Stick A Fork In It: I May Be Done For

The danger has passed. I think. Maybe.

And, by passed, I mean literally passed through my GI tract. Not that I checked. Then again, this entire anxiety-inducing, loss-of-sleep and possibly life-threatening episode may have been a fork-induced false alarm (one of the five worst types of false alarms). Then again, it could be lodged in my heart. Or liver.

Let me explain…

I was at a local Central Ohio restaurant recently, one of those healthy, build-it-yourself places where you put kale, carrots and other nutritious stuff on top of purple rice. I was dining alone, was halfway through my meal and eating way too fast, as I’m prone to do. Suddenly, I look down at my plastic fork and notice one of the tines was gone. Snapped off at the base.

“That’s strange,” I thought to myself. “I wonder what happened to it?”


I looked on the tray, around the tray, on my lap, on the floor … and in my rice bowl. Nothing. No plastic tine. Just kale, carrots and the protein of my choosing.

“Oh no, it couldn’t be, could it? No way. I would have felt something going down, wouldn’t I? Yeah, I would have felt something sharp and pointy. There’s no way I could have swallowed it. No way. This fork came with a missing tine and I’m just now noticing it. That has to be it.”

Then again, I do eat really fast. Like super fast. I barely chew. And the tine is small and thin and all plasticky and … holy crap. Suddenly, it felt like there was something stuck in the back of my throat. Something small. And sharp. And it hurt. I tried coughing it up. Nothing. I tried again. Louder, harder. Several people looked over at me. A couple look worried, others looked annoyed.

“Sorry to bother everyone, I may have just swallowed a fork tine and could die! Is anyone here a doctor? A GI specialist?”

Nevertheless, despite the fact that my life may have been in peril, I continued eating. Hey, where I grew up you don’t waste food. But I ate a little slower and more carefully, and drank a lot of water. And tried to put the possibility that I had swallowed the tine out of my mind. But I couldn’t. The brain is funny that way. I began to feel discomfort in my throat and then in my neck. “Holy crap, it’s already lodged in my neck, it’s going to pierce my jugular and I’ll bleed out. Right here in this upscale and healthy, fast-casual restaurant.”

Later that day and for the next few, I felt tingling and stabbing sensations at various points along my GI tract as the tine worked its way through me. If I had swallowed it. The pains seemed to get worse and make themselves known in more and more place the more I thought about it. It be lodged in my heart at this very moment, about to poke through a ventricle. And I love my ventricles.

My next mistake was looking up “what happens when you swallow something sharp” on the internet. A woman who swallowed a toothpick developed nausea, vomiting and low blood pressure. Turns out the toothpick was lodged in her liver and caused an abscess and blood poisoning.

A doctor on a website that seemed legitimate suggested a trip to the ER after swallowing something sharp and pointy, like a toothpick. Seems a lot of people swallow toothpicks. Not so much with plastic fork tines.

The ER? No way, I have crappy health insurance. It would cost a fortune, what with all those tests, scans and operations to remove the tine lodged in my liver. And I’m not even sure I swallowed the damn tine. It would be totally embarrassing to go the ER, tell them what I think I may have swallowed, and for them to then tell me – after hours of tests, all the while wearing that humiliating gown that’s impossible to tie properly – that I hadn’t swallowed anything other than kale and carrots. I’ll wait it out a few days and see what happens. I’ll check to see if there’s blood in my urine or a searing pain in my gut that just won’t go away. Or my heart or liver. And then, maybe, probably, I’ll go to the ER. I might have a Groupon somewhere.

Maybe I should I ask Susan what to do. She was, after all, a nurse for 25 years and knows all about anatomy. Nah, she’ll get all worried, and then lecture me about mindful eating. “You eat so fast, do you even taste or enjoy your food? No wonder you swallowed a fork tine.”

It’s a couple weeks later and …

I’m fine. I think. I hope. I’m pretty sure I didn’t swallow a plastic fork tine (knock on wood). Then again, from time to time (tine to tine?) it does feel like something’s going on in my gut and my throat is a little scratchy. And my chest has been sore the past few days. And, since I started writing this post, a new pain in my liver has developed. Why did I have to go and Google it? And, how long did it take that lady who swallowed the toothpick to develop all those terrible symptoms and get an abscessed liver? A week? A month? Even more importantly, did it kill her? I better Google her and find out.

Then again, maybe that’s not such a good idea. Ignorance is bliss, especially when it comes to the mysterious case of the disappearing fork tine.

The Great British Amateur Surgery Challenge: A Brand-New TV Show!

surgeons performing surgery
Photo by Павел Сорокин on


Have you binge-watched The Great British Baking Show or The Great British Interior Design Challenge? Millions have. Including me. And I don’t even like or understand interior design. These shows are so popular, lucrative and addictive that teams of great and not-so-great British television producers are scrambling and brainstorming to come up with the next big British televised thing.

