A Red Deer woman is warning barbecue enthusiasts to be extra careful about what they use to clean their grill after a painful and harrowing hamburger experience.

Last month, a family barbecue turned into a medical nightmare for Kim Schellenberg.

Schellenberg said her husband cleaned the grill using a wire bristle barbecue brush before throwing some hamburgers on to cook. Finding the burgers a bit salty, the family opted to break up the patties and put them in a soup.  

From there, the trouble started almost right away.

“It was actually just a moment before I realized something was in my burger [my husband] had found a little piece of metal on the tip of his tongue,” Schellenberg said.

Moments later, Schellenberg took a bite and noticed something in her throat.

“For anybody who has ever choked, you know, it’s nothing for a moment and then all of a sudden it’s something,” she said. “This wire was caught at the back of my throat just behind a little flap of flesh back there so you couldn’t see it but I knew where it was.”

Listen to her full interview on CBC's Edmonton AM

Rushed to hospital

Comparing the feeling to choking on a double-sided pin, she tried using tweezers to dislodge the item but succeeded only in pushing it further in.

“Any time you spoke, you moved, you breathed hard, you felt it.”

Schellenberg’s husband took her to the hospital where staff offered to administer a freezing spray to numb the spot, but she said no, thinking it was better to be able to feel the wire bristle so she would know if it moved.

Because the Red Deer hospital had no ear, nose and throat specialists on call, Schellenberg was given the option of being taken to a larger hospital in Edmonton or Calgary. She chose Calgary and was taken there in an ambulance.

When she arrived, Schellenberg was rushed into the emergency room for two surgeries.

Doctors there used a spaghetti camera to look down her throat, but were unable to find the wire bristle despite repeated x-rays and CT scans.

Schellenberg says the bristle must have gone through her digestive tract leaving her hoping that it didn’t cause any other damage.

Spreading the word

Now recovering at home, Schellenberg is warning people to avoid cheaply-made barbecue brushes.

“Those wires that can come off - they’re so fine and they get cooked up in barbecue sauce and you can’t even see them.”

Schellenberg said the experience has made her think about everything the brushes are exposed to before being used to clean a barbecue.

Ultimately, though, Schellenberg says she feels pretty lucky to have gotten off as easily as she did.

She said she’s since spoken to or heard of several other people who also ended up in medical distress after inadvertently eating a bit of bristle.