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The Case of the Putrid Patient

Where did that garlic odor come from?

Emergency room doctors have some strange cases to deal with, but a 1996 report in the Annals of Emergency Medicine may describe one of the strangest of all.

An 80-year-old man with heart problems went to the emergency room at Resurrection Medical Center in Chicago. He also had a particularly intense garlic odor about him. When questioned, the man explained that he had been treating another problem with dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), which is known to cause intense, garlic-like smells.

The odor was so bad that none of the staff could stand to go near him. Other patients couldn't stand it, either. Because the odor came from the DMSO, it couldn't be corrected with a sponge bath or some deodorant. Room deodorizers were useless.

Resourceful doctors did find a solution. They found 20 pounds of charcoal briquettes and spread them around the patient's room. They also gave the patient activated charcoal capsules to swallow.

Use of charcoal is an excellent way to absorb odors. In about an hour, the patient's body odor had been reduced to the point where the doctors could examine and treat him.

Oh yes, he got the private room at no extra charge.

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