The Brits may be screwing up Brexit, but they know how to make must-watch TV. How To Marry A Royal is one of the proposals.

I have been able to confirm that production has begun on The Great British Amateur Surgery Challenge, and was able to snag an interview with Robert “Bobby” Birminghamshire, creator and producer of The Great British Amateur Surgery Challenge.

Q: Bobby, where did the idea for this show come from?

A: We all felt the baking and interior design shows lacked the life-and-death consequences so many millions of viewers crave. Your cake is a little dry, your bedroom renovation is a bit too purple or over the top … so what? Where’s the drama in that? We’re the land of Shakespeare and your actions must have serious consequences. Surgery and all the complications that can result from surgery seemed ideal and quite fascinating. Every one of us on the production team has had a mum or a dad or a mate have something go horribly wrong during surgery. We were sitting around the office, sharing our amusing surgery stories, just cracking each other up, and it just suddenly struck us that this was the ideal show to do.

Q: What a bloody-good idea.

A: Please don’t ever use the term bloody in connection to our show or we will sue the trousers off you.

Q: Sorry. How will you find your contestants, the top amateur surgeons in England?

two person doing surgery inside room
Photo by Vidal Balielo Jr. on


A: Great question. At first, we thought butchers would be our target group. We tested some of Britain’s finest butchers and it seemed to be working out well. We also found a wonderful chain-saw artist in Cardiff, and an amazing ice sculptress in St. Ives. However, due to some annoying legal complications, we ended up going with first-year medical-school students. They’re technically still amateur surgeons, but have just enough medical training to satisfy our legal team.

Q: How will the show work?

A: Let me use our first episode as an example. In this episode, our eight amateur surgeons each selected a family member or a mate and performed a rhinoplasty on them. You know, a nose job. Everyone, it seems, has a family member or friend with a hideous nose. It was all voluntary, of course. A professional anesthesiologist knocked out each of our patients and our amateur surgeons had at it. Off you go!

After our amateur surgeons completed their work, our judges – two of Britain’s finest professional surgeons, including a kind one and a mean one – evaluated each of the noses, and one amateur surgeon was eliminated. It was an emotional sendoff. We’re calling this episode, our first one: Noses Off!

Q: How are you going to top that on the second episode?

A: I can’t give away too much. But in Episode 2, our great amateur surgeons will each perform a hernia operation.

Q: A hernia operation? How did you ever find 11 people willing to have an amateur surgeon perform this type of complicated procedure on them?

A: You’d be surprised what people are willing to endure to be on the tellie, especially a show that has the words “Great” and “British” in the title. We were overwhelmed by the number of people with hernias who signed a waiver to be on The Great British Amateur Surgery Challenge.We even had a few ambitious people attempt to lift rather heavy objects to induce a hernia. Some of the videos they sent us were hysterical. I can neither deny or confirm the rumors that a member of Parliament will be on this episode. But I can say one of the original Spice Girls will be in Episode 4, a special plastic-surgery-themed episode. It’s a real tear jerker. And a former Manchester United star will be on Episode 7: I Knee-d An Operation.

Q: What other operations will you have your amateur surgeons perform?

A: I don’t want to reveal too much, but each week the surgical procedure will become more complicated, culminating in, well, let’s just say the heart will be involved in the final episode.

Q: What happens if one of your patients dies? Aren’t you concerned about that?

A: Another excellent question. In the event that one of our patients doesn’t make it, we are legally authorized to utilize their remains for The Great British Amateur Embalming Competition. We have already filmed two episodes. Our amateur morticians are really quite marvelous and artistic, and I think this show has the potential be even bigger and more popular than The Great British Amateur Surgery Challenge.We’re also working on The Great British Organ Donor Contest. It’s rather amazing and inspiring how this has all worked out so well.


Please Don’t Flush This Post…

I just realized I haven’t written about our recent hike around the Isle of Wight (the one in England). Should I write about the incredible Coastal Path, the Tennyson Memorial, the wildflowers and the wild, rocky cliffs?

Nah, I’m gonna write about the toilets. Well, one particular toilet. A square one. That’s right, at two different places, I came across one of these…


A square toilet seat! What’s up with that? And how many millions of years will it take our butts and bodies to adapt and become square?

My friend Tania wondered if people’s butts are becoming more square “because we sit so much.” Sounds logical.

Phil asked if we were staying in Trafalgar Square. Ha, good one.

