HOW NOT TO DIE (YET)
Dr Phil Hammond’s guide to living longer
If someone swallows a Lego head over Christmas, is it likely to get stuck or… pass through? We have an answer, thanks to Anglo-Australian researchers who did it themselves.
Self-experimentation has a noble tradition in medicine. Australian doctor Barry Marshall won a Nobel Prize after testing his theory that the bacteria Helicobacter pylori caused stomach ulcers by swallowing a heavy suspension of the bug scraped straight off the agar plate. “It was like putrid swamp water…”
He awoke at 3am with terrible stomach cramps and embarked on a lengthy affair with his lavatory. On day eight, he could no longer taste acidity in his vomit: “It looked just like water, but I hadn’t been drinking anything, so it was quite puzzling.” He later realised that the bacteria had stripped his gastric juices of their protective acids.
After 10 days of suffering, he had a celebratory endoscopy. Hurrah! He had the early signs of a stomach ulcer.
In the latest self-experiment, the Lego heads passed painlessly through the adult volunteers, with an average transit time of 1.7 days. The researchers were confident child guts would behave similarly, so parents can be reassured, at least regarding smooth objects. However, choking is a much greater risk for children, and a Lego head lodged in the trachea or bronchus is an altogether different matter.
So don’t sit idly by as your kids feed each other Lego. It may end up in the wrong tube.
Dr Phil Hammond is the author of Sex, Sleep or Scrabble? and Staying Alive: How to Get the Best from the NHS