A thin piece of wire invisible even to an X-ray put Beverly Smith on an operating table for emergency surgery.
The Red Deer nurse’s bowel had been perforated by a single bristle from the kind of barbecue brush found next to millions of outside grills across Canada.
Smith has gone public with her story to warn others.
“If I could pass on what I felt, you’d probably never use one again,” said Smith Wednesday.
Her journey from grill to gurney began in October. She had barbecued several days in a row to take advantage of the good weather.
Later, she began feeling ill with what she thought was likely the flu. After a few days, she was in severe pain and could not eat.
She went to a walk-in clinic, where blood work and an x-ray showed no signs of trouble. The doctor examined her and told her to go to the hospital emergency department if her condition worsened.
By that night, she was at the hospital and within hours on an operating table. When she came to she had a long incision in her stomach and was missing 20 centimetres of small bowel.
She had suffered a perforated bowel, a potentially deadly injury. It would be two months before Smith returned to work.
It would be weeks after her surgery before she got the report that identified a tiny piece of wire as the source of her traumatic experience.
At first she was baffled but when her husband and co-workers suggested the barbecue brush was to blame it all seemed to make sense.
Smith said Health Canada must act to ban the brushes.
“Health Canada, you’re there to protect the people and you’re not. Children are getting these stuck in their throats.”
She worries about other scenarios. What if a pregnant woman had gone through what she did? They could lose the baby.
What if someone in her family got sick because of a loose bristle?
“If this happened in a different situation and I was responsible for hurting my grandchildren. my daughters-in-law, my daughters, I don’t know how I could live with myself.”
Health Canada responded to a request for comment on Wednesday with an email.
“Health Canada is committed to helping protect the health and safety of Canadians from unsafe consumer products. The department is working in close collaboration with industry stakeholders to establish the necessary safety requirements to mitigate the hazards posed by wire-bristle BBQ brushes,” says the email.
“As the issue is not specific to a particular brand or make of BBQ brush, the department recommends that consumers inspect all wire-bristle BBQ brushes for signs of damage, as well as inspecting the grill and food to detect any loose wire bristles.
“Health Canada will continue monitoring the situation and will take additional action if appropriate.”
Since her incident, Smith has heard from many others who told stories of digging bristles out of their teeth and games after a barbecue meal. Her surgeon said he had two other serious cases like hers in the past year.
Perhaps, the scariest part of her experience was how unpreventable it was.
“I know I did nothing wrong. I do what every other Canadian does, come home from work, throw something on the barbecue, have supper.”
When she latest tested a brand new brush still in its packaging, bristles came off just by running her hand across it.
To backyard cooks her message is heartfelt and clear.
“Don’t take the chance. It’s not worth your loved one’s life.
“I just don’t want other people to go through this.”