A crisis at the kids’ table

I just saved someone’s life. It’s easy if you know how.

5 minute read
Four bagels on a small slate platter, one plain, two with sesame seeds, and one with poppy seeds, and a tub of cream cheese.
Watch out for the bagels. (Photo by nils9three, via Pixabay.)

At the age of 67, I just did something I’d never done before. I used the Heimlich Maneuver on somebody — and it worked!

I was at a birthday celebration for my favorite one-year-old. The kids had spent the first hour of the party at play, and now a big happy group of children and their parents were enjoying a feast of bagels and cream cheese and lox and watermelon and looking forward to birthday cake.

I was sitting at a table with a toddler, a baby, and a four-year-old — supervising their lunch and enjoying their company. The only other grown-up at the table was Tracy, formerly the four-year-old’s pre-school teacher and now a family friend.

“Can you breathe?”

Tracy and I are both the kind of fun-loving women in our 60s who are good with kids and who, given a choice, will hang with the toddlers instead of the adults. She was sitting with the baby and the toddler and I, across the table, was sitting with the four-year-old. She and I were schmoozing and enjoying our bagels when suddenly Tracy started to make choking sounds and wave her hands frantically.

Five years ago, I’d attended a lifesaving course that the library where I worked had offered its employees. I’d forgotten all about that course, but when Tracy started choking, what I’d learned half a decade ago about the Heimlich Maneuver kicked right in.

“Can you breathe?” I asked her.

She frantically shook her head no.

(If the person can breathe, or if the person can cough or speak, keep watch, but do not try any physical maneuvers.)

I jumped up and zipped around the table to where she was sitting.

“Can you breathe?” I asked again.

She shook her head no, looking agonized.

So I did what they’d told me to do at the training. I got behind her, put my arms around her stomach, locked my hands together in a fist, and pulled up sharply under her rib cage.

The piece of bagel she’d been choking on popped out. And she was breathing again!

Just like that.

To be honest, I’d expected that I’d have to try several times before it actually worked. Or that I’d try and fail, and then have to jump up and start shouting about what was happening to see if anyone at the party had any real training in saving lives.

But no. The Heimlich Maneuver worked like a charm. The first time.

Quick and quiet

Tracy looked at me, shaken. “You saved my life,” she said. “Thank you.”

“No problem,” I said. “I’m actually surprised that it worked.”

“I’m glad it did,” she said. “I thought I was going to die. I was waiting to see my life pass before my eyes.”

I sat beside her for a moment rubbing her back and making sure that she was okay while the party continued around us. I’d just saved a life — and nobody had even noticed! It had been very quick and very quiet. Tracy couldn’t make a sound, and I hadn’t said anything other than asking her about her ability to breathe.

The only people who had noticed that something unusual had just happened were the children at the table with us, who were now looking at us curiously as Tracy grabbed a napkin and cleaned up the very small mess she’d made coughing up the bagel.

“Teacher Tracy threw up,” the four-year-old observed.

“And now she feels much better,” I reassured him. “People often feel better after they throw up.”

This information satisfied him, and he went back to eating his lunch.

And that was that.

It felt a little odd that something so momentous had just happened and nobody else was aware of it. If either Tracy or I had started hollering and shouting (“You could have died!”) everyone would have noticed and kicked up a fuss.

But I’m a retired librarian and Tracy is a pre-school teacher. We’re both in professions where you learn to take things in stride. It had happened. It was over. It turned out okay. No reason to spoil the party by making it about anything other than a much-loved baby turning one.

Although Tracy did thank me a few more times. And when I told my friends and family about it later, everyone showered me with praise and said they were proud of me.

Choosing to be ready

I hadn’t been sure about whether to attend that CPR course. I’ve always been a bit of a klutz and I’d assumed that if I ever actually tried to use the Heimlich Maneuver, I’d probably get it wrong. But I’m so glad I did — five years later, klutz or not, what they taught me kicked right in — and it worked.

As it turns out, it’s surprisingly easy to save a life.

All of us are exhausted and traumatized by the death and tragedy of the past two years. It sometimes feels as if everything is hopeless, and that what we do as individuals can’t possibly matter. But there’s always a way that we can have a positive impact on those around us by making smart choices and preparing in a responsible way. The impact may be small — or it could be lifesaving.

If you’ve ever thought about learning how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver yourself, I’m here to encourage you to go right ahead.

Saving a life feels great.

For information about learning how to save a life or perform first aid yourself, check out a wide range of classes from the Red Cross or Citywide CPR, including online options; or visit Heimlich Heroes.

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