A collection of wooden toothpicks.

(credit: Michael Galkovsky / Flickr)

Toothpicks seem so innocent. Whether staking down juicy sliders on game day or harpooning fruits bobbing in happy-hour cocktails, the mini skewers often spike our festive occasions. But, make no mistake, they have a vicious side. Given the chance, they will mess you up.

Of the poor souls who somehow ingest one of the wee daggers, 79 percent will end up with stab wounds their innards. Ten percent will die from their toothpick-inflicted injuries.

A new case study in the New England Journal of Medicine lays out some of the gory details behind those stats. A team of Boston doctors tell the woebegone tale of an unnamed, 18-year-old professional athlete who unknowingly swallowed a wooden toothpick. After weeks of abdominal pain, multiple visits to emergency rooms, bloody poops, and a life-threatening infection, doctors finally discovered it—lodged in his colon, piercing through his intestinal wall and into a neighboring, large artery. Then there was the harrowing effort to remove it and patch him up.

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