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Eat Dirt

What was your New Year's resolution this year-to cut down on chocolate? Big deal! Some poor souls had to resolve to stop eating stuff like dirt, glue, and paint.
March 1, 2006, 12:00am

What was your New Year’s resolution this year—to cut down on chocolate? Big deal! Some poor souls had to resolve to stop eating stuff like dirt, glue, and paint. While most of us grew out of the “eating random things off the floor” phase when we were approximately three, some people just can’t stop chowing down on stuff that’s not food. These people have a disease called Pica, a name derived from the Latin for Magpie—a bird known for feeding on anything and everything. Pica affects children and pregnant women most often, but it can happen to anyone. Dr. Clive, a physician at a mental illness ward in Melbourne, told us, “People with Pica have been found to eat buttons, coins, laundry detergent, hair, burnt match heads, cigarette butts and ashes, and even rust. The list can be as varied as the individuals afflicted with the illness. However, it seems the most popular non-food items are dirt and clay.” Dr. Clive has seen people who eat clay for a stupidly wide range of reasons. Sometimes it’s due to a mineral deficiency (um, vitamins in a jar anyone?), other times it becomes a daily habit (kind of like smoking) because they like the taste and texture. It’s also popular among people with extreme oral fixations. Then you have the hippies who eat dirt as part of a ritual because they believe it will help them take on magical spirits from the earth. No kidding. Luckily, dirt is pretty harmless in comparison to the rest of the Pica menu. The most common Pica-related cause of death is lead poisoning, which mostly occurs from geniuses who live in pre-70s housing and decide to munch on lead-based paint chips from their walls. A hospital in California called the Agnews Development Centre (ADC) has dealt with Pica patients for over 90 years. There’s no specific treatment, prevention, or cure so patients have to be monitored really closely. Here are a couple of their Pica greatest hits. Toxic Ingestion of Dead Bird A 27-year-old female resident was observed in the gardens eating a dead bird. After a struggle to have resident relinquish the dead bird, resident’s hands and mouth were washed out with hydrogen peroxide solution. Death by Caustic Laundry Detergent A 28-year-old male resident died after ingesting caustic laundry detergent from a drinking cup that was left in the laundry room. Injuries included extensive burns involving the eyes and cornea all the way down to the larynx, trachea, and mid-portion of the esophagus. Death by Rubber Glove A 28-year-old male resident died after choking on a rubber glove that he obtained from a housekeeping cart. Resident was discovered by housekeeper who observed him clutching his throat and turning blue. SHELLEY X