K

ids swallow a lot of weird things.

And stick other weird things up their nostrils. Or lodge them in their ears.

And for as long as kids have been doing all that, pediatricians have been collecting anecdotes — and souvenirs. One collection at Boston Children’s Hospital includes scores of objects removed from patients going all the way back to 1918 — including a chicken claw, a sardine can key, a doll’s hand, and a 1940 pin supporting the reelection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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It’s no mystery why kids are forever getting themselves into these fixes. “They’re learning about their environment by sticking things in their mouth,” said Dr. Jacob Brodsky, an ear, nose, and throat specialist who practices at Boston Children’s. And those who do it once often give it a try again. “We have some frequent flyers,” Brodsky said.

Dr. Karthik Balakrishnan, a pediatric ear, nose, and throat specialist at the Mayo Clinic, said he’s seen kids ingest everything from straight pins to a hearing aid. Once, he treated a young girl with a googly eye wedged in her ear.

“When I looked in her ear, I saw an eye looking back at me,” he said.

Dozens of those cases prepared him for his own role as the father of a 2-year-old son.

“Just recently, he put a bunch of soybeans in his nose and shouted, ‘Daddy! Edamame in my nose!’” Balakrishnan said. He had to pull them out one by one.

“When I looked in her ear, I saw an eye looking back at me.”

Dr. Karthik Balakrishnan, Mayo Clinic

Pediatricians warn about the dangers of one commonly swallowed item: the small disc batteries that power devices such as watches and hearing aids. The batteries can damage a child’s esophagus in under two hours, Balakrishnan said. He recommends that parents keep them far out of reach.

  • This gold wire was removed from a child's esophagus in 1940, one of many objects displayed at Boston Children's Hospital.Alissa Ambrose/STAT
  • A toy pin recovered from a child's esophagus in 1929.Alissa Ambrose/STAT
  • This cotton swab was recovered from a child's windpipe in 1944.Alissa Ambrose/STAT
  • A chicken claw removed from a child via laryngoscopy in 1940.Alissa Ambrose/STAT
  • A straight pin recovered from a child's esophagus in 1918.Alissa Ambrose/STAT
  • This Roosevelt campaign pin was removed from a child's esophagus on Nov. 2, 1940.Alissa Ambrose/STAT
  • A thumbtack recovered from a child's lung in 1949.Alissa Ambrose/STAT
  • This sardine key was removed from a child's esophagus in 1942.Alissa Ambrose/STAT
  • A plastic ring removed from a young patient's esophagus in 1945.Alissa Ambrose/STAT
  • This toy rooster was recovered from the esophagus of a young patient.Alissa Ambrose/STAT
  • "Bell in esophagus," 1945. Alissa Ambrose/STAT
  • This doll's hand was removed from the larynx of a child in 1931.Alissa Ambrose/STAT

He also urges parents not to wait for a kid to confess that he’s stuffed a bead up his nose or swallowed a penny. If a child’s eating habits change suddenly or his breathing is noisier than normal, that might warrant a trip to the pediatrician. “They should have a really low threshold to come get the kid checked out,” Balakrishnan said.

Doctors can pull most objects out of the ear, nose, or throat without surgery, either by hand or with scopes. If, by chance, an object works its way into the stomach, there are two options: remove it surgically, or let it pass through the digestive system au naturel.

As for that museum at Boston Children’s Hospital? Pushpins tack the objects to typewritten cards with labels like, “Celluloid hand, larynx, 10-6-31” and “Doll’s eye in roof of mouth, 1-14-44, Dr. Ferguson.”

The same doctor who removed that doll’s eye from a child’s mouth more than 70 years ago also happens to be the inspiration for the collection. A note explains: “It stands in tribute to Charles F. Ferguson, M.D., who dedicated his thirty-five year career at Children’s Hospital to the preservation of the pediatric airway.”

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