A Penny… For Your Thoughts

Have you ever wondered how long or how far a penny circulates before it gets lost or is ruined and removed from circulation?

Yeah, me neither. According to the US Treasury, a circulating penny lasts about 30 years. Just think, If I were a penny, I’d be done by now.

Just for a second, let’s think about this. After leaving the mint, that new shiny copper plated coin heads out to a local bank, via the Wells Fargo truck, and there it will sit until that elderly granny (like mine) goes to the bank to cash her social security check because she does not trust the direct deposit. The penny finds a new home in her wallet. From there, she stops at Foodland because she needs milk and bread – and at the register – she spends that penny. It sits in that dirty cash register drawer until it gets scooped out and given to the next guy needing change from his purchase of  a lottery ticket, a pack of cheese and some lunch meat. It goes in his dirty pocket with all the other greasy coins and sits there until he stops for gas when the pump totals  $43.01 (don’t you hate it when that happens – that penny gets you every time.) So, that same penny ends up in yet another cash register drawer waiting it’s turn to be picked out and given to a new owner. That’s just one scenario.
I have always considered pennies to be a nuisance. It just always seems like you never have one when you need it and when you have ten of them, you choose the dime everytime because it saves time. 
One evening, McDaddy was working late and I was getting the boys ready for church. Just before leaving, my usually level headed four year old came to me complaining that his throat was hurting. Here we go, I thought… our yearly bout with Strep Throat in the middle of the summer. (How does that happen anyway?) I told him to bring his flashlight so I could get a better look at his tonsils.

He held his throat, looked up at me with fear in his eyes and told me he had just swallowed a penny. 


I never really thought a whole lot about a penny until the moment that penny was lodged in my little guy’s throat. I pounded his back and decided I was probably going to do more harm than good so I gave him a drink, held my breath and silently prayed that God would guide that penny to a safe place without him getting choked on it. I called the pediatrician, reached their answering service (I loathe the answering service,) told my story as quickly as I could and waited to be called back. Surprisingly, I kept my cool but I was watching intently for signs of breathing trauma. [If you know me, you know that I’m a bit of a freak dramatist, especially when it comes to the safety of my children.] I thought it best to wait to hear from her before losing my mind. After a few minutes, the Doctor called me back. Calmly, she explained that this is a common occurance among young children (although if you’d ask me before it happened, I would tell you that mine would NEVER EVER put a coin in his mouth.) She continued, saying a penny or dime is the best coin to swallow because it is the easiest to pass. 


Well that’s crappy!

I was only concerned that he might get choked on it. I hadn’t thought of that.

And, yes, for those of you following along, not only did he have to pass it, I had to make sure that he passed it

I’ll just go ahead and tell you that I flipped my ever-lovin lid. For the life of me, I couldn’t think of an easy way to do that. The only thing I could think of was resurrecting the potty chair from storage because that would have to be simpler than the porcelain alternative.

After hanging up with the Doctor, I stood in disbelief…  Not long ago, my 19 month old fell into a cactus at a friend’s house (yes, I said a cactus) and McDaddy and I had the tedious task of pulling cactus needles out of every part of his body not covered by clothing. And now, this?

 For some reason I must have skipped the chapter in “What to expect when your expecting,” as I don’t recall reading “How to dislodge cactus needles.” I also don’t remember the “When your child swallows a penny” chapter. Perhaps they should add a chapter called, “Expect the unexpected” – maybe I’ll contact the authors for an addendum.

Since the penny incident, I’ve done a little research on the matter. I wanted a road-map of the journey that penny would take over the next 3-10 days (the estimated arrival time for that thing to show it’s face again). You know, sort of like a digestive system GPS.

The Chosen Route – MOUTH -been there, done that – ESOPHAGUS -thanks to me beating his back it passed this one too – STOMACH – where it will join breakfast, lunch and dinner and then happily sit until it makes it’s way through the miles of SMALL INTESTINES of my baby. When it gets bored there, it will move on to the LARGE INTESTINE, then on to the RECTUM – and finally it will come to the end its journey when it sees me waitin for it with a plastic fork in hand, hopin’ like heck that I come face to face with Abe’s face.
My research also taught me that the Lincoln penny was the first U.S. cent to include the words, “In God We Trust.”  I had to laugh thinking that yes, indeed I was trusting God. I was trusting God to move this penny quickly and safely out of my baby’s body.

A penny weighs 0.088 of an ounce, yet it had to come out.

I had a gross disgusting crappy tedious job for the next ten days. Especially since we were packing up for a trip to Louisiana three days later.

After ten days, I had not found the penny and the pediatrician suggested we go to the ER for an X-ray. As it turns out the penny was gone. Apparently my dissection skills were lacking.

After that little episode was behind us, I made a quick trip to Google. As always, my friend had a much easier dissection method. One that includes hot water, a strainer and some patience.

You can thank me later.

I’m pooped and I’m going to bed.


I brought this post over from my blog on mySpace. It was originally written in 2007 and was a featured in The Sunday Gazette Mail.


  1. says

    Hunter swallowed a nickely, and it passed no problem. A little nasty for his mom, but it was all okay in the end. But, he was in 4th grade and did it on a dare…groan.

  2. janet says

    You sound like me, when it comes to my kids’safety I FREAK!! Haven’t had anyone swallow coins yet, but we’ve had our share of stitches! I remember when I was about five one of the houseparents at Brookside asked me to carry a small cactus to the office and it was carrying it against m y chest so I wouldn’t drop it and ended up with a bunch of needles in my chest. I can relate to that one, ouch!!

  3. says

    I didn’t have to follow my son to the potty and ..um..inspect, I have however followed more than one of my dogs looking for something that went down the hatch that wasn’t supposed to. 🙂 Great post!