The Deadly Drink of Tea

Too bad the English have not developed the taste for iced tea. I am currently reading my fiftieth Agatha Christie book, and she has not yet utilized iced tea as a vehicle for poison. In Oklahoma, of course, it is done all the time. Well, poison - I don't know about that - probably.

The beauty of substances entering the mouth, though, from a murderer's standpoint, is that they are capable, in and of themselves, of killing off their victims in a flash without any trace of poison ever being administered. The phenomenon is known in the crime industry as choking. Choking, being a lose term to imply three or four advanced medical conditions, essential occurs when an object gets caught in a tight spot somewhere between the back teeth and the stomach and refuses to advance apart from assistance from a nearby paramedic. The result is the eventual failure on behalf of the individual in question to breath. But choking, in layman's terms, can also occur when the object in the throat region takes a wrong turn.

Somehow, down inside the throat region of one's anatomy, there is a little trap door which opens on cue to allow foreign objects into either the stomach or the lungs, depending on several external known or unknown factors. We will now take a look at these factors in the form of three scenarios.

Scenario One. The subject consumes four Hardees hamburgers simultaneously (see "Trip to Bartlesville, Part 3 - Remaining Highlights"). Despite difficulties, the subject eventually manages to chew hamburgers and swallow, whereupon the hamburgers make their way down the drain and land in the stomach region. All is well.

Scenario Two. The subject takes a drink of iced tea. Something goes wrong with the trap door. Two teaspoons of iced tea enter the stomach, and three teaspoons of iced tea enter the lungs. Subject begins coughing violently, staring ahead with glassy eyes full of terror. His or her arms flail irresponsibly in all directions, causing iced tea glasses, plates of spaghetti, cell phones, books, and other nearby objects to be flung off the table in various directions and dangerous velocities. Within five to ten minutes, the subject forces most of the iced tea out of his or her lungs, calms to a state of mild apprehension, and continues to cough and clear throat for the next seven hours.

Scenario Three. The subject takes a drink of iced tea. Someone at the table makes a smart-aleck remark or utters a witty observation. The subject struggles to maintain a mouthful of iced tea while simultaneously stifling the urge to laugh. The struggle is heightened by the other person's awareness of the situation and consequent renewal of the funny business. This situation can last almost indefinitely and lead to the eventual death of the subject by either choking (the layman's use of the word) or shear exhaustion. It is clearly the most dangerous of the three scenarios.

Now let us move on from purely clinical discussions and introduce an historic example. We will call upon the popular comedy team of Alan Wells and myself.

In the old days in Norman, Alan and I frequently lunched at Western Sizzlin, a restaurant known for its extensive salad bar. The reputable Western Sizzlin always took a dim view of the salad bar as the domain of the woman on a diet. Typically one could find such items as fried chicken, baked potatoes, hot rolls, etc., in addition to the standard garden items. This writer would estimate that at least half of the clientele dined solely from the salad bar, and this included burly men over six feet-two. It also included Alan and self.

One extraordinarily fateful day, Alan and I were dining on our salad bar items, and we were sitting within a roll toss of the salad bar itself, when along came a man and his young son. They worked themselves around the salad bar for a few minutes, filling their plates high with delicious morsels, when suddenly the lad announced, "Dad, you could almost make a meal out of this!"

The young man had just had a eureka moment. I had just taken a large drink of iced tea.

Thus the struggle commenced. I summoned all my powers of concentration. A great task lay ahead of me, but I felt certain that within the next minute and a half I could work through it and overcome.

Over time, iced tea warms inside one's mouth, and this helps relax the subject, allowing him or her to operate the trap door more successfully than otherwise. Usually the iced tea can be channeled to the proper reservoir within a minute or two, provided no additional external stimulation is introduced.

Additional external stimulation was introduced. Alan Wells, always there with a timely observation, submitted this rejoinder to the young master's comment: 'You could." It was a subtle statement; simple, uncluttered. And it was delivered, not so much to the boy himself, but to me, as one who might appreciate the viewpoint of the third party.

I did not appreciate it. Not in the fullest sense, that is. Oh, I thought it was funny, yes. I found in it a level of humor far surpassing its appraised value. In fact, at that moment, it was the funniest joke I had ever heard in my entire life. An entire life that was shortly to be terminated. It was likely to be the last joke I ever heard, and it really wasn't so funny as to be able to tell it to the saints for the next fifty thousand years and get good mileage from it. But it was dang funny at the time, and at the time I had a substantial mouthful of iced tea.

Nature has provided the victim of such an occurrence with an escape route. But spewing iced tea all over your neighbor's salad in a public place is not considered good etiquette. So I held it in. This is where the danger truly set in.

By now, Alan had considered the matter and determined that his statement had been, in fact, really quite knee-slapping. And in light of my predicament, he began to laugh at a pretty jolly rate. This intensified the experience for me. Matters had escalated and were now reaching critical mass. I was at the end. The END had come!

Alas, I finally grew tired of the matter and swallowed the tea without harm. It was an epic struggle, but in the end, by the grace of God and no thanks to Alan, I overcame.

Twenty plus years later, Alan and I still discuss that near-tragic event, and sometimes we tell it to someone else who may happen to be on hand. And sometimes we almost relive it, as Alan has this nasty habit of bringing it up just about the time I get a good mouthful of iced tea.

© 2015 Dane Tate