I swallowed a plastic fork tine. HELP.
August 9, 2013 8:14 PM   Subscribe

I was at Panera and accidentally chewed and swallowed a plastic fork tine, approximately an inch in length. It may have broken off while I was using it to break and pick up a crouton, and I didn't notice what I'd chewed until I looked down at the fork. That was 8 hours ago.

I've since consumed a ton of food to try and cushion the tine, as well as consumed extra coffee in the hopes that it'd make me process it faster. A dial-a-nurse hotline operator (connected to my insurance) recommended that I go to an urgent care clinic to get checked out. She advised against the ER, as I had yet to experience any symptoms of the tine tearing my GI tract/getting caught somewhere in my intestines. There are none in my area (New Brunswick, NJ) that are within affordable reach for me.

I'm afraid to fall asleep, even though I am exhausted. What if the tine tears something, and I die of internal bleeding in my sleep? Should I check into the ER to be safe, try my hardest to stay awake, or allow myself to go to sleep for a few hours at a time?
posted by Ashen to Health & Fitness (15 answers total)
Although I think any significant pain would wake you up were you to sleep, this is what ER's are for.
posted by matty at 8:18 PM on August 9, 2013

But then there's also this askme thread...
posted by matty at 8:20 PM on August 9, 2013

It's entirely possible and quite likely that your stomach will fully digest it and you will have zero problems on the other end.

I might have some experience with this.
posted by Precision at 8:37 PM on August 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

There was a My Strange Addiction episode about a woman who regularly, purposefully ate plastic for 11 years so I think just once is probably not going to do anything:
18-year-old Kailyn has eaten plastic every day for more eleven years – remote controls, CD cases, forks and water bottles are some of her favorites. She eats up to 15 pieces of plastic a day and even chooses plastic over food. But has eating more than 150 pounds of plastic put her health in danger? Will shocking news from a doctor finally convince her to quit this addiction?

(Pulled from Wikipedia)
posted by vegartanipla at 8:38 PM on August 9, 2013

This happened to me once when I was traveling overseas. My friend, a French vet, suggested that I eat a leek, with the theory that the long fibers would wrap around the tine. She said dogs eat things like that all the time and apparently are fine. I was anxious, but also fine.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:48 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So...what would the urgent care clinic or ER check for, precisely? They can't very well image a small piece of plastic somewhere in your gut, and at this point they're certainly not going to pump your stomach trying to get it out. I suppose they could help watch for signs of internal bleeding but really, it's a plastic fork tine. Are they any good for eating meat? No, of course not, they are all but useless and therefore quite frustrating. And today, that's good news for you, my fellow meat-sack! Say it did manage to poke through somewhere -- that'd be a tiny little hole that would clot quickly and heal up in no time. In any case, your intestine is meant to be able to handle some amount of roughage. I'd guess there were pieces of leaf stems in your salad that were just as robust but you swallowed them without even chewing much. And that's totally fine, because the acid-bath that is your stomach probably dissolved or at least significantly softened all of the above hours ago.

If you have phenomenal insurance or live in a country that cares for its citizens, by all means seek medical attention if it would help you feel better. Personally, I'd let it pass.
posted by teremala at 8:50 PM on August 9, 2013 [17 favorites]

If you want more assurance, you might try calling the poison control center (1-800-222-1222), since they have to deal with people swallowing all kinds of crazy things. You could also try calling the Panera, since it's vaguely possible they've been warned about this kind of thing.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:54 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, one more thing. More and more "plastic silverware" is now made from corn or potato (really, potato).

You might call Panera and ask if they use either of these. If so, you're definitely just fine.
posted by Precision at 8:57 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

While this isn't specific to your issue, I'm an NJ EMT and have seen far crazier things on a regular basis without the outcomes you're fearing - so although I'm not an authority, I'm inclined to suggest that you relax about it a bit.

I also agree that the ER is for immediate care only. You could be potentially unwell, but if you're not now then as teremala points out, there's not an emergent issue and you'll simply wait around until when/if there is. Granted, that's not a comforting thought, but there are better places to wait out an issue than the ER.

Being in NJ, you're probably served by a volunteer FD/EMS service. At this hour, I don't know if you'll get anyone on the phone but it might be worth calling to simply ask what they suggest or to let them know you're concerned. I am NOT suggesting calling 911. Your local EMS has its own number and somebody is probably on call. If nothing else, they'll say to wait it out and IF something worsens, they'll have a heads-up already.
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:04 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

If the tine was so malleable that you didn't notice you were chewing down on hard plastic while it was in your mouth or have a hard time swallowing it, I kind of think it'll pass just fine especially once the digestive acids get at it.

Also are you sure you swallowed it? Could you have stabbed the crouton, had the tine break off and go flying somewhere you didn't see it?
posted by marylynn at 9:20 PM on August 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I've swallowed a bit of plastic unintentionally once or twice. I passed it without even noticing. Which I determined by process of elimination (har har). Butt really, this is a waste-and-see situation.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:17 PM on August 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

You are absolutely going to be fine. They wouldn't make silverware out of items that severely injure you if broken and swallowed.
posted by theraflu at 10:33 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding vegartanipla above. Years ago, I watched a television show about the odd things that people have swallowed, in which a doctor explained that it wasn't unusual for folks to turn up in the ER because they had gotten drunk at a party and accidentally swallowed the toothpick in their hors d'oeuvre -- often enough for the hospital staff to coin a term for it. The trouble happened when the toothpick got wedged horizontally in their esophagus and punched through - something that was very painful and become apparent very soon after swallowing. Then the rest of the show was devoted to people who happily and habitually ate glass light bulbs, scraps of metal, etc, with little to no problematic medical consequences.

If you're 8+ hours in and haven't yet experienced a stabbing pain in your chest, I agree with the others above and vote for "you'll be fine."
posted by tanuki.gao at 12:22 AM on August 10, 2013

Please follow up to let people know you're okay.
posted by theora55 at 10:17 AM on August 10, 2013

Response by poster: So sorry for the delay: I woke up about 30 minutes ago! I fell asleep reading your answers, all of which made me feel much better about having swallowed the fork tine. I can't tell if it's left my body yet, as I don't know how deteriorated the plastic would have become, but fingers crossed and I haven't experienced any pain yet. I marked as best the answers that made me chuckle or highlighted the digestible nature of what I swallowed.

Thanks, everyone!
posted by Ashen at 10:36 AM on August 10, 2013

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