Imagine it's your daughter's birthday and she'd like to find a special way to celebrate. She and her friends head to a bar known for concocting fancy cocktails. She orders one that arrives with a plume of smoke careening off the top.
Except the smoke is liquid nitrogen — a chemical element in frozen liquid state that has now become a trendy food and beverage gimmick — and when she swallows the drink it cold burns her stomach so badly doctors have to remove the entire organ. She just turned 18.
That nightmarish scenario took place in a Lancaster U.K. bar last Thursday. And as BBC News reports, Gabby Scanlon would have died had doctors not quickly removed her stomach.
"This girl is the victim of an irresponsible alcohol industry that's now competing on gimmicks," Dr. John Ashton, director of public health for Cumbria, tells the news network.
"Alcohol itself is a very dangerous thing if improperly handled and liquid nitrogen is a toxic chemical. It destroys human tissue."
More commonly known for burning off warts and cryonic preservation (when humans and animals get "preserved" through freezing), liquid nitrogen has recently become a hot trend in bars and restaurants. It's part of the molecular gastronomy movement and its smoky special effects appear in everything from ice cream to fancy cocktails.
Though many foods with "dry ice" have hurtled down esophageal passages without incident, in Scanlon's case, Lancashire police are investigating just what went wrong the night she took that fateful sip.
An officer tells the BBC that Scanlon became "breathless" and reported excruciating stomach pain. At 11 p.m., she was rushed to hospital, where doctors diagnosed her with a perforated stomach and performed her life-saving surgery.
While police continue to collect details, they suspect the young woman swallowed her drink too quickly.
When that happens, the highly pressurized chemical material warms up the stomach very rapidly, releasing high volumes of air that can burst the organ altogether. Imbibers can also sustain burns to the mouth and throat.
To save Scanlon, doctors removed her entire stomach and fused the tubes that link the stomach, esophagus and small bowel together.
The BBC notes that she will likely be able to lead a normal life, but will always have to eat in small amounts and take vitamins to ensure she gets proper nutrition.
Meanwhile, the bar where Scanlon took the worst sip of her life has reportedly stopped serving its liquid nitrogen cocktails and food inspection agencies have started warning bars and restaurants about the responsible practice of molecular gastronomy.
Once she heals, Scanlon may have a major lawsuit in the making — although no amount of money will ever bring back her stomach.
And parents now have an additional element to fear each time their child heads out for a night on the town.