The weekend is here, and you and some friends are getting together in the backyard to share the few remaining days until winter, having some brews and waiting for those juicy burgers and ribs to get done. BUT you may have an unfortunate and possibly deadly surprise waiting for you.
Melinda Mouldey felt a piercing pain in her throat as she took the last bite of her hamburger at a friend’s barbecue.”Oh my gosh, a piece of rosemary just stabbed me,” the 39-year-old Brantford woman exclaimed before starting to throw up so violently she ended up in the emergency department.
But it wasn’t the herbs her friend used in the May 22 meal that caused a serious health issue requiring emergency surgery to treat.The culprit was the newly bought wire brush used to clean the grill. An 11.3-millimetre metal bristle snapped off, landed on the grill and ended up in Mouldey’s burger. Impossible to see, it lodged deep in her throat as she took that last bite.
Sound like a fluke? Doctors at St. Joseph’s Healthcare want you to know it happens every barbecue season.Last year, there were about a dozen surgeries of varying complexities at St. Joseph’s to remove wire brush bristles that can cause serious internal injuries.
The Government of Canada and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also issued past warnings.”The further down it goes, the more damage it can cause,” said Dr. Natasha Cohen, a resident training to be an ear, nose and throat specialist. “It’s one of those things that’s preventable if you raise awareness.”
Mouldey had never heard of barbecue brushes causing medical emergencies before it happened to her. She thought nothing of her friends using the wire brush. “He brushed off the grill, she brought out the burgers and he started grilling them,” she said. “I ate my last piece of the burger and when I put it in my mouth and swallowed, I got stabbed.”
She immediately started vomiting, but went home instead of going to a hospital because she thought a piece of rosemary was caught in her throat and would dislodge itself eventually. She went to bed and made breakfast for her four kids in the morning.
“If I stayed still and didn’t talk, I wouldn’t throw up,” she said. “If I moved, I would start gagging. “When she started vomiting blood, the McMaster University research secretary contacted a gastroenterologist colleague who told her to go to the emergency department. She still didn’t realize the serious trouble she was in.
“I thought it was going to be quick,” said Mouldey, who had her 17-year-old son drop her off. “I thought I’d call him when I was done.”
But her blood pressure was high and within 15 minutes she was sent to a priority area in the emergency department where a general surgeon was called in while X-rays and tests were done. She was admitted to the hospital May 23, but it took a computed tomography (CT) scan on May 25 for doctors to realize it was a wire brush bristle lodged in her throat behind the jaw and just above where an Adam’s apple would be on a man.
“It was horrible,” she said. “I couldn’t eat anything, I couldn’t talk and if I turned my neck, it would stab me.”
On May 27, the hospital sent Mouldey, with her husband, to an otolaryngology specialist to remove the bristle. When the doctor couldn’t get it out at the office, the couple was sent to St. Joseph’s Hospital. She was in emergency surgery by 11 p.m.
It was the third time Cohen had removed a wire brush bristle in her three years of training. “It happens often enough that all of the residents have seen it,” she says. “The bottom line is that it’s not about avoiding the barbecue or not cleaning your barbecue. It’s about knowing this can happen and being extra careful. ”
Mouldey’s family now has a brush with bright red plastic bristles that can’t be used during cooking. Other friends use a piece of wood. She knows others who run an onion over the grill after using a wire brush as an additional cleaner and to pick up any stray bristles.
“There are a lot of alternatives out there,” said Mouldey who doesn’t want anyone else to go through a similar trauma.
In the end, she was in hospital from May 23 to May 28.”It was very stressful,” she said. “It was the worst week of my life.”