Turns out, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about toilets. Nor will it be the last. In the midst of my 2018 bike trip through Bordeaux, I came across an all-in-one toilet sink. I don’t know about you, but washing my hands that close to where countless people did you know what, is not very appealing. Or sanitary. Here, take a look…


All the way back on October 12, 2000, in my More Stuff column, I wrote the following…

The French pride themselves on their cheese and have something like 800 million registered brands. That’s nothing compared to all the different kinds of toilets they have, not to mention all the different ways there are to flush them. I think they do this to confuse and disorient weary travelers.

It works.

So, I’m at a cafe, the hub of social life in France, and a place people often enter just to use the facilities. I find the WC, enter and, it’s a squat toilet. No seat, just a large porcelain bin on the floor and two porcelain spots that are sort of shaped like feet and upon which you are supposed to put your feet. I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination.

Then there’s this: A normal toilet, except no seat. When this happens, it takes me an extra few minutes to arrange my protective layer of toilet paper, which, in France, is usually pink, if there even is toilet paper. The goal is to arrange my protective layer in such a way that no part of me will touch anything other than pink toilet paper. And then, as I prepare to sit down, half the damn pink toilet paper usually falls to the disgusting floor, and I have to start all over.

And then there’s the challenge of flushing, which you wouldn’t think would be difficult. Let’s just say there are so many different things to push, pull, poke, prod and pound in frustration.

Then there was this…

I’m at a restaurant and head to the bathroom. And can’t find the light switch. Anywhere. It’s not on the wall outside the WC, it’s not on the wall inside. It’s nowhere to be found. It doesn’t seem to exist. And then … a bathroom brainstorm! I shut and lock the door, and, when I click the lock, voila, the light goes on.

This column seemed to strike a chord with a lot of readers, and I did a followup on October 22, 2000…

One reader, who didn’t give his/her name, wrote: “Please, the next time you feel the urge to disclose your bathroom techniques, simply lie down until the urge passes.”

Someone else wrote: “One of the most beautiful countries in the world and all you can write about is its toilets?”


Joanne Fulcoly wrote: “I could really relate. This summer, I went with my two daughters and their husbands and children to Paris. The restrooms are hard to describe! I was not thrilled with the unisex ones, and hated that pink toilet paper! We had the most trouble with the round, silver ones that took coins to get the doors to open. It was an enlightening experience to all.”

Dave Bayer wrote: “I guess you discovered why we are ahead of the Europeans intellectually, they don’t read as much as we do. With toilets like that, how can they?”

Anne Scheidell wrote to tell me “a professor from St. Joe’s wrote a book called Flushing Your Way Through Europe or something like that. I looked on and couldn’t find this book, but did find The Porcelain God: A Social History of the Toilet, The Johns We’ve Known: Humorous Short Stories and Essays About Restrooms and Flushed With Pride: The Story of Thomas Crapper.

Vicki Miller, 16, told me all about her bathroom adventure: “I went to Japan in 1998 with the 4-H Exchange Program (and) we decided to try and figure out the toilet. Since we’re Americans, we knew we could figure it out.

“The toilet had all these interesting knobs and gadgets on it and we wanted to know what they did. So we pushed the buttons and played with the knobs and nothing happened. We figured out the toilet was pressure activated, you need someone on the toilet for it to work. So, we had someone standing on the toilet seat and then pushed the buttons.

“Curiosity killed the cat, but in my case I just got soaked. A thing like a bidet came out and started spraying water EVERYWHERE! We all got soaked, the bathroom was all wet, and we didn’t know how to stop it. We were hitting all the buttons and nothing worked. It finally stopped when the person standing on the toilet seat lost their balance and fell into the bathtub.”

This summer, Vicki was in Peru and she said that the tip “Sure made me thankful for toilet seats.”

See, travel really is educational.


The Overly Familiar Check-Out Person Conundrum


“Have any plans for the weekend?”

No, this wasn’t a friend, neighbor, co-worker or even Mom asking this seemingly personal question. It was the check-out person at a local grocery store, where they seem to be required to ask every customer this question every Friday. On Mondays, do they always ask: “How was your weekend?” I’ll have to check on a Monday.

I was tempted, so very, very tempted to go into full Larry-David mode on the check-out person. I’ve been watching a lot of Curbs lately, and, sometimes, dammit, Larry makes a good point about social interactions and the rules that govern society. Like when Christian Slater ate way too much caviar or the guy took two parking spaces. Larry just takes it too far.

Here’s how Larry-David mode would have gone in my mind…

Check-out person: “Have any plans for the weekend?”

Me: “Yes.”

Check-out person: “Oh, what are they? Something fun?”

Me: “We don’t know each other, and that seems overly familiar and way too personal. I’m not comfortable detailing my weekend plans to you.”

Check-out person: “I was just being polite. I’m sorry sir, have a nice one.”

Me: “A nice one? What does that even mean. A nice what?”

