I recently found a blog that had this article on it. I don't think I'll ever put another pin in my mouth again!!
I was working in the wardrobe department on a television series in Sydney. The pressure was intense, but it was exciting.
Around halfway through the shoot, I was making an intricate Victorian costume for one of the lead actresses. I remember the pale green taffeta of the gown as I sat at the sewing machine, struggling with all the pleats and ribbons that had to look perfect for the screen. As always, the most convenient place to put the pin I was using was in my mouth. Somehow, one minute it was clenched between my teeth and the next it was gone.
I didn't feel a thing. I turned around to a co-worker and said, "I just swallowed a pin." She stopped what she was doing and asked if I was OK. "I think so," I said. One of the girls called emergency services. Their advice was to eat a cotton wool sandwich which would, they said, coat the pin on its way down the digestive tract. I did this and we all had a good laugh about how revolting it was, and then I thought nothing more about it.
I spent the rest of the day assuming the pin would eventually find its way out. I was so blasé, I went out that night and forgot all about it. The next day when I got to work, the costume designer told me that the production department had heard what had happened and were insisting I went for an x-ray. I remember thinking this was a bit nannyish, but I drove to a nearby radiology clinic and went straight into x-ray. While I was waiting for the results, the radiologist came back ashen-faced: "You didn't swallow it – you inhaled it. It's in your right lung. You need to go to the hospital. Now!"
The drive to hospital was a blur. I called my boyfriend and he was at the hospital to help me, rather shakily, fill in the forms. He signed the one that released them from responsibility should I die. I was taken straight into surgery and given a bronchoscopy. When I came round from the general anesthetic, the surgeon said that the procedure had been unsuccessful and had only pushed the pin farther in. I had to spend the next two days on an antibiotic drip before a specialist surgeon was free to operate.
The night before the operation, I was laughing with visitors, surrounded by flowers and get-well cards. I had also received a thoughtful present from the costume department, a block of wood with pins hammered into it and "Annie can swallow a pin" engraved on to the wood. The whole thing was a joke to everyone.
That is, it was until the surgeon operating on me the next day arrived at my bedside. He explained that the operation involved going in through my back between the ribs, possibly even breaking the ribs, and then removing up to a quarter of the lung tissue around the pin. All the laughter stopped right there, but I still felt calm; it was a surreal moment, as if I was starring in a hospital soap opera.
I managed to sleep that night, but in the hours leading up to the operation reality kicked in and I began to feel really nervous. I hadn't let myself think of any negative possibilities until then. The pre-op pethidine was a welcome relief from my creeping fear.
The operation was a success, and the surgeon managed to remove the pin without taking too much of my lung with it. I stayed in hospital for a week while they drained off the gunk my body had provided to fight the invader. There was a lot of pain and discomfort from needing to sleep and rest on my left side.
At a follow-up appointment a few weeks later, the surgeon told me how lucky I was to have had the x-ray when I did. He explained that if I had left it any longer, it could have meant either puncturing the lung, poisoning or worse.
I was off work for a month, had trouble using my right arm and lost sensation in my right breast, which has never recovered to this day – I swallowed the pin in 1985. Yet I did feel lucky. When I eventually got back to work, I had a very dubious celebrity status.
I still have the pearl-headed culprit in a container provided by the hospital. And I now shriek if I ever see anyone with a pin in their mouth – I have a six-inch scar on my back to remind me that, no matter how silly the action, the ramifications can be huge.
Pretty scary stuff!!
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