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Your Kid’s Tongue: It Just Might Get Stuck Like That

For a brief time my mother worked in a hospital emergency room and would routinely come home with stories of children with marbles stuck up their nose or children with fingers stuck in glass soda bottles, or worse, aluminum cans. She drilled it into us that sticking our digits into holes, or sticking foreign objects into our nostrils was highly ill advised (no need to crude sexual jokes here). And whether it was good parenting or fear mongering, I could happily say that none of us ever found ourselves in such a sticky situation. But still every year children stick body parts into places where they just shouldn’t be, and quickly find out that time is linear and there is no going back once you have an appendage jammed into a hole or stuck to an object. The most notable and famous incident of this sort had to be the famous tongue stuck to the frozen flag pole scene in the 1983 film “A Christmas Story” where an unfortunate child is “double-dog dared” into sticking his tongue to a flag pole, which creates an immediate seal to be reckoned with. Hilarity ensues.

Now comes word of the trails of one 9-year-old boy’s tongue and a very uncomfortable run in with an aluminum water bottle. As reported by Scott Hensley for NPR, last September a North Carolina boy jammed his little tongue into bottleneck of his aluminum water bottle and sucked hard. What he quickly learned were the physics of suction, which created a seal and a whole lot of difficulty for himself and his family. His tongue was firmly stuck in the mouth of the bottle (the link here shows pictures of the boys tongue inside and outside the bottle, but they are kind of gross). The boy’s tongue quickly swelled, and he couldn’t extricate it from the suction. Neither could anybody at the school. The bottle held on like the vice-grip of a bulldog, even after the EMTs arrived and drilled holes in it to break the vacuum.

He was quickly taken to the ER at Duke University, where a medical team cut the bottom off the bottom (obviously avoiding the captive tongue) they tried “gentle traction, lubricant, a malleable retractor and a popsicle stick” to loosen the tongue, but the tongue and bottle were still inseparable. It wasn’t until they made the somewhat risky decision to cut through the top of the bottle, where the tongue was actually stuck, that they had some success. It took about ten minutes, and lots of sweating, but the boy’s tongue was free (although horribly swollen). Lesson learned.

This is certainly not the first case of a tongue getting lodged in a tight spot, as there is medical literature documenting tongues getting trapped in glass bottles, cans, balloons, what have you. But it is a cautionary tale and may compel parents to have a strange conversation with their children to keep their tongue in their mouth (besides the fact that it is good manners, it may just save you a lot of pain in the long run).

Read more: Children, Family, Health, Home, Parenting at the Crossroads, , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

4 comments

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10:58AM PDT on May 9, 2012

What a story that kid will have to tell his children!!

3:24AM PDT on Jul 12, 2011

Thanks for sharing this information

9:01AM PDT on Jun 28, 2011

Thank you

7:10PM PDT on Jun 27, 2011

Helpful tips. Good to know. Thanks for sharing this great info.

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Don't know if this was staged but the piglet is cute anyway.

Hmm. Other than baking, (and we don't indulge in that any more than we "normally" would, anyway) we…

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