MEDICAL MYSTERY II--
Elevator Eros Explanations
A real-life forensic medical puzzle
Recently I reported a small mystery that popped up in the medical literature. Now several readers have attempted to solve the puzzle.
A Quick Recap of the Mystery
The mystery was in the abstract of a report from India, intriguingly titled "Accidental Hanging With Delayed Death in a Lift," which was published in the October 1999 issue (vol. 39, no. 4) of the journal Medicine, Science, and the Law. I had access only to the abstract -- not to the full report..
Here, again, is that abstract:
While hanging is a common method of committing suicide in India, accidental hanging is uncommon. However, it does occur when people are engaged in auto-erotic practices. An adult male who was helping passengers trapped in the lift of an outpatient department at a teaching hospital was accidentally hanged. He survived for 39 days. This case highlights a rare but serious hazard in the use of lifts.
My question was: What, exactly, happened to the adult male who was helping passengers trapped in that lift?
Investigator Wilson Reports
Investigator John Wilson offered a perceptive speculative stab at the problem:
I hate to be possibly revealing more than I really want to here, but there is a third interpretation of the hanging in the elevator item.
The sentence: "An adult male who was helping passengers trapped in the lift of an outpatient department at a teaching hospital was accidentally hanged." doesn't say what type of help was being given. Perhaps someone was helping/entertaining other passengers stuck to pass the time with instruction and demonstration of the practices in question. Then the interesting question becomes: what the deceased the instructor, a TA, or a trainee? Background information of possible interest would be what sort of outpatient clinic was involved: fertility? psychology? Yoga?
I would argue that this is the most logical reading of the text as such.
Such is the report I received from investigator Wilson.
Then came investigator Greenwalt.
Enter Investigator Greenwalt
Investigator Art Greenwalt served up a saucier possibility:
Though I have no access to the publication in which this Indian elevator-hanging incident was described, I see where the three sentences may suggest a scenario resulting logically in what was described.
The elevator has a problem leading to its passengers being somewhat upset. One particularly attractive young lady is particularly upset and thus reacts strongly to the rescue. She, being the last to leave, lingers a moment and suggests to him how she might thank him for having rescued her.
Well, one thing leads to another and when her gratitude has been shown to his satisfaction, she leaves as he dangles there in what at first must seem to him an ultimate ecstasy but quickly turns fatal.
Either that or, as was surmised, they messed up the article.
Such is the report I received from investigator Greenwalt
Then came the professional.
Enter Investigator Butts
Investigator John D. Butts, who has a professional interest in such matters, seems to have dug up (I use that phrase for color, not literal accuracy) a copy of the full report. Butts works in North Carolina's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. He is in fact the Chief Medical Examiner. Here is his unofficial, yet fully professional, interpretation:
The authors report an instance where a man stuck his head and arm through an opening in the elevator cabin while standing on a stool to try to "operate a switch in an attempt to lower the lift. His right hand and neck became trapped between the lift shaft and the cabin as the lift suddenly moved upwards, thereby suspending him." He was a lift operator and had climbed into the lift after it had gotten stuck between 2 floors in a hospital
The authors state that such "hangings" are unusual - hence worthy of a report. their conclusion includes: "This case emphasizes the importance of being careful while traveling in a lift; one should not try to handle/manipulate/repair it without switching off the mains. ......."
Elevator related deaths more commonly involve stepping into "cabins" that are not there, i.e., falls.
In the US, elevator "surfing" caused some deaths in recent years - this involved riding the top of the elevator for thrills. This was a fad on some college campuses often requiring ingestion of inebriating substances in preparation.
Thus, it appears, the mystery is solved. Hats off to investigator Butts. Thanks to him, the abstract has been made concrete, and clear.
© Copyright 2000 Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)
This is a HotAIR exclusive article. For a complete list of
the others, see What's New.