Swimming pools, Lego blocks, unattended cats: every year we see fewer emergency room visits resulting from these well-established suffocation risks. But, according to Dr. Floyd Rutherford, head of Juvenile Pediatrics at John Hopkins University Medical School, despite successful pool-capping and cat-and-Lego buy-back campaigns, per capita choking incidence in the United States has failed to budge. His research has revealed the culprit: a cornucopia of "second tier" choking hazards that tragically few parents fear.
- PIXIE TABLE SETTINGS: Long greeted as auspicious harbingers of good fortune, pediatricians have begun to recognize a strong correlation between homes harboring pixies and incidents of infant choking. Especially dangerous are pixie table settings, serving platters, and cookware, both for their highly-reflective finishes and sweet taste. Homeowners with small children should block any pixie doors or hatches they discover in the home, and spray for pixies at least twice yearly at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. Children, the elderly, numinous beings, and expectant mothers should minimize exposure to dichlorvos and other organophosphate-based pesticides.
- TALKING: "Talking—especially at the early-learner stage—generates a great deal of saliva," Dr. Rutherford notes, "It is well established that a child can drown in just a half-tablespoon of any liquid. The traditional folk-wisdom that 'Children are better seen than heard' is actually a very important home-safety tip."
- EGOTISM: "Toddlers have simply enormous egos," Rutherford explains, "which can easily swell and block the trachea." Parents are advised to avoid inflating egos. Rutherford suggests abandoning elaborate praise in favor of simple recognition and a firm handshake. Performance-based bonuses, awards ceremonies, and benefits packages (such as stock options) are ill-advised.
- MISSING THE WINNING FREE THROW: "Professional athletes spend hundreds of hours training in order to avoid choking in high-stress game-play situations." A small child, lacking this rigorous preparation, is highly susceptible to choking during competitive events. "Just as an isolated example, consider the 2007 NBA season: 17 separate incidents of infant choking—mostly on free throws or easy end-game layups. By comparison, among the mature players there was only a single choking incident, when the conference champ Dallas Mavericks lost 86-111 to the Golden State Warriors in game six of the opening round of the NBA Playoffs—the first time in history that a number eight seed like the Warriors beat a number one seed in a seven-game series."
- ENNUI AND NOSTALGIA: Once only posing a danger to Victorian spinsters and the neglected, alcoholic second-sons of railroad tycoons, both suffocating ennui and nostalgia are increasingly appearing on death certificates. According to Rutherford, infants are enormously susceptible to smothering by either "a premature world-weariness or an almost crippling pain-of-remembering. For at least a small portion of six- to nine-month-olds, the sudden realization that the womb is the home to which they can never return proves fatal." Parents are advised to avoid triggering any episodes of infant nostalgia or ennui. Rutherford suggests severely limiting exposure to New Wave French cinema, The Muppet Movie, and Harry Chapin's 1974 folk hit "Cat's in the Cradle," which alone triggered 271 emergency room visits in 2005 (the last year for which statistics are available.)
- MEDIUM TO LARGE CALIBER AMMUNITION: Although every patriotic parent is aware of the importance of gun safety—storing firearms unloaded in a locked case or gun safe with trigger-locks in place—many still neglect to keep live rounds out of baby's reach. While a BB, pellet, or .22 caliber bullet or casing can pass through an infant's digestive system without incident, even bullets as small as 9mm are large enough to obstruct a child's windpipe. "Shotgun shells, with their bright casings, are especially dangerous," Rutherford says, "Ironically, even the smallest firearm—such as the NAA .22 Short Mini-Revolver—is far too large to pose a chocking hazard."
David Erik Nelson is a founder and editor of Poor Mojo's Almanac(k). His geeky craft book, Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred: The $10 Electric Guitar and 23 More Dirt-Cheap, DIY Diversions, is now available for pre-order from No Starch Press.