In Other Words: Death by flossing — don’t ask!

There are those moments in life for which we are unprepared. For me, it was the night I swallowed the dental floss. Not swallowed exactly, more like holding on for dear life, which is what probably saved me from a sorrowful fate I now recall with extreme horror.

For those who have been told by their dentists that flossing will not only save teeth, but our lives, I am here to tell you they lied. Flossing is a death-defying experience — one which should never be attempted unless certain prerequisites are followed, namely, never talking with a mouthful of floss, or doing what I did as explained below. I learned my lesson the hard way.

It was a typical evening where I was engrossed in my usual ritual of flossing my teeth. As is often the case, I got up to get something to drink, draping a long strand of floss between two of my bottom teeth, each end dangling off the sides of my mouth — a sight so unseemly that one dare not perform this amazing feat outside of the privacy of one’s home. It was then I made a frightening discovery: only one end of the floss was visible. Where, I wondered had the other end gone? Frantically, I ran to the mirror and realized why I was experiencing an odd sensation. The long end of the floss had somehow shifted position and slipped down my throat, attaching itself to a part of my anatomy I never before even knew existed.

Don’t panic, I told myself as I often do when unforeseen moments present themselves. Just keep your cool and hold on to the existing piece of floss until you can figure out a strategy. With that, I ran to the TV where my husband was engrossed in Monday Night Football, the long piece of floss gripped tightly between my fingers. “Help,” I whispered so as not to dislodge the invisible end, to which Mort replied without really noticing me, “Could you move a little to the right?”

Allow me to digress: my late husband Mort was a great guy, a caring man, who under normal circumstances, would do anything for me except at those times when he was watching sports. Then the world fell away and he heard and saw nothing, not even a woman standing before him with a five-inch piece of string protruding from her mouth.

I tapped him on the shoulder with my free hand, never once relinquishing my grip on this stringy atrocity.

“Yes?” he asked, his eyes never moving from the screen. “What is it?”

“Look at me,” I said.

“Can’t. Not now. Just hold on.”

“I am holding on. That’s what I need to show you.”

“This is really important,” he said. “It’s getting tense.”

“So is my left hand. You need to stop…now!” I kicked the leg of his chair.

“What’s so pressing it can’t wait?” he turned toward me, “and why are you standing there with a piece of string extended from your mouth?”

It is moments like these that one wonders if marriage really is all it’s cracked up to be.

“The floss. It’s stuck.”

“Stuck to what?”

“To me. The other end is halfway down my throat. If I let go I might choke to death. It’s probably best if I don’t speak at all.”

And that’s when Mort made the most ridiculous statement: “Would you like an aspirin?”

Mort grew up in a family where aspirin cures everything from a fever to the common cold to psoriasis, headaches, heart disease, cancer, and now: ingesting floss.

“Emphatically no. What I want is for you get up off your rear end and do something.”

“I’ll call the dental floss hotline,” he said.

What I didn’t know was that there is an actual floss hotline number on the back of the floss dispenser. Mort called and spoke to a person in charge of unnatural floss disasters, explaining the circumstances. Then, they both had a good laugh at my expense. It was suggested that I receive immediate medical attention, and that I might want to go to my local ER for treatment.

“What kind of treatment?’ I asked.

“I’m not sure,” Mort said. “Probably a flossectomy.”

Twenty minutes later I walked into Norwalk Hospital’s emergency room where a staff of doctors and nurses, trying with great difficulty to contain their amusement, put me in a small room away from others, who would be tempted to ask who the crazy lady was.

After the attending took a look, I was turned over to an ENT specialist, who explained the floss had wound itself around my uvula.

“Do I need to see a gynecologist?” I asked.

It took the doc under an hour, with two nurses trying to keep me preoccupied by perpetually smiling and asking me at five-minute intervals how I was doing.

“Like I swallowed a hairball,” I said.

Once the floss was removed, I was given a glass of water, and a sedative.

“What about the aspirin?” Mort asked.

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views monthly in the Westport News. She can be reached via email at or at