In real life, here’s how it went…

Check-out person: “Have any plans for the weekend?”

Me: “No, not really.”

Check-out person: “Well, the weather’s supposed to be nice, maybe you can do something outside.”

Me: “Maybe.”

Perhaps it’s me. I grew up in Philadelphia, where the most interaction we have at check-out counters is a gentle nod and maybe a low-key “yo” if we’re feeling especially chatty and have known the check-out person for years and perhaps went to grade school with them. But here, in Columbus (Ohio), complete strangers and check-out people, people I’ve never met, seem eager to engage me in conversation. And they seem to really care what I plan to do this coming weekend. I think they’re rooting for me to have a fun weekend.

grocery cart with item
Photo by Oleg Magni on

And then, yesterday, I was at a different supermarket, and the check-out person said this…

Check-out person: “What are you up to today?”

Huh? What am I up to today? That seems even more personal and intrusive than “Any plans for the weekend?”

And here’s the thing: I was up to something really cool. From the supermarket, I was headed to a nearby axe-throwing place, where I was gonna throw some axes with a local woman who’s one of the top axe throwers in central Ohio. For an article I’m writing for Columbus Monthly.

But come on … how much work would that have been to explain all this to the check-out person. A lot. Way too much. And then, answering all the axe-related, follow-up questions. It could have gone on forever. I was exhausted just thinking about it.

So, instead…

Me: “Just come chores.”

What do you think? How do you respond when the check-out person asks you for your weekend plans or daily itinerary? I’m curious. Perhaps I have it all wrong and my attitude is preventing me from meaningful social interactions that will expand my horizons, better connect me with my fellow human beings and lead to a happier, healthier and more-fulfilling  life. And maybe, just maybe, in the Age of Trump, this is more important than ever.

And don’t get me started on those people who leave their shopping carts in the middle of a space in the middle of the parking lot. What would Larry say to someone he saw doing this?

Things I Think About While Trying Not To Think While Meditating

I’m into meditation. But not very good at it. Yet.

Hey, it’s hard to shut down my brain; to turn off the finely-tuned, hyperactive thinking machine on top of my shoulders for even a few minutes at a time. Especially now, these days, when we’re so connected to and bombarded with tweets, texts, Facebook, emails, Instagram and all the non-stop news from Washington, D.C. and … damn … it’s exhausting and stressful just thinking about it.

Earlier today, I completed a four-week meditation course at Yoga On High. I learned a lot and improved my meditation skills, and yet, during class today, I thought about…


Dinner. I think I’m gonna do something with the sweet potatoes I got the other day. Susan loves sweet potatoes. I think I’ll roast them. Yeah, that sounds tasty.

Arnold. Not the Arnold, but the Arnold Sports Festival. It starts on Thursday and I’ll be blogging for them. I love this event. So many fascinating people. So many great stories. But parking? Where am I gonna park? I used to have a secret – and free! – place about a mile away, but now they went and totally changed the parking situation in the Short North and you need to download an app to park and you have to…

Provence. Susan’s at home, working on formatting my new, updated Biking Provence eBook. She’s been having some problems, as the host site has gone and changed everything and made formatting so much harder. Why? Why would they do such a thing? Do they have it out for me? Do we need to find a new host site?

Goat cheese. We have some goat cheese, and that would go great on top of the sweet potatoes. With some toasted walnuts. Damn, that sounds good. I’m getting hungry.

Fourth Street: I think there’s a $5 a day lot of Fourth where I can park for the Arnold. It’s only about a half mile walk from there to the convention center. Yeah, I’ll swing by there after meditation class to make sure, or maybe I can check out a spot over on…


Leafy greens: Would also go great with the sweet potatoes, goat cheese and walnuts. And we need more leafy greens in our diet, Susan and me, and you too. Leafy greens are so healthy. I have some watercress and some kale and…

The Weather: It’s been kind of lousy lately, for cycling. But tomorrow might be OK. Maybe I can get in a ride in the morning. And try to meditate while I ride. I find cycling very relaxing and meditative and…

Beets: I still have some leftover roasted beets in the frig from the other night. Maybe they’ll go good with the leafy greens. Susan loves beets. Maybe even more than sweet potatoes. And they’re also totally good for you

Spike Lee: I’m hoping he wins an Oscar tonight for BlacKkKlansman. I think it was the best movie of 2018, although we haven’t seen Roma yet and everyone’s saying it’s great and it’s on Netflix right now, but it has subtitles and that’s a lot of work and…


Dessert: I don’t have anything for dessert, and Susan loves dessert. But we do have some Valentine’s Day chocolate left, so maybe we can have a couple pieces. But only a couple pieces. I haven’t been riding much and have gained 7 pounds and…

Whoops, gotta go. Class is over.