Sandra Shablin of Fogelsville bristles at the thought of eating anything from her grill.
That's because what started as a pleasant evening of eating outside ended up with a trip to the emergency room and surgery to remove a tiny piece of metal brush that became lodged in her tonsil.
The medical emergency began this summer, right after Shablin ate a piece of steak that had been cooked on her grill.
“When I took a bite, I thought I had swallowed a piece of plastic or something sharp,” she recalled. “I felt like it was cutting more and more of my throat…I was so hysterical. I didn’t want to go to the hospital but it got worse through the night and eventually we went to the ER.”
At Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest, an emergency room physician told the Shablins that Sandra’s CT scan showed nothing abnormal. Sandra's husband, Dr. Brian Shablin, an internist with Primary Care Associates of Allentown, asked to see it and noticed a tiny white line in the area where his wife felt the sharp pain.
“It was no bigger than an eyelash,” he said of the piece of metal bristle that must have been seared into the steak before lodging itself in Sandra’s tonsil.
Sandra needed surgery to remove the piece of the brush. Her throat took several days to heal, much like it would if she had had her tonsils removed.
She is fine now, she said, but still a bit freaked out that something so small could cause such a serious problem.
“It’s like if you fall and break a bone, you are afraid to walk again,” she said.
And, Sandra’s case is not the only one.
A study at a Rhode Island hospital found six cases in a five-month period between July 2009 and November 2010, and six more between March
2011 and June 2012.
The injuries ranged in severity from a puncture in the neck tissues to perforations in the intestines, liver and bladder that, in some cases, required emergency surgery. Patients recovered after the bristles were removed.
A senator from New York called for safety reviews after similar reports from New Jersey and the state of Washington.
Such reports prompted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control this summer to issue a warning to all Americans who use a grill or eat grilled food to be sure the grill is cleaned properly. Because the bristles can come loose on just about any grill brush (the Shablins’ was stainless steel and only used once), authorities recommend cleaning the grill with a damp cloth or crumpled aluminum foil that could remove any bristles left behind.
The CDC also alerted all emergency rooms to look for internal injuries that could have been caused by accidental ingestion of wire grill-cleaning brush bristles.
Sandra Shablin said at first she didn’t want to be the subject of a national news story that appeared on TV's 6ABC and "Good Morning America," but now she's glad she is able to warn others.
“Thank God it was me,” she said, adding that her husband, daughter and 97-year-old aunt also ate steaks off the grill that night. “And I’m so thankful [my husband] went to the hospital with me. He was very persistent, saying if she says something is wrong, there must be something there.”
Sandra’s tonsils prevented the tiny wire from passing farther down her digestive tract, she added, where it could have caused more serious problems.
In the meantime, the Shablins have tossed their grill brushes and purchased a grill cleaning stone. But they haven't used the grill since the episode.
“One day I will” eat off the grill again, she said. “But I can’t foresee it being soon.”