Patient dies in Singapore hospital after choking on his food
The man had pieces of watermelon stuck in his throat
Do you remember your mum constantly nagging you to chew your food properly? Maybe you’re doing that to your children now. Unfortunately, death by choking on food is real and it happened right here in Singapore.
Death by choking on food – specifically, watermelons
Kline George Verney, a 65 year old patient in Tan Tock Seng Hospital was found in bed unconscious by staff nurse.
The staff nurse managed to pull out three watermelon pieces between 1.5cm to 3cm thick stuck in his throat. A doctor later pulled out more watermelon pieces and grains of rice stuck in his vocal chords.
Doctors tried their best but were unable to save him. State coroners attributed his death to “acute airway obstruction by a foreign body”.
The autopsy also found lumps of rice stuck in the passageway to his lungs. Truly it was death by choking on food.
The curious case of the choking patient
Kline was admitted to the hospital for a head injury because of a fall late last year.
Ironically, he had no teeth so he was placed on an “easy chew’ diet. Patients can be on the “easy chew” diet if they find it hard too chew, cannot swallow properly, do not have dentures or if they just prefer to do so.
A month after he was admitted, a staff nurse discovered he had a full set of teeth. A dietitian found him to be underweight, and it was recommended for him to be switched to a regular diet once doctors found it was okay to do so. Hence, the watermelons – served to patients under the regular diet.
The staff nurse did her due diligence and proceeded to move him to a regular diet once everything checked out.
According to court documents, Kline’s daughter did confirm that he eats very fast, swallowing his food without chewing enough. Unfortunately, this ended up the cause of Kline’s death. It serves as a reminder to all parents, as well, to care for their elderly and adjust their diets accordingly.
As our parents become older, they become more dependent on their children and almost become child-like themselves.
What to do if your parents find it hard to chew or swallow?
Mums and dads, are your parents finding it difficult to eat? Perhaps it’s harder for them to chew food or it gets stuck in their throat often. that about 25% of the elderly have oral dryness – producing less saliva and making it harder to eat. As with the case above, death by choking on food is real and could happen to anyone.
It’s good to see your doctor if your mum or dad are having trouble swallowing, even pills. To help get the food down the throat for now, suggests the following for them:
Vary the diet
When you eat different foods, it helps to keep your mouth “active”. For instance, eating something warm like mashed potatoes to something colder like fresh salad. Don’t force your parents to eat something they wouldn’t want to, however.
Sit up straight
If possible, encourage your parents to sit upright at a 90-degree posture while eating, with the head titling a little bit to the front. Try a reclined position instead of the problem is getting food from the front of the back of the mouth.
Get rid of distractions
Staying focused during mealtimes is important. Try and turn off the TV, the phone or anything that might be distracting when eating. That’s when it’s most likely your parents might choke on their food.
Tiny food is better
Help to cut up your parents’ food to tiny little bite-sized pieces (just like you once did for your children). Even finger foods should be cut up to tiny pieces to help make it easier for your parents to swallow. Also, insist your parents don’t rush when they eat.
Keep a moist mouth
Before eating, you could help or get your parents to brush their teeth to help moisturise the mouth. Then during the meal, make sure there’s enough drinks (non-gassy) for your parents. Avoid medications like antihistamines as they will make the mouth dryer.
Related to the above, encourage your parents to swallow each piece more than once each bite or sip. If something gets stuck, help them to cough gently, then try once more to swallow. Even better if you can alternate between biting food and sipping drinks – and use a straw to make things easier. If it’s hard for your mum or dad to suck drinks through the straw, cutting the straw also cuts the drink’s travel time to the lips.
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