George Lazenby was recently given a small piece of Iridium by Oliver Sacks. Iridium is one of the densest known elements, such that a shoebox of the stuff would weigh 1,523lbs. Ergo, it’s bad-ass. On his blog, he writes of his bad experience with Iridium as a result of a mix-up with some medicine.
I came downstairs with the Iridium pellet in my hand tossing it around, wanting to accustom my hand to its weight/volume ratio. The idea was that the Raniditine pill would feel like an empty capsule when I picked it up. It did indeed feel quite hollow. I was pleased with this and took the pill upstairs, as I reached my bed I tossed the pill into my mouth and was preparing to take a drink of water when I began to realize that there was something terribly wrong with my mouth. The interior of the right cheek began to sag horribly, as though I’d just had an episode of Bell’s Palsy. Before I knew what was happening, the horrible feeling began rapidly creeping towards the back of my throat, and then down it.
It was about this time that I realized I’d thrown the Iridium pellet into my mouth along with the Raniditine, and that its density was overcoming my ability to avoid swallowing it. Immediately after this most unpleasant realization, I felt a lurching thunk in my esophagus, and a distant tap somewhere in my upper thorax. Words like “Oh” and “fuck” began to find each other in my brain and a cold feeling of panic began to drench me from the shoulders down.
I threw myself into a jacknife, doubled over, and attempted to make my way to the bathroom in this ridiculous position. In some moment of primordial clarity I (or perhaps more correctly, the hindbrain) had come to the conclusion that the Iridium should probably be prevented from embarking upon a tour of the rest of my alimentary canal. To accomplish this detainment, I jacknifed.
The goal now became the…deportation of my little tourist. Fortunately, the very physical property that had gotten it into my gut in the first place now allowed it to leave (mercifully) the way it had entered. With a small feeling of nausea, the pellet shot through my cardiac antrum and up (but in the larger sense, down) my esophagus. As a final insult to me, the Iridium knocked a tooth rather forcefully as it tumbled out of my pharynx. I suppose I should be thankful that the little bastard didn’t decide to take in the lungs or rest up in one of my sinuses.
I have to say, upon reflection, that that would have made one of the more interesting of all possible deaths. I might even have made it into a medical journal sidebar; which would have then had a long life as a clipping on bulletin boards at medical schools around the world.
All of that by way of introduction to his entertaining story of how he and Oliver Sacks came to possess a rather large lump of Iridium.