Sunday night, I got home from a meeting, and I was hungry. It was too late to eat a meal, and I was too tired to heat anything up for myself. So instead of cooking, I polished off an open can of kalamata olives that I found in the refrigerator. I went to bed, not knowing that I had dropped one on the kitchen floor.
The next day, my younger boy, Rowan, was crawling around the house and found it. It only took him a second to decide to pop it into his mouth, whereupon he immediately choked on it. He didn’t make a sound. There was no gagging, no fussing, no indication whatsoever that his little life could end in about two minutes.
I was standing in the kitchen making breakfast for his older brother and me. I noticed that Rowan was making an awkward movement with his head, and it looked like he was trying to swallow something. I picked him up and looked at him. Instead of the typical bashful smile that has become his trademark, I sensed a level of panic in his eyes that sends a chill down my spine even now as I recall it. I tried to look in his mouth to see if there was anything there, but I saw nothing. I started patting his back, which must have just barely dislodged the olive enough for him to make a gagging sound. I grabbed my phone and turned the flashlight on and looked into his mouth again, and there it was: the tail end of a shiny black olive, sticking out of my baby’s throat.
He was panicking, and trying to cry. Every time he almost got the olive out, it allowed just enough room for him to gasp and choke on it again. He was fighting me as I tried, with no success, to hook my finger around it. This process went on for what seemed like an hour. He would almost get it out, but the lack of air would prevail, causing him to suck it back down his throat, as his demand for oxygen increased. I felt so helpless. I was turning him upside down, slamming his back with my other hand, saying, “Ohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuck.” His brother was scared, I was scared, and Rowan was scared. I was on the brink of tears. All I could think was, “Jesus, please don’t let my baby die.” As an individual who tends toward “all or nothing” thinking, in my mind I was all the way to “How am I going to explain to my wife that I let our son choke to death while you were at work?” At this point, I literally held him upside down by his leg and slammed his back, hard.
Then, he let out a loud gasp and started screaming at the top of his lungs. He had swallowed the olive. I turned him rightside up and confirmed that his airway was clear (which was considerably easier without my finger in his mouth). I just held him and we both cried.
It occurred to me that I had no idea what to do for a choking infant. So, I did some research to find out what I should have done. Spoiler alert: none of the correct procedures involve anything I did. Read on to discover what you should do when your little one gets into trouble:
The following steps are taken from Medlineplus.gov. You can read the article here.
DO NOT perform these steps if the infant is coughing hard or has a strong cry. Strong coughs and cries can help push the object out of the airway (and indicate that your baby isn’t choking yet)
If your child is not coughing forcefully or does not have a strong cry, follow these steps:
If the object does not come out of the airway after 5 blows:
IF THE INFANT LOSES ALERTNESS
If the child becomes unresponsive, stops breathing, or turns blue:
I couldn’t help but notice that none of these steps include turning your child upside down, hanging them from one hand, shouting obsecinities over and over again, and beating their back. For all I know, I may have even made things worse. Fortunately, my son was able to clear the obstruction on his own, but it could have easily gone a different way. And if it had, it would have been entirely my fault. I would never have been able to forgive myself.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
-Until next time, fellow fathers,