Kitchen Horror: ‘My Ear Is Hanging Off!’

A nasty freak accident put Taylor in hospital
  • Taylor Duda, 24, was working at a Mexican restaurant
  • Cleaning a ribbon blender, she endured a nasty freak accident
  • When paramedics arrived, she discovered her ear was hanging off her head

Here Taylor tells her story in her own words.

As the smell of garlic and cumin filled the air, my tummy rumbled.

Working full time at a Mexican restaurant for six months, it was my job to take orders and help with cleaning.

The menu was full of authentic meals, but our signature item was tamales – a traditional dish consisting of a minced meat, bean and cheese filling wrapped in a corn-based dough then cooked on the stove.

Sometimes I got to help the cooks prepare them.

One evening in March 2021, when I was 21, the chefs were on holiday, so it was up to me and my colleague Sam* to make the tamales.

We headed to the outdoor kitchen to start work.

To combine the dough ingredients, we poured them inside a hip-height industrial mixer called a ribbon blender, which had spiral-shaped rotating blades in the centre.

We also used the blender to grind the pork or beef into mince, which went inside the tasty tamales.

Once it was mixed, Sam took the dough inside the restaurant to start assembling the tamales, while I stayed to clean out the machine.

Using a sponge and soapy water to scrub away the residue, I struggled to reach the bottom of the machine, as the blades were in the way.

The blades can’t be removed so, using my free hand, I turned the machine on to a slow speed, just long enough to manoeuvre the blades and carefully fit my hand underneath them.

But I’d underestimated how high the blades reached when they were spinning, and they snagged the end of my long sleeve, which had been resting on top of the machine.

Before I had time to react, my right arm was sucked inside the blender.

As the revolving blade sliced through my skin over and over again, blood squirted everywhere.

I instinctively tried to yank out my now wounded limb, but the machine just kept feeding my arm further in, snapping my bone as it went.

Paralysed by shock, I let out a guttural scream.

Desperately searching for a way out, I realised I could reach the power switch with my left hand.

After I turned it off, the blades stopped moving, but my arm was still jammed inside.

As adrenalin coursed through my body, I wasn’t in any pain.

Thankfully, my boss Carl* heard my screams and rushed to my side.

But when he saw the horrific mess I was in, his jaw dropped.

Summoning all his strength, Carl prised apart the arms of the machine so I could free my arm.

I was so thankful that at least my hair hadn’t got tangled inside the machine or I could’ve been scalped.

By now Sam and another colleague Wendy* had found two nurses who’d been dining in the restaurant, and raced out with them to help me. Laying me down, one bandaged my arm, while the other phoned an ambulance.

When paramedics arrived 10 minutes later, I was shocked to be told my right ear had almost been sliced clean off by the machine.

‘My ear is hanging off my head!’ I realised in horror.

At hospital, an emergency plastic surgeon reattached my ear.

Taylor Duda hospital
Me after surgery (Credit: Supplied.)

‘My ear turned necrotic.’

X-rays revealed I’d broken my collarbone, a rib, and my right wrist, arm and elbow.

The next day, I had surgery to put a few screws and a plate in my elbow.

‘I’m so happy you’re okay,’ my mum Tara, 44, said when she visited me that night.

I was sent home the next day with pain medication.

But two days later, I was back in the ER after my ear turned necrotic, meaning the tissue had died.

Sadly, it couldn’t be saved and had to be amputated.

I felt super scared about it, but tried to stay strong. It was all I could do to get through the trauma.

Taylor Duda hospital
Two days after my accident (Credit: Supplied.)

‘My limb was partially paralysed.’

I can’t believe I lost my ear cleaning a blender, I thought.

Back at home, my friends and family doted on me.

One month after the accident, my arm cast was removed, but a scan revealed my limb was partially paralysed due to damaged nerves in my shoulder.

Undergoing daily physical therapy, I slowly regained more function.

Then in June, I had ear reconstruction surgery where doctors used skin from my thigh, as well as silicone, to mould my new ear.

Thankfully, I didn’t suffer any hearing loss.

Taylor Duda new ear
My new ear (Credit: Supplied.)

‘I’ve gained a new appreciation for my body.’

At first my self esteem took a hit, especially with half my head being shaved for the surgery, and having the scars on my thigh from the skin graft.

But then I later realised the most important thing was that I was alive.

Three years on from my accident I’ve gained a new appreciation for my body and all the things it can do.

Now, I find joy in moving my body as much as possible, whether I’m doing handstands or lifting weights at the gym.

Taylor Duda
I’m so glad to have survived (Credit: Supplied.)

But I do know my boundaries, too – I still don’t have full mobility in my right arm.

I’ve also forged a new career as a special needs kindergarten teacher, and have found love with my boyfriend Robert, 29.

While I wouldn’t wish my accident upon anyone, it’s given me a new lease on life and for that I’m forever grateful.

*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.

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