Last night, while the kids were in their rooms reading pre-bedtime and I was flopped out in the master bedroom, Michael was downstairs.
And he choked.
I heard a mild ruckus -- as though a kitchen chair had tipped over -- and thought nothing of it. Then, a thumping and crashing noise traveled up the stairs, and I thought I'd better check it out.
I encountered Michael at the head of the steps, gasping and gulping. He managed to squeeze out the words "can't breathe" but that was all.
Now, Michael has asthma (as, indeed, does every member of our family), and in the past has had strange respiratory reactions to various OTC meds, so I had no idea what was going on -- I assumed he was having a very bad asthma attack. I grabbed him diagonally across the chest and talked him into relaxing and allowing what little air was getting through to get through. When he had recovered a bit more breath, he gasped "Something went down the wrong pipe."
I still wasn't registering what had happened, but he was getting some air in at this point, so I wasn't panicked. I had him lie flat on the bed to relax and he started gasping again. That's when the penny dropped. "Choking? You're choking!" I stood him up again and peered at him more closely; his face was gray.
Being vertical seemed to help pass whatever needed passing, and lots of good coughs and burps later, his color was improved and the crisis was over. He had been having a snack of pear, cheese and crackers, and a chunk of pear had gone to the wrong spot.
Being the wonderful wife that I am, the first thing I did after the crisis had passed was yell at Michael for not using the universal sign for "I'm choking."
Seriously, I'm short, but I'd have found a way to perform Heimlich on him.
I went to tuck the kids in -- our nightly "snuggle time" -- and taught them both the universal sign for choking. I also told them if they ever see anyone who looks like they're having trouble breathing to run and get the nearest adult.
Seriously, we do a great job teaching our kids not to get into cars with strangers, but we don't teach them about how to respond to a choking incident (either as the choker or as an bystander). And I'm guessing it's statistically much more likely that most folks (kids and adults) will have to deal with the latter than the former in the course of their lives.
SO! Teach your kids the universal sign for choking, and make them practice it. Myself, I think I'm going to randomly shout out "Pretend you're choking!" at odd intervals until it becomes second nature (for the kids AND for Michael). If you've got bigger kids or other grownups in your house, make sure they know the Heimlich maneuver, and have them "pretend" practice it from time to time. Muscle memory is a very powerful thing, and a quick response time can mean the difference between life and death.
No joke. My friend Val's ex-husband died after choking on a piece of meat, and now she's raising two kids with no dad. It can happen just that quickly, folks.
Be safe out there.