Our competitive nature may be the thing that pushes us to achieve things never before accomplished and to test the limits of human potential, but that nature can also easily backfire – sometimes with dangerous or deadly consequences.
Recently, a 47-year-old man who showed up at a San Francisco emergency room perfectly demonstrated that fact.
A ghost pepper challenge – people do this sort of thing on YouTube frequently – left him with a hole in his esophagus. That injury could have killed him, but luckily he received treatment first.
Ghost peppers, or Bhut Jolokia, reliably come in near the top of rankings of the hottest, most-painful to consume chilies in the world. (They’ve been surpassed on the Scoville scale, a measure of the “heat” brought by these carefully cultivated instruments of pain, by several others, including the Naga Viper, Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, and Carolina Reaper.)
Before arriving at the hospital, the patient had been “at a local restaurant featuring a hamburger topped with ghost pepper puree as part of an eating contest,” according to a case report published in the journal Clinical Communications by University of California-San Francisco emergency department personnel.
Upon arriving at the ER, doctors noted that he was experiencing severe abdominal and chest pain after the challenge had left him violently “retching and vomiting.” For whatever it’s worth, the patient had successfully finished the burger.
Potentially deadly consequences
Six glasses of water had done nothing for his pain, unsurprisingly. A medically administered “gastrointestinal cocktail” also failed to alleviate his symptoms, including a heart rate of 106 beats per minute. The doctors write that he continued to grow more and more hypoxic, meaning that not enough oxygen was reaching his organs.
They took him into surgery to put a tube into his chest and collected fluid containing “hamburger, onions, and other green vomitus material,” and at the same time, they noticed an esophagal tear just about one inch long. In total, he required three chest tubes and one gastric tube before he began to recover.
The chest tubes were removed after 14 days and he began to be able to tolerate fluids on day 17. After 23 days, the patient was able to leave the hospital, though he he still needed to eat through the gastric tube.
The spontaneous rupture in the esophagus that the patient experienced is known as Boerhaave syndrome, caused by trauma from vomiting. With treatment, 20 to 40% of Boerhaave patients die. Without that treatment, mortality rates approach 100%, according to the case report.
The researchers write that even though hot chilies are known to be “unpleasant,” there hadn’t been any reason to think more serious side effects like this were possible.
So the next time a friend asks if you are interested in a ghost pepper challenge, you now have a very good reason to say no.