Despite the longest case of hiccups in history which lasted from 1922 to 1990, Iowa farmer Charles Osborne managed to lead a relatively normal life.
Everyone has experienced hiccups at some point in their life. Involuntary contractions of the diaphragm can even begin in the womb. But few have faced hiccups that lasted for days, months or years. Charles Osborne, however, hiccupped for decades.
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In 1922, the Iowa man started having hiccups – and he didn’t stop for 68 years.
Over the years, Osborne has tried everything to get rid of his pesky condition. He even resorted to experimental hormone therapy, but it seemed like nothing could cure him.
But one day in 1990, when Osborne was 96, his hiccups suddenly stopped. He died a year later, and doctors never determined precisely what caused his lifelong infliction.
The Bizarre Origin of Charles Osborne’s Hiccups
Charles Osborne was born in 1893, but his hiccups didn’t start until 1922, when he was a 29-year-old farmer. They started one day as Osborne was preparing to slaughter a hog in Union, Nebraska.
“I was hanging a 350-pound pig for slaughter,” Osborne explained to PEOPLE in 1982. “I picked it up and then I fell. I didn’t feel anything.”
The minor incident triggered a hiccup attack. But unlike most hiccups, which are over in minutes, Osborne kept going.
Osborne sought out doctors, but no one was able to cure his mysterious condition. Over the years, Osborne wondered if he would spend the rest of his life hiccuping – and he almost did.
Possible medical explanations for Charles Osborne’s hiccups
Today, doctors point to several causes of hiccups. According to Mayo Clinic, soft drinks can trigger the disease, as can a heavy meal. Swallowing air while chewing gum can lead to hiccups, and even excitement can cause it.
However, none of these reasons explain why Charles Osborne suddenly started hiccuping in 1922. So why did a minor fall cause decades of hiccups?
The strange case of Charles Osborne has baffled generations of doctors.
Over the years, Osborne has visited several medical professionals in search of a cure. In the 1980s, Dr. Terence Anthony said Osborne’s fall caused brain damage, leading to hiccups.
“The doctor later said I had broken a blood vessel the size of a pin in my brain,” Osborne recounted.
Anthony explained to PEOPLE that Osborne “destroyed a small area of the brainstem that inhibits the hiccup response”.
However, doctors today believe there is a different explanation. Neurosurgeon Ali Seifi believes Osborne’s fall likely caused a rib injury that damaged his diaphragm.
Seifi also thinks Osborne may have suffered a stroke. Some strokes can cause persistent hiccups, which isn’t far off from the explanation Anthony gave Osborne decades ago.
While trying dozens of treatments, Osborne ended a surgery that could impair his breathing.
None of the medical remedies seemed to help, not even experimental hormone therapy. And home remedies have also failed. A friend even tried to fire a shotgun behind Osborne to surprise him.
“It freaked me out a bit,” Osborne recounted, “but it didn’t scare me the hiccups.”
Only one doctor managed to cure Osborne – but the cure was temporary. According Smithsonian Magazinewhile at the Mayo Clinic, Osborne’s hiccups stopped when a doctor gave him a high dose of carbon monoxide.
The treatment might have worked, but the price was too high – Osborne couldn’t survive on the poison gas. So he just learned to live with the hiccups as best he could.
After decades of hiccups, Charles Osborne gave up trying to find medical treatment. He had traveled to Alaska in search of answers, but the expense – and the disappointing results – ended his search for a cure.
Osborne also gave up on home remedies. After her story appeared in newspapers and on television, Osborne received thousands of letters. Sympathetic writers told Osborne to massage his fingers or apply pressure to his chin.
To each suggestion, Osborne replied, “I tried that.
So Osborne learned to live with his hiccups. The doctors explained that the sound caused by the hiccups was not related to the diaphragm. Instead, it was coming from the vocal cords, which close between gasps.
After suffering for years, Osborne practiced not making noise while breathing between hiccups.
Kevern Koskovich knew Osborne in his later years. “He was flexing his chest three or four times a minute,” Koskovich once said. “You could tell he was hiccuping, but he wasn’t making any noise. He pushed – that’s the best way to describe it.
Despite his unfortunate condition, Charles Osborne married twice, had eight children, and even worked as an auctioneer for a time. He was determined to live his life to the fullest, hiccups and all.
The end of the 68-year-old hiccup case
Although hiccups may seem minor, persistent hiccups can lead to weight loss, exhaustion and mental health issues, and Charles Osborne experienced these dangers firsthand. Later in life, he became unable to swallow food because of his hiccups. For years, he had to mix up all his meals.
Osborne managed to avoid weight loss with his favorite lunch: mixed chicken, salad dressing, broth and milk, washed down with a few beers.
After 56 years of hiccups, Osborne said: “[I’d] give everything I have in the world if I could get rid of it.
“I don’t know what it would be like not to have them,” he continued. “I have so much shaking pain all the time.”
Although the hiccups were annoying, they made Osborne a minor celebrity. He appeared on Robert Ripley believe it or not radio broadcast in 1936 and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1983, according to the Sioux Town Journal.
Between the ages of 29 and 96, Osborne had hiccups around 430 million times. And then, in June 1990, the hiccups suddenly stopped. About a year later, Osborne died. His last months of life were, thankfully, hiccup-free.
After reading about the man who hiccupped for 68 years, learn more about hiccups and its causes. Next, find out these weird facts about the human body.