While it certainly sounds painful, you wouldn’t think accidentally swallowing a chicken bone could so dramatically change your life.
But for Shane Barnbrook, a 36-year-old social worker from Seymour, Victoria, the simple misstep changed his life forever, leaving him a quadriplegic with limited control of his movements.
The incident took place in February 2012.
Shane was just playing a computer game and eating some leftover chicken curry on a Monday night.
He didn’t realise there was half a wishbone in it, and he swallowed it.
Neither Shane nor his wife Sarah made a big fuss out of it at first. They figured they would just wait for the bones to re-emerge.
“About two days later, it got caught behind my chest and I had indigestion,” Shane told the podcast 2 Keto Dudes in November last year.
“By Thursday night I was feeling really sick.”
At one point, as he decided to go and see the doctor, his chest tightened up and he thought he was going to have a heart attack.
His wife, Sarah, who at the time was nine months pregnant with their third child, called for an ambulance.
He told them he had pain radiating through one arm and had swallowed a chicken bone a few days prior, Fairfax Media reported.
Shane was taken to Seymour Hospital in Melbourne’s north and examined. He had severe pain in his anus and a small amount of chest pain, and shortness of breath.
But doctors found no abnormality, and his tests showed no signs of a heart attack.
He was eventually sent home with painkillers and haemorrhoid cream — but he barely lasted a day before he had to return.
“By Sunday night I couldn’t stand up,” he told the podcast. “I got my grandparents to take me to the emergency department and I had to lay on the floor. I couldn’t stand or even sit in the seat. The last thing I remember was they took me to the emergency room, and I projectile vomited about three metres.”
Within hours of being there, he was transported to Melbourne’s Northern Hospital for more advanced care.
A surgical team opened up his abdomen. There were signs of an infection, but according to Shane’s lawyers, the doctors did not look for a puncture in the rectum.
Shane’s condition continued to deteriorate, to the point where his wife Sarah was eventually told her husband would not survive.
“This all started on the 1st February,” Shane said. “By the 11th, they called a Catholic priest to read my last rights. They said ‘He’s not going to make it through the night’.”
A few days later, Sarah gave birth to the couple’s third child.
Fortunately Shane survived, and surgeons were given a chance to take yet another look at his abdomen.
This time, they found a hole in his rectum and a profound abscess on his abdominal wall.
He remained in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit as they attempted to treat him, but when he woke up a week later, he was a quadriplegic.
“I couldn’t move anything below my neck,” he said. “Imagine having an itchy nose and you can’t move to scratch it, you can’t talk to say that. You just have to lie there and deal with it.”
He said the condition came from “critical illness neuropathy” — a disease of the nerves.
Shane spent the next four years in rehabilitation and a nursing home, before he finally was able to return home this year.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers told news.com.au they are now taking legal action against the two hospitals on Shane’s behalf.
They are alleging that if doctors had listened to him and treated him faster, he would have made a full recovery.
“This is a tragic case. It illustrates the catastrophic and life-changing consequences that can stem from medical errors,” said Tom Ballantyne, a principal in Maurice Blackburn’s medical negligence department.
“There were numerous opportunities to make the correct diagnosis and intervene, but instead, events have snowballed to the point where Mr Barnbrook now has a severe and lifelong disability.”
Shane was not available for further comment.