Japanese woman injured while passing gas during surgery

By Travis M. Andrews

The Washington Post

Ninety-nine percent of the colorless, but certainly not odorless, gas released when one “passes gas” is a combination of carbon dioxide, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and methane.

The last 1 percent is made of bacteria from your intestines, which is what causes the odor.

Most of the components of flatulence are innocuous, but the hydrogen and methane in the gas also render the gas flammable.

For the most part, that flammability isn’t cause for concern. If anything, it’s a source of humor among young boys at sleep-away camp.

But for one woman in Japan, that flammability proved to have a tragic and lasting impact.

The woman, in her 30s, who has not been named, was undergoing a surgery on her cervix at the Tokyo Medical University Hospital in Shinjuku Ward on April 15. In the midst of the operation, while doctors focused a laser on her cervix, the lower part of the uterus, the woman passed gas.

It’s difficult to overstate how minuscule the chance of that normal bodily function causing a problem truly is.

The laser reportedly ignited the gas, causing a blaze that caught the surgical drape on fire before spreading down her skin. It ended up burning much of her body, particularly from her waist and down her legs, according to the English-language version of the Asahi Shimbun. Her current condition is unknown.

An external committee looked into the incident, and the hospital released a report with their findings Oct. 28.

That report stated that the equipment used in the operation did not, at any point, malfunction.

“When the patient’s intestinal gas leaked into the space of the operation [room], it ignited with the irradiation of the laser, and the burning spread, eventually reaching the surgical drape and causing the fire,” the report said.

Aside from the conditions of the actual surgery aligning to create such a terrible accident, it’s surprising that the patient’s gas could even ignite in the first place. As written in Robert Provine’s book “Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond,” only about a third of people produce “combustible levels of methane” in their gas.

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