4 Lessons Learned When My Baby Swallowed a Screw

If only I had just let my 11-month-old continue to gum whatever was in his mouth, he never would have swallowed it. It was my own failed attempt at retrieval that caused him to ingest it in the first place, as he lifted his chin and choked it straight down.

When the mystery object couldn’t be retrieved, I administered the infant Heimlich unproductively and urged Siri to call my husband to come home.

LESSON 1: GRACE

There is relief in the exhale.

My husband and I (and our three small children) waited in suspense at the ER until the x-ray came back revealing the foreign object our sweet baby had just swallowed. When I first saw the x-ray and the bold, white, unmistakable outline of a screw, I had two options.

Laugh, or cry.

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Without pause, I did the latter. I cried, right there in front of the gastroenterologist. What mother allows her child to swallow a screw? All my chances for the title of mom-of-the-year went right down the hatch with that screw. Even though my baby was babbling happily in the exam chair, I was a nervous wreck, texting my closest friends and family, begging for prayer. Because that’s what we do in our tribe. That’s all we can do.

In hindsight, I wish I could go back and hug that poor mama. Give yourself grace, I’d tell her. Freak accidents happen so quickly. My husband and I thought we had gotten all the screws off the wall sconce when we were changing our guest room into a playroom for our boys. The baby was right in front of me when he put it in his mouth – and I noticed him gumming it because I was watching him. When I put my finger in his mouth to swab for the object, it was already so far back on his tongue that he gagged it straight down.

Clinging to grace, I was eventually able to turn a terrifying experience into a captivating party story. Mamas, sometimes we have to choose laughter and grace for ourselves just so that we don’t go crazy. Some of the things that happen in this parenting gig just can’t be made up.

We good-naturedly told the story at his first birthday party the very next weekend, as I’m sure we will for years to come. I covered his smashcake in homemade edible blue candy screws, the final touches on his giant cupcake. His aunt and uncle made him a birthday shirt with a photo of his own x-ray. We could exhale finally knowing that he was okay. There is relief in the exhale.

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LESSON 2: OPTIMISM

On the bright side, there are far worse things you can swallow than a screw. The jar of retrieved objects on our GI’s desk held toothbrushes, spoons, and sewing needles. Passing a 2.8 cm screw encased in a bright blue plastic wall anchor sounds far less painful than passing a sewing needle, IMO. And it wasn’t a battery or a magnet, PTL.

Helpless in this situation, I refused to let myself worry about potential places the GI warned us where the screw could get stuck (the stomach, the intestines, the colon) or cause damage on the way out, even as the doctor made plans to x-ray every week for a month to check on the progress of the screw. Instead, I cast my fears into my prayers, turning to God in my time of unknown and fear. My faith assured me that God remained in control. 

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? (Luke 12:25-26, NIV)

LESSON 3: PATIENCE

It was a long 24 hours of prayer before the baby passed the first object, the blue plastic wall anchor. Part of me was elated that things were finally moving, marveling at how efficiently and predictably the human body works, and another part of me was terrified that the sharp tip of the screw was now exposed and potentially lodged somewhere within my helpless baby. And there was nothing we could do to speed up the process (although we toyed with the idea of pureed prunes). It had to make its way down his throat, into his stomach, through his intestines, through his colon, and eventually out the other end. In all, it was a stiff 48 hours before the screw would emerge in torpedo-form during a routine afternoon nursing session. Ok, it wasn’t that dramatic of an exit, but we can pretend.

LESSON 4: HUMILITY

For each diaper change following the ingestion, I strapped on bright orange latex gloves and peeled back those cloth diapers as if there were a Wonka golden ticket hidden within. There are few things in life more humbling than digging through a baby’s poopy diaper. And I did it willingly. Never have I wanted to find something so badly, not even the year when our church youth group leader hid the most-prized golden Easter eggs in a pile of cow manure. I even wrote sub plans and took off work so that I could look through his diapers myself. I wanted to be the one who found it, since I took full responsibility for the ingestion.

Thankfully, the screw was unmistakable. The baby’s body had broken down the black paint off the screw and then coated it in such a way that there was no chance of the sharp tip being exposed to scrape him. I’ll leave it at that except to say that every prayer uttered for my sweet baby in that 48 hour period must have added a layer of protection around that screw like a caterpillar forming its own chrysalis before emerging as a butterfly.

For the record, let it be known that I’m the one who learned all the lessons here. My baby is still oblivious to the fact that he completely swallowed a screw and then passed it exactly 48 hours later. He still puts everything in his mouth, bits of preschool and kindergarten projects that swirl in tumbleweed form behind the older brothers. No matter how hard we clean, there always seem to be new trails left behind by our three boys, and I don’t know how to change that.

Instead, I’ll cling to prayer and grace. I’m contemplating a dog to deal with the tumbleweed trails.

Anyone have thoughts on goldendoodles?

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