Corned beef is beyond delicious when cooked correctly, but beware the hazards of that devilish meat.
Like turkey on Thanksgiving and ham for Easter, corned beef was one of those holiday dishes my family had once a year on St. Patrick’s day. We shied away from the full-fledged spread with cabbage, instead opting for boiled red potatoes. Corned beef can be an incredibly easy dish to make with the myriad of pre-brined and seasoned cuts of meat. All you have to do is chuck it in the crock pot with some water/stock, vegetables and wait.
This isn’t strictly an ode to the salt-cured meat. Oh no, my sodium-loving friends. This is a cautionary tale of the most expensive corned beef I ever consumed and also the last time I ever ate the tender, fatty treat.
Disclaimer: This story may ruin your desire to eat, especially corned beef. You may never eat again. You’ve been warned.
The year was 2010…
I had been working at my first job out of college for a little more than a year. Things were going well. My mom had fired up the trusty crock-pot while I was at work and prepared corned beef and potatoes. The aromatics filled the home. I took a look and saw the oddly-shaped meat with herbs, potatoes and lightly simmering stock inside the ceramic vessel. Off came the lid and the steam rose up to my nose and somehow migrated to my stomach.
Slicing the red potatoes and applying a sliver of butter, I savored the annual treat. We also had rye bread and butter to make little sandwiches. Life was good until everything went awry.
Sitting at the dinner table afterwards, I felt something in my throat. An acute tickle. I tried drinking some water to dislodge whatever it was. That didn’t help. Then I tried some bread. 0-2. In my haste to devour the feast, I apparently did not chew a forkful of food enough.
I relaxed on the couch trying to avoid the nagging irritation in my larynx. With each swallow, the no bueno feeling strengthened. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror opening my mouth like I was at the dentist. At first, I didn’t see anything out of the norm. Maybe you’re like me and take inventory of your body with the same rigor of RGIS. I fought the urge to go on WebMD and learn what sort of cancer it could be. As I looked closer, I saw something. It was close in color to my tonsils. There appeared to be a sliver of corned beef stuck in my tonsils. Seared into my long-term memory, I can’t unsee that fleck of meat dangling from my tonsils. It had taken up squatter’s rights in the throat and had no intention of leaving.
I drank more water. Ate more bread. Ate more pretzels. There had to be some way I could dislodge the food with other food. Clearly, this meat speck was a loner. It didn’t want to attend the party in my stomach with the others. Instead, it wanted to stay up here, annoying me.
Should I pray to St. Patrick for his intercession? This didn’t really involve pirates. Saint Blaise? That would be a more accurate pairing.
The nice thing about Catholicism is you essentially have a saint for every occasion.
Lose your keys? St. Anthony.
Corned beef stuck in your throat? St. Blaise.
It’s your very own Saul Goodman.
My mom suggested using my toothbrush or finger to fish it out. This would be the second time I would go fishing in my life. The first resulted in my emptying the lake of the largest clump of seaweed on record. Seriously, THAT big. I had to throw it back so others could have a chance to reel it in. Armed with my toothbrush, I went after it like Ahab. Maybe I’d end up on Discovery’s Deadliest Catch?
I was unsuccessful.
Maybe sleep would do the trick. I called it a night and dozed off to the land of throats free of stuck meat.
I woke up, shuffled to the bathroom and squinted after turning on the light. Had the tenant been evicted?
Nope. Still there.
Unsure what to do, I went about my morning routine and drove to work. I don’t want to say I’m a hero, but I’ve heard the word used. Once at work, I shared my tale with my coworkers. They were disgusted, going as far as saying, “That is disgusting.” For fear that I may die from lodged corned beef, they urged I get it removed.
I called my primary doc and explained the situation. You know it’s bad when the nurse says it’s gross or audibly shudders.
“You need to go to the emergency room. We don’t have the tools necessary to help.”
Tools necessary? This isn’t an operation, is it? Hope I get the surgeon who was the best on the block as a child. I just need someone with a steady hand and a sterile stick.
Aiming to avoid the emergency room for something I didn’t deem an emergency, I tried an urgent care office nearby.
“You should go to the ER.”
Urgent, not emergency. Meanwhile the meat fleck is getting comfortable in my throat. The only person who wants it gone is me. Where is the desire for a challenge among the medical community? Surely, they’d love to tell this tale around their dinner table as they serve corned beef.
I broke down and called the ER.
“How long is your wait?” I asked after re-telling the story that had become rote.
“Three hours,” the woman said.
I could make another corned beef in that amount of time and get the whole thing stuck in my throat.
There was one last hope. Ear, Nose and Throat specialists. They would have the essential equipment to assist me. I called their office and they had a slot around lunch time (fittingly). Off we went, me and my rotting meat, to the ENT. Reading through Highlights from the year I was born, I waited to be called.
“Andrew?” the nurse asked after opening the door.
I sprang up and went into an examination room. WHERE ARE THE TOOLS?
The doctor came in. I gave him my spiel.
“Let’s take a look.”
He turned on a spelunking head lamp and asked me to open wide.
“Oh, there it is. I see it.”
He said it looked like it could be a blood vessel that became dislodged from the folds of the tonsils. Apparently this guy writes for WebMD as his side gig.
“Let’s see if I can get it out of there.”
After I choked from the first effort, he sprayed me with a numbing liquid he described as a “burnt bubble gum” flavor. That should pair well with corned beef.
He reached for his tools: a tongue depressor and a long Q-Tip. Those are the tools my primary doctor didn’t have?!
Similar to a tonsil swab in a strep test, he was able to dislodge the substance. Victory! Looking at it in the small, plastic cup he placed it in, he confirmed, “Yep. That’s corned beef.”
I looked at it, took the cup with me and went back to work. I showed my coworkers. They promptly tried to suppress the urge to projectile vomit.
Three weeks later, I received the bill for the visit, making this the most expensive corned beef.
Now we have an emergency.