The other day I did something rather boneheaded. I was eating some fruit with a plastic fork and talking at the same time.
Kind of like walking and chewing gum at the same time, eating while talking requires multitasking skills that are beyond some of us. During one of my bites, I simultaneously made an emphatic statement that caused me to bite down on my plastic fork and break off the tip of one of the fork’s tines.
Then I did something even dumber. Rather than spitting out the mouthful of fruit, I felt around with my tongue for the tip of the fork tine. Feeling nothing, I concluded that the errant plastic fragment had fallen to the floor or shot across the room. So I swallowed the mouthful of fruit.
My subsequent conclusion, a few short minutes later: I had probably swallowed the fork tine.
I immediately grew nervous. What does a plastic fork tine do to the human digestive system? Or to get more to the point: How long did I have to live?
I took my question to that font of collected wisdom and boundless information: the Internet.
At first I was consoled to find that I am far from the only person on the planet to have swallowed the tine of a plastic fork. If the frequency of the Internet search, “I swallowed a plastic fork tine” is any indication, a person must swallow a fork fragment somewhere on the planet about every six seconds.
But the actual information I found was decidedly a mixed bag.
This is the kind of question that people frequently take to Internet forums, and the resultant commentary quickly became predictable. I don’t know how many comments I came across like, “You’re forked!” and “Only tine will tell!”. I mean really, people: I understand the tineless appeal of puns. But when someone has swallowed a part of a plastic eating utensil, a certain degree of seriousness is in order.
I also found out that a man in the United Kingdom swallowed an entire plastic fork more than a decade ago. The good news? He was able to live with a fork in his stomach for more than ten years. The bad news? He eventually required surgery to remove the thing. (And just how does a person swallow an entire plastic fork, anyway?)
I also found out that there are eating disorders that compel people to consume inedible items like glass, plastic, and metal in copious amounts. One fellow has apparently eaten an entire airplane.
I learned that while gastric acid is very powerful stuff that can dissolve metal, it doesn’t do anything to plastic, because plastic is chemically inert.
All this was quite interesting. But I still didn’t know: Was I going to be okay?
I went to some of the online forums that are purportedly manned by physicians, a suspicious number of which seem to be based in India. The physicians had no real consensus regarding the swallowing of a plastic fork tine.
About half of the doctors in the various threads said that it was nothing to worry about. At least a few had stated that if you have ingested a potentially sharp piece of plastic, you should report to your local ER forthwith.
Of course, they can’t find a tiny piece of plastic in your gullet with an x-ray. So what exactly would the ER physicians do with you, absent any symptoms? Would they lock you in an isolation room, and wait for you to either double over in pain, or cry out?
I finally decided to let nature take its course. Almost a week has passed since I foolishly swallowed a plastic fork tine. (Or maybe it really did shoot out of my mouth and across the room. I’m not sure.)
What I can report is that I have yet to develop excruciating abdominal pains, and everything is moving from one end of my alimentary canal to the other without problems. (Yes, too much information, I know.)
My takeaways from this experience are twofold: First, if you ever suspect that a plastic fork tine has broken off in your mouth, don't mess around. Don’t swallow anything. Spit everything out, and start from scratch. If you are at all prone to anxiety, you simply don’t want that on your head.
And if you actually have a medical question that needs answered, forget about the Internet. The Internet is practically useless for anything serious. Do it the old-fashioned way, and go see a doctor.