My son is a risk-taker.
My son is only two, and he’s a ridiculously physical kid. He likes hanging from the chin-up bar in our house, climbs every ladder he sees, and tries to jump off from whatever is the tallest thing around. He will climb up the back of a chair and jump into your lap without warning. He will go for every hot beverage and electrical outlet he can find. At this point, he’s had so many bumps to his head he no longer cries. He’ll just tap his head where he just clomped it against a doorway and say “Uh-oh! Bonk!”
And it’s the cutest thing, ever.
With his physical nature seems to come an extremely voracious appetite. The kid can eat. He’s been that way since he was in the womb. He convinced my vegetarian wife to eat steak during her pregnancy, his first nursing session was over an hour, and when he had bottles, he would drink 40 ounces a day…when he was two months old.
As he is now a slim thirty pounds and in the 93rd percentile for height, the appetite hasn’t calmed down. I’ve sat through a breakfast where he will eat two eggs with cheese, an entire banana, a piece of toast, and one of the dogs. Well, maybe not one of the dogs, but he has tried to bite them before. That habit did not last long, thankfully.
His eating has been a bit of an interesting issue, as he also wants to eat everything at once. He’s not the only toddler to want to eat this way, I’m sure, but it’s something that is a bit troubling at times.
Here comes trouble.
As a nurse who works in critical care and emergency medicine, I’ve been kind of overtrained and exposed to a lot of troubling situations. I’ve spoken with many parents who have thought their children were choking when the kids were, in fact, coughing and gagging as they are learning to eat. My son has pulled this faux choking over and over again.
Hell, I’ve learned that when he has a full belly of food and makes himself gag by, say, trying to fit an entire half of a banana down his throat, I can catch his entire stomach contents in my hands cupped together. It’s a valuable talent, especially if you ask the dining room carpet.
And he’s coughed and gagged time and time again. We are teaching him to learn his limits, and that’s the best we can do. making his food into little chunks only serves to make him want to fit more in his mouth at once. And what is he going to learn from us restricting his food? Trust me, nothing.
So, we carry on. He gags occasionally, gets it up, and carries on to eat more and more and more. And he’s a really healthy kid, so what’s there to complain about.
The day I’ll never forget.
One of the only fast food places he’s ever eaten at is Chipotle. He gets a chicken quesadilla with rice and beans, and if his sister still has any left after he’s done eating it all, he will eat her food as well. It’s one of his favorite places to eat.
Last week, I picked up some Chipotle and brought it home. It was just the kids and I, and I was about to work night shift all weekend, so it seemed like a good time to have a “treat.” We sat down at the table and I scooped up a piece of chicken with a little rice and beans into a spoon for him like usual. And as per usual, he put the spoon right into his mouth.
The difference here is that he laughed because he was happy to have food in front of him. He does that. He loves food so much he can’t even be serious during a meal.
So, he laughed, and then he recoiled. The sharp reaction and the look on his face matched just about every time he’s taken a spoonful of food that’s too hot. So, that’s what I said to him.
“Oh! Too hot? Want some juice?”
I held his cup up to his mouth and he still looked affronted. His cheeks were pink. His mouth was open. No sound.
That was when I realized that his airway was closed off. My son was choking.
I patted his back a couple of times, but he only started turning dark blue. Still no sound.
I have no recollection of exactly what happened between the dining room table and the sink, but the next thing I knew I had my son bent over the kitchen sink and I was thrusting up against his abdomen. Once, twice, three times, four times…
On the fifth time, he gagged out and a chunk of chicken popped out of his mouth and into the sink. I spun him around and looked him in the face. The blue/purple was receding. The bright pink stayed in his cheeks because he started crying. Hard.
And damn, was that a beautiful sound. I hugged him both desperately and gently, because the dude needed to breathe. Getting a tight hug after choking isn’t necessarily the best course of action. Ironically, I wanted to squeeze him to death.
He wailed for his usual thirty seconds or so when he gets upset about anything. I swayed back and forth with him in my arms, assuring him that everything was okay. I was also assuring myself that everything was okay. His sister was still at the table eating, oblivious as any four-year-old might be. I think she asked if he was okay. I can’t really remember.
The happy ending.
What I do remember is that, after I swayed my son in the direction of the dining room so his sister could see him, he looked at the table and saw his uneaten food. He shifted back so he could look me in the eye. He pointed to the table and with the sweetest little look on his face, he asked “Mor? Mor?”
Yes, his food nearly killed him, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t still hungry. The little shit.
We finished the rest of the meal with me studying his every bite. Adrenaline kept me alert and aware. The reality of what had just happened didn’t kick in until after I cleaned up lunch.
My son could have died. Without brisk and exact intervention, he would’ve choked to death. And it was a simple thing.
I’m not writing this to say that I’m now a more cautious parent, nor am I saying that I deserve any sort of recognition for performing appropriate abdominal thrusts. I am trained to do these things by my trade, and I have to keep my education up to date regularly. What I did for my son was thankfully procedural for me. Even with his previous adventures with gagging on food, I had never been close to doing abdominal thrusts on him.
Or on anyone, for that matter.
The moral to the story.
I’ve done CPR more times than I care to recall. I’ve never had to save someone from choking. But since I had practiced it and been certified in it, I could remain calm and do what had to be done. And it worked.
And like CPR, it was nothing like they show you on television or in the movies.
So, this is my first post that perhaps has a serious moral or message.
You are surrounded by people everyday. Family, friends, loved ones, strangers…anyone could laugh during their first bite of food. Anyone could suffer a cardiac event that good, effective CPR could help increase their odds of survival. Too many of us think that someone else will be there to save someone when shit goes down, and it’s simply not true. Outside of a hospital, nearly 90 percent of CPR recipients die, and part of the reason for that is ineffective CPR or too much time passing while people wait for “a doctor” or someone who can and is willing to perform CPR. People die from choking at restaurants even when someone intervenes, and sometimes that’s because they aren’t actually trained in appropriate abdominal thrusts. There’s different techniques for different age groups and conditions (such as pregnancy) for both CPR and abdominal thrusts, and they aren’t difficult to learn.
So, surprise! This is my PSA. If you haven’t been trained, go enroll in a class to learn basic lifesaving techniques. The classes don’t take too long, and the information is invaluable. You could be the difference in a stranger’s life, a friend’s life, or even your child’s. Don’t assume you know what to do, especially if you think they’re doing it even close to correctly on your favorite TV show. (Spoiler: they are not. Not even close.)
As for my son, he’s fine. He’s happy. And he’s still eating us out of house and home. I’m not suddenly a helicopter parent or anything. Life continues as usual. I was shaken to my core for a good 24 hours, but now that all of the adrenaline has worn off and the trauma has passed, I don’t think of how bad it could have gone, because it didn’t go badly. It was an accident that was prevented, thanks to my training.
Imagine how many accidents like his could also have happy endings if more people were trained.
Are you trained in basic life saving techniques?