A woman suffered serious burns during a gynecological surgical procedure in April 2016 when she passed gas, which combined with the operating laser, started a fire.
The incident occurred at the Tokyo Medical University, reports the Straits Times, and was originally reported in the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun.
As the official report explains: “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 fire burnt much of the unnamed 30-year-old’s body, including her waist and legs, the report said, concluding that no flammable materials were in the operation room during the surgery, and the operation equipment was functioning normally.
Similar cases have been reported. In his book “Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond,” author Robert Provine notes that “a gassy gut can be fatal, as it was for a patient having a colonic polyp cauterized. An electric spark caused the patient’s bowels to detonate, blasting out the colonoscopy and ripping a six-inch hole in the patient’s large intestine.”
As the Washington Post explains, intestinal gas consists of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen and methane, with the latter two being the flammable components. Provine notes that only about one-third of people produce “combustible levels,” and that it’s harmless as long as it doesn’t cause a secondary fire – such as when coming in contact with flammable surgical drapes.
In fact, as The Post notes, the phenomenon has historically been the source of juvenile humor, or what the musician Frank Zappa sarcastically referred to in his memoir as “The Manly Art of Fart-Burning,” and which he immortalized in his 1967 song “Let’s Make The Water Turn Black.”