Have you ever seen a person choke? If you’ve seen it in the movies, or on a sitcom, it doesn’t count. You have to see it in person to understand how truly frightening it is. And when it’s your own child who is doing the choking, it’s much, much worse than anything you can imagine.
Snags has choked twice in his life. The first time it happened he was a baby, six, or maybe nine months old. He was eating Cheerios for the first time. He was eating them in his car seat while we were driving when he started to choke. That event scared me so badly that I didn’t feed him Cheerios again until he was 3 years old.
Snags choked again last night. On an ice cube (of course, I didn’t know it was an ice cube at the time). My husband and I were at the deep sink in the basement, filling water balloons for the Kindergarten picnic today. I had sent Snags upstairs to get ready for his bath, I told him I’d be up in a minute. Two minutes later he returned to the basement looking ill. He had his hand on his throat in the universal choking sign, and his face was red. We asked him what was wrong, but he wouldn’t answer.
Sometimes I ask Snags a question and he doesn’t answer, either because he doesn’t hear me, or because he is thinking about something, usually Star Wars, or more recently, Speed Racer, and he’s lost in his own world. Or maybe, sometimes, he is just being stubborn. On those occasions, I repeat my question, louder, usually by yelling my question over and over until he finally does answer. And then he’s always bothered, wanting to know why I was yelling. Because, I tell him, YOU DIDN’T ANSWER ME. If you hear me ask you something, then answer me. Answer me the first time I ask you a question. If you don’t, then I end up yelling. I do not, in general, speak rhetorically. At least not to six year olds.
So last night, when he wouldn’t answer, I started to yell my question, “Snags! What’s WRONG? ARE YOU SICK? ARE YOU CHOKING? ARE YOU OKAY? WHAT IS WRONG? ANSWER ME!“ He tried, he really did, but his hand was on his throat and his eyes were wide and terrified and he could barely make a squeak.
As the realization that he was choking hit me, the only thing I could think to do was to hit him on the back. And as I did so, my husband yelled something. I thought he was yelling at me to stop. He was reaching for Snags at the same time I was. I thought he was trying to pull Snags away from me so I wouldn’t hit him.
Here’s the truth — in a moment like that, there is not time to sit down and calmly discuss the situation, decide who will do what, which method will be better. You do not coordinate your actions, you simply act.
After the fact, I realized my husband wasn’t yelling at me to stop, and he wasn’t trying to pull Snags away from me. He was yelling the same questions to Snags that I was. He was trying to turn Snags around so he could do the Heimlich maneuver on him.
Luckily that wasn’t necessary. Either my hitting Snags on the back dislodged the ice cube, or the ice cube melted enough to go down. Maybe it was a bit of both. Snags started to cough and wretch and gag and that’s when I grabbed a trash can and bent him over it, thinking I shouldn’t have hit him on the back, I must have been wrong, he must merely be sick. I was yelling, “ARE YOU SICK? ARE YOU GOING TO THROW UP?” But he wasn’t. He was okay, but he was scared.
When Snags started to cry, I started to breathe again. I wrapped my arms around Snags and held him. I looked up at my husband with wide eyes, and he looked back at me, his eyes just as wide. Witnesses to the unbelievable.
When we asked Snags what he had choked on, he said it was an ice cube. The weather’s been hot and Snags had been filling glasses with ice cubes and munching on them. Yesterday afternoon he thought it was funny to give me a cold kiss on the cheek, the cold from the ice he’d been eating and dripping on his lips. I didn’t like him doing this because he was also dripping water from the ice cubes around the house, leaving spots of water on the floor. He kept spitting the ice cubes into his hand and then putting them back in his mouth and sucking on them. This time, though, it all went wrong.
We’ve come to an agreement, Snags and I, that he won’t eat ice cubes anymore. I’m even thinking about taking the Cheerios away again.