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Lesson learned: Your tongue really will stick to a flagpole

Union Leader Correspondent

January 03. 2014 10:49PM
Maddie Gilmartin, 12, is recovering after her tongue got frozen to a flagpole outside her East Kingston home during Thursday night's storm (JASON SCHREIBER)

EAST KINGSTON — A scene straight out of the 1983 holiday classic "A Christmas Story" played out in front of the Gilmartin home during the peak of Thursday's nor'easter.

Maddie Gilmartin, 12, got an idea while she was outside playing around a flagpole.

Her father, Shawn, was cleaning snow from the driveway of their Joslin Road home when Maddie decided to stick her tongue on the flagpole.

It was only for a split-second, but that's all it took with air temperatures plummeting to near zero around the time of the incident Thursday night.

Just like that now-famous scene in the movie where classmates "triple dog dare" another boy to stick his tongue on a frozen flagpole at school, Maddie instantly became stuck to the pole.

When she tried to pull her tongue off, the skin tore and her tongue began to bleed while still attached to the icy cold pole.

"Once I touched it, I tried to pull it but it just made it worse," Maddie recalled Friday.

Her mother, Tracy, was inside the house and at one point looked out and saw her daughter around the flagpole with her arms flapping up and down, but she assumed she was just playing.

With her father near the end of the driveway cleaning up the snow, Maddie said she tried to call for her mother but it was little more than a mumble.

"I was trying to scream Mom, but obviously that didn't work because she didn't come. It was scary. It was cold and I didn't want anything else to freeze," said Maddie, a sixth-grader at the Cooperative Middle School in Stratham.

She was aware of the scene in the movie, but had never actually seen it.

"I just kind of stuck it there and I thought that it would come right off," she said.

Shawn finally saw Maddie stuck to the pole when he came back up the driveway.

He realized there was trouble and rushed into the house to tell his wife the news.

"We've got a child stuck to the flagpole and she's bleeding," he told her.

Tracy quickly realized the seriousness of the situation when she saw the blood.

"When I saw the blood running down the flagpole and then she wasn't coming off the flagpole, that's when we called 911. There was blood all over the flagpole," she said.

Police Officer Garrett Almstrom arrived as the Gilmartins were trying to decide whether to pour warm water over the pole to free Maddie's tongue.

"I was blowing on her tongue. I was breathing on it. I was doing everything I could think of to help the situation," Shawn said.

They eventually realized that warm water was the best option after Shawn received advice from others, including his sister, who works in the medical field and called an emergency room doctor.

"We poured it right down and within five seconds her tongue came right off," Shawn said.

Maddie's tongue was frozen to the flagpole for about 10 to 15 minutes before she was freed by the warm water.

She was taken to Exeter Hospital, where doctors told her that she would continue to experience some pain until it healed up on its own.

She's now taking a pain reliever and using cold compresses.

The Gilmartins said the scene from "A Christmas Story" was the first thing that came to their minds. The nurse and the emergency room doctor also mentioned the scene after she arrived at the hospital.

"Everybody wants to know who double dog dared her," Tracy said.

But there was no dare involved. Maddie's a kid who was just curious and learned the hard way.

Her parents hope other kids will realize the dangers and not make the same mistake their daughter made.

"It was just completely innocent," Shawn said.

Maddie said her tongue now aches and feels like it was stung by a bee, but otherwise she's doing fine.

After they returned home from the hospital Thursday night, Maddie's father showed her the clip from the movie.

"It was a lot more humorous (in the movie) than what really happened," she said.

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