Swallowing a small speck of glass, then getting sent home from the emergency. Weird or not?


One of the weirdest things just happened: I took a friend who had broken his Bodem [french press] to the emergency room because he was freaking out that he cracked it and because the crack was minimal decided to use it…I know, that was ill-advised…anyway, he thought he ingested a small fragment of glass, meaning a very little shard, probably the size of a pencil-tip. He had no idea what was going to happen so he phoned me [his neighbor, and I have a car…] so I brought him down to the hospital.

They just discharged him and the doc said, a piece that small will most likely make it’s way through the digestive tract and you’ll pass it in a few days. They had decided not to scope his stomach because the piece was totally clear and [according to Jim] very small.

Does this sound accurate to anyone? Should he seek a second opinion? He’s thinking the small speck of glass will pierce his stomach or intestine lining and rupture an artery or some such, I think he’s a bit of a hypochondriac - probably paranoid from the heavy use of his medical marijuana card…

Anyway, factually speaking here, does he have anything to worry about, or was the docs advice sound?

Was this the regular ER doc, or did he get a GI consult? I’d probably feel okay with it either way- I mean, if you can’t trust a doctor, who the hell can you trust?- but I’d feel much better about it if a GI doctor said it.

What were they supposed to do? How would they find a clear piece of glass that size in his digestive tract?

IANAD, but I have a hard time imagining that something the size of a pencil tip is that dangerous. I mean, imagine if you picked up said shard with your fingers. You might prick yourself, and it might bleed for a few seconds, but that’s about it. I can’t see a reason to assume that a person’s internal tissue is that much more fragile.

I’d worry if the shard were larger. A pencil tip? I can’t see it being large enough to do any significant damage.

If they had scoped his stomach and miraculously found it . . . what then? How would they go about removing it? Would you really expect them to cut his stomach open and search for it?

I’d imagine the scope would have the ability to grab it.

I’d take the docs advice. If he has pain in the next 2 days, go back to the ER, otherwise, assume it’s passed.

My impression is that it’s basically a grain of sand so I’d expect it to do as much damage as if you literally ate a grain of sand at the beach. (IE it probably wouldn’t do much but you ate a hand full of pieces that size it’d probably itch when it came out.)

That sounds about right to me. Unless I started vomiting blood or had some pain or something, I wouldn’t have even bothered to go to the ER.

This sounds like the appropriate course of action. A shard of glass too small to notice and spit is going to be pretty small. even if it lacerates its way down the digestive tract, it’s mostly going to be little nicks and cuts that will heal, and any bacteria in the bloodstream will be taken care of by white blood cells. The shard itself will rapidly get covered in feces, sheathed in shit, if you will, and sludge its way along. It is rare even for pretty large ingested bones to cause significant problems. Plus, a tiny shard of glass from a bodum won’t be seen on X-ray, won’t be seen on CAT scan or MR, and almost certainly won’t be seen on endoscopy. Even giving something to make him barf or poop it out is likely going to be more harm than good.

Snort! Heh! :smiley: I don’t know why but this made me laugh. I just sent this to Jim in an email, I think it calmed him down a bit. We both laughed!

It brings up an interesting question though, I wonder how often ERs get situations like this where there is something seemingly innocuous happening but the patient is terrified. I guess Docs and Physicians assistants see this kind of thing all the time.

A lot. I discussed this with an emergency room technician when I was putting in hours to get my EMT certification. One of the first things you do when someone comes into the ER is take the person’s vitals. Certain people would come in totally panicking, and as soon as you took their pulse and blood pressure they would ask “What is it? What is it?” And of course it would be just slightly higher, because panicking will do that to your pulse and blood pressure, and when they find out they start freaking out even more.

People in carnival sideshows eat glass all the time. 4-5 shows a day.

Jim will be fine.

Yeah, anyone who deals with emergency medicine sees A LOT of that kind of thing, for things far less alarming-sounding than swallowing glass. One of my friends once went to the ER because she thought her toe was broken. She dropped a small glass jar on it and it, predictably enough, became swollen and painful. DoctorJ and I both told her there was dick-all they could do beyond splinting it and telling her take ibuprofen for the pain and inflammation, so she should just tape it up and take some ibuprofen. But it hurt really badly, so she figured it ought to be x-rayed and in she went to the ER, where they splinted it and told her to take ibuprofen for the pain and swelling.

And she apparently had to be talked down from a trip to the vet ER, or at least a midnight phone call to me a couple of weeks ago because she thought her 50# dog might have possibly eaten a chocolate chip. One. It’s still better than the call I got from a guy who wanted us to see his dog as an emergency because there were all these little black bugs running on its skin.

Really? They can do that? I broke two toes a couple of years ago, and they didn’t even do that. They did give me a cane, though.

When I was training I had a guy who had pooped out some long greenish thick stringy thing he brought with him to the ER. I took the whole story, looked at the thing, and asked him if he’d eaten an apple recently. He said yes, a couple of hours ago. It was a long peel of apple he’d not chewed up.

Is this a little shard to take seriously?

We had a lady come into the ER for having knicked her finger with a kitchen knife. All the doc did was put a bandaid on it.
I guess maybe she was expecting to get stitches or something, but it was just a very small cut that wasn’t bleeding heavily or anything. I don’t know why some people think every little cut needs stitches (a lot of times I think it’s harder on the kids to get stitches than to let that little cut just heal by itself, but many ER docs will still stitch the kids up just for the parents’ sake).

Then on the other extreme, you have the people who will want to leave against medical advice from the ER even though they’re deathly ill. I heard about one ER doc actually taping himself telling the patient “You’re having a heart attack. If you go home you will die”. Sure enough, the guy did go home and died, so the tape came in handy when (of course) the family started carrying on about a lawsuit.

When I was a kid I swallowed a 1" nail. My mother took me to the doctor. The doctor told my mother to go through my stools looking for the nail for the next couple of days and if it doesn’t show up to bring me back. She found I think within a day or so.

I think your friend will be fine.


My considered medical opinion is, don’t swallow 40 knives: http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/22/health/india-man-with-knives-stomach/index.html

Good one!*

*Irony, in case no one recognized it.