“He’s just looking around,” I said. He was. Like a turtle, pivoting on his neck, with a sleepy look on his face.
“He’s choking!” my husband said, and sprang into action. He thumped my son’s back. So did I, and my son’s head slumped. I stuck my finger into his mouth and felt teeth.
“OPEN YOUR MOUTH! OPEN YOUR MOUTH!” I said.. Oh my God, this could be it. We could lose him right now! I always thought if someone was choking, their mouth would automatically open but his didn’t. Thankfully, he did open his mouth when I said so and, as I worried my nail was too long and would scratch him, my finger reached for the back of his throat. I swept it, got some small pieces of sausage, and my son began to perk up and breathe. Breathe. It was the most beautiful breath I’d ever seen him take.
My heart pounded, my forehead sweated, and the enormity of what just happened overwhelmed me. My son could have died. Just eating dinner. And he didn’t, thank God, but it could happen that fast. Dead. He could be dead.
It’s not a lesson I needed to learn. Thanks to my mom, I’ve always been aware of the tenuousness of life. My mom lived her whole life thinking each moment could be her last, and instead of making every moment count, she lived every moment in fear. I’m not as fearful as she was, but when I hear about kids dying in a fire or being kidnapped or having serious illnesses, I always think, That could be my child. Since they were newborns and I was afraid of SIDS, I was never satisfied with looking at them asleep. I’ve always had to touch them to make sure they’re breathing. It’s completely irrational but that fear is my carry-on baggage — I keep it with me at all times.
I read recently that parents like me, who fear for their kids all the time, should replace that fear with gratitude. Gratitude for such wonderful children; for their health; for their continued safety and well-being. And since I read that, I’ve been practicing that gratitude, trying to unseat the fear. And now this.
Now I’m monitoring every bite my son takes. He does need to change his habits. He likes to cram huge bites into his mouth – much more than he can chew. Usually when he crams, he gags and has to spit out a semi-chewed piece of meat or whatever onto his plate. We’ve been trying to teach him to take smaller bites. We’re cutting up his food into smaller pieces, but that doesn’t help when he’s eating, say, a Clementine. He ate four of them in a row yesterday as I scrutinized his chewing. He’d bite off a chunk of the orange, instead of eating it a section at a time. We had a little refresher on how to eat an orange and he followed my instructions, but it’s still nerve-wracking. His sister was so much easier when it came to choking. Every time she’d start to choke, she’d throw up on her plate. It was gross but it worked every time.
I don’t know what to take away from this, except for the gratitude that he survived. I was so overwhelmed the next day that I told him how thankful I was that we didn’t lose him. He said “I’m sorry.” And then he apologized to his father. Poor little guy. I just wanted him to know how special he is to us.
I think the only thing that I can do right now is to learn what to do in an emergency. I know that what we did was effective, but I’m not sure it was the best method. I did learn one thing, though. I always thought that I would panic and be useless in an emergency situation, but during that ten seconds that felt like ten minutes, I was thinking logically and deliberately, and I reacted quickly and in synch with my husband. At least I know that when we have another emergency, I can be rational and effective. I didn’t think I was prepared for something like this, but it turns out that I was. And I hope there is no next time, but if there is, I know that I’ll come through.