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Probe turns patient's despair to joy

PUBLISHED: 10:30 03 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:57 22 October 2010

Derrick Kirchen who had a pistachio nut shell lodged in his left lung.

Derrick Kirchen who had a pistachio nut shell lodged in his left lung.

Derrick Kirchen had feared the worst for months, even before doctors finally gave him the news he dreaded. It was, they told him, quite possible he had lung cancer. But within minutes of a hospital trip, the true cause of his illness was discovered.

Dr Syed Tariq holding the shell.

Derrick Kirchen had feared the worst for months, even before doctors finally gave him the news he dreaded.

It was, they told him, quite possible he had lung cancer.

Since eating a sumptuous Christmas lunch in 2004, Mr Kirchen had suffered repeated bouts of pneumonia, shortness of breath and dizzy spells.

Baffled doctors were at a loss to explain what was wrong with the otherwise healthy 67-year-old and repeated x-rays and tests had proved inconclusive.

But on Wednesday last week, Mr Kirchen was given the news he had feared.

“I was visiting hospital because I kept passing out and was getting pneumonia,” he said. “They didn't know what to do with me in hospital and eventually they thought I had cancer of the lung.”

Mr Kirchen was cast into a short-lived despair as he digested the implications of the grim diagnosis.

But within minutes, the true cause of his illness was discovered.

The cause of his problem was not a life-threatening tumour, it was… a rogue pistachio nut.

Lodged on the wall of his lung since that fateful Christmas dinner, the nut had stubbornly refused to give up its secret until a consultant physician at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn, decided to investigate further.

Dr Syed Tariq inserted a camera tube into Mr Kirchen's throat and into his left lung where he discovered a suspicious lump.

Using claws attached to the camera, he pulled out the mystery object and couldn't believe his eyes when he discovered what it was.

He said: “I was expecting a growth but I found something that was darkish brown and I felt this was a foreign body.

“I took it out and examined it in the bright light outside where we realised it was actually the shell of a pistachio.

“Mr Kirchen was greatly relieved and I myself was relieved. I'm very grateful to my staff as well, because they were there to help me and I couldn't have done it without them.”

Mr Kirchen, who celebrates his birthday on Tuesday, has now been given the all-clear and is recuperating at a residential home in Terrington St Clement, near Lynn.

He said: “I was a bit surprised but very happy at what he said.

“I'm feeling fine now, you just wouldn't think a nut could do that to you. The doctors laughed when they found out, they all thought it was rather amusing.”

The former construction worker, who lives in Methwold, near Downham Market, admitted yesterday he doesn't even like pistachio nuts.

The shell was discovered on Wednesday, soon after he had been warned he could have cancer.

Dr Tariq, an expert in exploratory lung work, said it was extremely rare to find a foreign body trapped for so long.

The majority of patients with similar complaints are young children, who have often swallowed small toys such as pieces of Lego.

The nut shell was said to have proved particularly elusive because it is difficult to pick up organic matter on x-rays.


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