BOSTON – A chicken claw. An FDR pin. A crucifix. A toy sheriff’s star.
Those are some of the weird items that have been removed from kids’ throats, nostrils and ears by doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital and are included in a macabre, yet important, display.
A visitor’s first reaction might be to laugh at the framed collection of dozens of items that dates to 1918 and hangs at the entrance to the hospital’s ear, nose and throat department, but it’s also a reminder to the parents who walk past it every day to remain vigilant.
“It is definitely something that catches the eyes of parents and makes them think twice about what their kids are exposed to,” said Dr. Anne Hseu, a head and neck surgeon at Children’s who has removed Christmas ornaments, toys, carpet tacks and other items from young patients.
One of Hseu’s colleagues removed a rosary bead that had blocked a boy’s breathing passage. The boy might have died, but the bead lodged vertically, so he was able to get air through the bead’s threading hole.
Disc-like button batteries are among the more commonly swallowed items these days, and particularly dangerous because the chemicals in them can burn esophageal tissue in a couple of hours, Hseu said.
Latex balloons, magnets and colorful laundry detergent pods are also frequently swallowed, said Dr. Sarah Denny, an emergency department pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, who has extracted a cellphone button from a teenager’s ear and a gum wrapper that was stuck in a child’s nostril for a couple of weeks.
The Boston collection, which also includes a screw hook, a tiny doll hand and a sardine tin key, is a tribute to late Children’s Hospital physician Charles Ferguson, who worked there for 35 years and removed most of the items himself.
Thousands of children a year are treated for sticking stuff they’re not supposed to in their mouths, noses and ears, Denny said. Parents need to keep small objects out of the reach of toddlers and make sure toys are age appropriate.
Besides the obvious hazards of choking — brain damage or death — ingesting a foreign object can lead to infection.
Pain, a chronic cough or even recurring pneumonia could indicate a child has swallowed something they shouldn’t have and needs a doctor’s attention. A foreign object can often be removed without surgery using an instrument that doctors call a “peanut grasper,” Hseu said.