Wrong place, wrong bottle for Aspen woman
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
ASPEN, Colorado ” Waiting in line at a Tahiti airport cafe, taking a sip of bottled water she’d just grabbed from a cooler, Kristin Pride of Aspen, Colorado had no idea she was about to be engulfed by pain.
Nor did she know she would soon be part of an international incident involving chemical poisoning and the possibility that she could one day develop tumors in her throat as a result of the incident.
Pride hired an attorney to help her sort through the legal ramifications of the matter, but said she is not planning on filing a lawsuit over it.
Originally from Texas and an Aspen resident since 1996, the 34-year-old Pride tends bar at a local nightclub and works for Eastwood Developments, which owns the commercial complex at the base of Aspen Highlands ski area.
She was in Tahiti in early November, after attending the wedding of friends at the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora. She was preparing to board a plane with a couple of friends, bound for the U.S., when she decided she needed some water.
Stepping into an airport cafe she plucked what she thought was a bottle of Volvic water, a French product, from a cooler and got into line at the cash register. Opening the bottle for a thirst-quenching gulp, she recalled last week, she had only just managed to take a sip when “I thought, hey, did I grab sparkling water by mistake?”
Within seconds, however, “I realized I was on fire on the inside.” Yelling for help, with her friends following, she ran to a nearby rest room and proceeded to vomit.
“Over the course of the night, I probably threw up seven times,” she said, adding that after the first time she looked in the mirror and opened her mouth, where “I was watching it eat my tongue.”
She explained that the liquid in the bottle, which turned out to be oven cleaner, was reacting with the skin on her tongue and gums.
Her friends, who had grabbed the water bottle from her, later told her that “it smelled toxic, like something you’d clean the floor with.”
Thankfully, she continued, her throat had closed instantly in reaction to the scorching pain, and while she was in considerable discomfort she was able to walk and talk. The liquid did not damage her vocal chords or, “except for a few drops,” reach her stomach.
“If it had gotten to my stomach, it could have killed me,” she said she was told by doctors.
“I wouldn’t say I was in shock, but definitely my adrenaline was going,” she continued, relating her actions that day.
She then turned the water bottle over to a uniformed cop, went through the security check point and was about to board the plane as paramedics and emergency crews showed up. An airport official pulled her out of line in the boarding area and told her friends she was being taken to a hospital.
The U.S. Embassy was called, and a gastrointestinal specialist was flown in to perform an endoscopy to examine her esophagus and throat for damage, where he found “chemical burns and lacerations” from drinking the oven cleaner.
Meanwhile, details of the incident had reached the media.
“There were reporters, I’m on the front page of the paper,” she said, and she was visited by government officials of varying ranks to check on her welfare during her two days in the Tahitian hospital.
It is generally believed that a cafe employee filled an empty Volvic bottle with oven cleaner from a large drum, for convenience, and that somehow the bottle was placed on the shelf of the beverage cooler, Pride said.
The cafe where she encountered the bottle has covered all her medical expenses in Tahiti, and she is hoping that coverage will extend to a medical checkup with a local doctor shortly after she returned home, as well as any future complications. The cafe also paid for lodging and other charges racked up by the three friends who stayed with her throughout the ordeal.
But, she said, she has not contacted the cafe to find more answers to what happened, leaving that to her attorney.
“I’m not looking to sue these people or anything like that,” she said. “I’m not trying to be a hypochondriac.”
She explained that while she still has some discomfort in her throat when she tries to swallow certain foods, such as a hard pizza crust, she otherwise is feeling “pretty good.”
Although she had trouble swallowing anything for days following the incident, she said medicine prescribed for her by a Glenwood Springs doctor soothed the pain and got her on the road to recovery.
Doctors have told her not to worry for now, but to have her throat and esophagus checked if the pain returns, and to have it looked at again in a decade or so to see if tumors have developed.
And she has the police reports and photographs of the bottle, furnished by Tahiti authorities, for future reference.
“I would like them, ultimately, to … I don’t know. I definitely want my medical bills paid for,” she said. “I think they should be slightly liable for the fact that I might have a tumor in my throat.”
And, she said, “I would like to hope that it was an accident,” rather than a malicious act on someone’s part, calling herself “a glass-half-full kind of person … I can’t worry about things that are out of my control.”