forgot about that."
Our society has an unfortunate tendency to associate obesity with slovenliness — people wouldn't be fat if they would just exercise some willpower and control their appetites, we callously assume, so why should we expect them to be concerned about hygiene? (A connection made more explicit in the example above, in which the concealed object is not only a food item but one the patient acknowledges knowing was there.) The grotesquely large woman with household objects and food concealed in folds of her own fat is the epitome of the "obese = slovenly" image, an image unfortunately reinforced by the attitudes expressed anecdotes like these.

Last updated:   1 August 2007

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  Sources Sources:
    Brown, Mark.   Emergency! True Stories from the Nation's ERs.
    New York: Villard Books, 1997.   ISBN 0-312-96265-7   (pp. 32-33).