There are your favourite huge lilies in a vase, filling the air with the perfume of heaven. White and pale lilac blooms wait with the chocolates, destined to fill another vase. Your granddaughters have made beautiful cards for you… and invited you to Sunday lunch.
And, much as you would have loved a proper roast dinner, with proper, homemade Yorkshire puddings, you have turned that invitation down in favour of sandwiches, knowing that you will struggle to eat even those. It takes a while, but you manage…taking it slowly, a nibble at a time, with a mouthful of water after every bite.
And the girls have baked a special treat… scones, with lots of jam and fresh cream. They are as light as a feather, melt in the mouth and just perfect… those girls are going to be wonderful bakers when they grow up.
You eat the first half… almost. Still with the water ’chaser’ after every small bite. The girls are chattering… and suddenly, you cannot speak. Or Breathe. Or attract anyone’s attention.
The scone has completely plastered over the internal workings of your throat, sealing it tight. Food will not go up or down. Swallowing and breathing cannot happen. Air will not go in or out. You are choking to death, on a special treat made by your granddaughters… in front of them on Mother’s Day. It could hardly get any worse… except that there is a DNR in place, so even if anyone notices your plight and calls the ambulance, you would be dead before the paramedics arrived and they could do nothing.
And it is utterly terrifying.
Seconds stretch into eternity… then, “Alex!… Get in here, NOW…” and people are moving…
…and you are being thumped and slapped across the back like a rag dog… thumped hard enough that you should end up with cracked ribs and don’t actually care. Hit over and over again, as panic rises and nothing happens…You can only imagine how painful and difficult it is for your son to be deliberately trying to hit you as hard as he can…
And you can’t say ‘Heimlich’ because you can’t speak…
Then something shifts, and a bit more… a concrete-like pellet of scone dislodges and suddenly, somehow, you are still alive, gasping for air… and incredibly tired.
Seconds? Minutes? Eternity? It was all of those and, quite simply, the most frightening thing I have ever experienced. The absolute helplessness of it… especially with a body that will now no longer allow me to try to rescue myself. I could not have walked, or moved to anywhere where I could apply the Heimlich manoeuvre to myself.
Alex did not use that technique because, given the current state of my heart and lungs, he felt it was too dangerous and was quite right. The abdominal thrust known as the Heimlich is now recommended as a second step, rather than a first response.
Would you know what to do?
What if you were on your own and started choking?
There is no time to find out in an emergency.
If the person is able to cry, cough or breathe, they may be able to clear the blockage by being encouraged to cough. But don’t waste time if they cannot.
For children under one year old and pregnant women, there are different techniques that must be used…make sure you know what is involved.
Stand behind the person who is choking and slightly to one side. Support their chest with 1 hand. Lean them forward so the object blocking their airway will come out of their mouth, rather than moving further down.
Give up to five sharp, forceful blows between their shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. The heel is between the palm of your hand and your wrist.
Check if the blockage has cleared.
If not, give up to five abdominal thrusts.
Stand behind the person who’s choking.
Place your arms around their waist and bend them forward.
Clench one fist and place it right above their belly button.
Put the other hand on top of your fist and pull sharply inwards and upwards.
Repeat this movement up to five times.
If the person’s airway is still blocked after trying back blows and abdominal thrusts, get help immediately.
Call 999 (UK)and ask for an ambulance. Tell the emergency operator the person is choking.
Continue with the cycles of five back blows and five abdominal thrusts until help arrives.
If they lose consciousness, follow the operator’s instructions and/or commence CPR until help arrives.
Anyone who has received abdominal thrusts must be checked by a doctor as they can cause serious damage.
Never perform abdominal thrusts on someone who is not choking.
If you are choking and alone
Better still… why not take a first aid course and learn the basics of how to handle these everyday emergencies that kill so many people every year for want of a little knowledge.
It is not the first time that Alex has come to my rescue. He has staunched serious blood flow, kept his calm and got me through the spider-bite poisoning and subsequent allergic reactions… and seen me through extensive second and third-degree burns. His training was simply time spent with St John Ambulance as a child. Such training sticks… he has saved my life more than once, and he does so with such a calm and loving presence… though this time was seriously by far the scariest.