do not put foreign objects in your mouth -- 11/11/20

Today's selection -- from The Body by Bill Bryson. It bears repeating -- do not put foreign objects in your mouth:

"In the spring of 1843, the great British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel took a rare break from his labors -- at the time he was building the SS Great Britain, the largest and most challenging ship ever to come off a drawing board to that time -- to amuse his children with a magic trick. Things didn't go quite to plan, however. Midway through the entertainment Brunel accidentally swallowed a gold half-sovereign coin that he had secreted under his tongue. We may reasonably imag­ine Brunel's look of surprise followed by consternation and perhaps slight panic as he felt the coin slide down his throat and lodge at the base of his trachea. It caused him no great pain, but it was uncomfort­able and unnerving because he knew that if it shifted even slightly it could choke him.

"Over the next few days, Brunel, his friends, colleagues, family, and doctors attempted every obvious remedy, from slapping him hard on the back to holding him aloft by the ankles (he was a small man and easily lofted) and shaking him vigorously, but nothing worked. Seeking an engineered solution, Brunel designed a contraption from which he could hang upside down and be swung in wide arcs in the hope that motion and gravity together would make the coin fall out. That didn't work either.

"Brunel's plight became the talk of the nation. Suggestions poured in from every quarter of the country and from abroad, but every attempted remedy failed. At length, the eminent physician Sir Benja­min Brodie decided to attempt a tracheotomy, a risky and disagreeable procedure. Without benefit of anesthetic -- the first use of anesthetic in Britain was still three years off -- Brodie made an incision in Brunel's throat and tried to extract the coin by reaching into his airway with long forceps, but Brunel couldn't breathe, and coughed so violently that the attempt had to be abandoned.

"Finally, on May 16, more than six weeks after his ordeal began, Brunel had himself strapped into his swinging contraption once again and set in motion. Almost immediately, the coin fell out and rolled across the floor.

"Very shortly afterward, the eminent historian Thomas Babington Macaulay burst into the Athenaeum Club in Pall Mall and shouted, 'It's out!' and everyone knew at once what he meant. Brunel lived the rest of his life without complications from the incident and, as far as is known, never put a coin in his mouth again.

"I mention all this here to make the point if it needed making, that the mouth is a place of peril. We choke to death more easily than any other mammal. Indeed, it can reasonably be said that we are built to choke, which is clearly an odd attribute to go through life with -- with or without a coin in your trachea."



Bill Bryson


The Body




Copyright 2019 by Bill Bryson


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