Boy Chokes on Live Eel & Proves We're All Worrying About the Wrong Things

teen chokes on eel

When my kids were really little, there were a million things I worried about. A million. I worried that their runny noses would escalate into spiking triple-digit fevers and their brains would boil inside their still-forming skulls, I worried that they would roll off the changing table and into the waiting jaws of a crocodile (unlikely, and YET), I worried that their tiny grasping toes would get entangled in their pajamas and the cloth would twist too tightly and cut off all their circulation and they’d wake up in the morning with a gangrenous wound in need of amputation. I have to say, though, as far as my imagination stretched, I never quite pictured them nearly choking to death on a LIVE EEL. Which, if you believe the Daily Mail (and let us just take a moment to agree that we often do NOT), is what happened to a teenager from Bangladesh.


BioMed Central is a medical journal that covered the story in a thrilling missive titled “Live fish in the trachea and bronchus: a case report.” The authors concede that while “a live foreign body in trachea or bronchus is very rare,” it’s also a “life threatening condition.” (They forgot to add, “and it’s MESSED UP AS HELL.”)

In this case, the 16-year-old Bangladeshi boy “presented with severe respiratory distress and cyanosis,” and after determining that it was likely he had a FISH in his trachea, doctors carried out an emergency tracheostomy.

Unbelievably, slicing his neck open didn’t fix the problem, and doctors had to probe farther until they saw a tail fin — A TAIL FIN OH MY GOD — down the right side of his bronchus, at which point it was grasped with forceps and pulled clear.

Respiratory distress was relieved immediately, according to the journal. WHEW. But how in the heck did the fish get in there in the first place? I mean, you’re wondering this too, right? Here’s the backstory:

(The boy’s parents) said that on the Eid day (a Muslim religious festival), the boy with his friend had gone to a nearby canal to catch fish. He found two fishes at a time, and at one point held one’s head between his teeth while trying to catch the other one, keeping both hands free. Then suddenly the live moving fish slipped into his mouth and the boy immediately rushed home. Initially his family members saw the fish in his mouth and tried to pull it out with hands by holding the tail end, but couldn’t do so, as it was live, moving and very slippery. The fish slipped downwards beyond their vision. Then they rushed to the nearby Upazilla Health Complex from where the boy was referred to a District Hospital.

Jesus Hockey-Playing Christ. The Mail has a lovely X-ray image of the fish in the boy’s neck, should you care to view such a thing, and the journal goes on to explain that the eel in question was a Guchi Baim (Macrognathus pancalus), which is “flat, elongated, slippery, and easily crossed the glottis and entered the trachea and right bronchus.”

BLARGH. Well, if you’re still reading, I commend you for your fortitude. You may as well stick around for the helpful advice to avoid your own eel-choking emergency: if you find yourself gagging on a live fish, only remove it if it can be seen; otherwise, you might just jam it further down your breath-hole (fancy medical term).

If the foreign body in the back of the throat is visible and approachable it can be removed easily and further complications can be avoided. But attempts of removal of foreign body may be dangerous. Especially if it slips and drops down to inlet of larynx symptoms may aggravate quickly and be fatal.

And there you have it, folks! As BioMed concludes, “Avoidance of the tendency of holding the fish between teeth during fishing can prevent this life threatening condition.” So don’t let your kids do that. Don’t let them stuff a swamp eel up their butts, either, because that can have equally disastrous results.

Did you have ANY idea that live eels being lodged in orifices was a thing you should worry about?

Image via devcentre/Flickr

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