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    A Close Call

    woman choking

    My wife had prepared for this baby shower for weeks. This past Saturday, twenty or so cackling and happy women arrived for the food and festivities: the upcoming birth of our sixth grandchild. I say “grandchild” since the sex of this newest member of our family has not been revealed.

    My wife decided to have it catered by a local chef and author of a popular cookbook, but she also assigned me to get up early and make sushi. Since men are traditionally excluded from these events, I was also put in charge of parking and walking people to and from their cars. As it often happens with well-planned events, it was raining cats and dogs – the first major rain of the year.

    The food was great (they allowed me to eat), but I was still relegated to the back room with my son, the father of this new baby. My daughter-in-law was having her first baby and was overjoyed by all of the gifts. After a dozen or so squeals of “so cute” or “Isn’t that darling?”, I was glad to be among the outcasts.

    At the end of the shower, I was called upon again to retrieve cars and hold umbrellas for the departing guests. Soon, we were down to just a few women, including the other grandmother-to-be who had flown in from Phoenix for the party. I felt it was safe to return to my beloved reclining chair and seek out any of the leftover treats that had not been consumed. She was sitting on the couch about ten feet from me and we were having a pleasant conversation. She was eating.

    Surprised by the sudden silence, I glanced in her direction. She had a fearful look on her face and was staring blankly. Her face was ghost-white and she was holding her neck.

    “Are you okay?”

    She responded by a quick shaking of her head as a no. I sat up.

    “Can you breathe?”

    Again, she quickly shook her head indicating that she could not. I jumped up.

    Much to the horror of the guests that were leaving, I picked her up and gave her two very quick and forceful abdominal thrusts, known as the Heimlich maneuver. Out came a huge bolus of food, followed by some violent coughing and vomiting.

    Now that her breathing had commenced again, I notice that her hands were tightly clenched, indicating anoxia (a severe lack of oxygen) had occurred. She continued to cough and hack up food and liquid that was aspirated into her lungs. I got out my stethoscope and heard evidence the she had aspirated a bit into her lungs, but she was breathing fine now.

    Since she had a prior heart attack, she spent the next twelve hours in the emergency room being monitored.  By that time, her chest x-ray was clear and her electrocardiogram did not show any changes (the ER was able to call the hospital in Phoenix and her previous ECG was transmitted electronically). She was released to go home. Her only complaint was that her ribs were sore!

    I have been a medical provider for over four decades. I have performed CPR many times in the hospital or clinical settings, but never once have I had the opportunity to perform a Heimlich, and certainly not in my home. These events can happen anytime; anywhere, so we all need to be prepared.

    My son’s mother-in-law is safely at home in Phoenix again. I am still eating up some of the leftovers from the baby shower, being extra careful to chew. What could have been the worst baby shower yet, ended up just fine. Had this episode occurred when she was in the bathroom or even driving home, the outcome could have been grave (literally).

    The next time we host a baby shower, maybe I will be invited.

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