When I was 15, I choked on a grilled chicken sandwich from Wendy’s while my mom drove me and my new boyfriend home from a movie. To this day, I can’t watch a toddler eat without thinking it’s going to kill them. I think this says a lot about what is wrong with me.
After the choking incident, my mom panicked almost every time we had dinner. Things would be going along just fine, salad course finished, onto the soup, and we’d hear this deep, guttural throat clearing coming from tiny, delicate her. Then she’d do it again. And again, springing from her chair in the kitchen to the living room where she could hack her brains out in privacy. There was never really anything stuck in her throat. But when you see your daughter almost die because of a mishandled bite, it stays with you.
So does the fact that it is entirely possible to give yourself the Heimlich maneuver without the back of a chair to hurl yourself onto. You just need the very real fear that death is near, and a hell of as self-inflicted sucker punch to the gut. If you are good at this, whatever is lodged will go flying from that place in your throat you never want to be clogged to the deep, dark crevices of your mom’s purse on the floor of the car. And then you will take a deep breath, collect yourself and collect the piece of chicken - turning it over, inspecting it. Bonding with the very thing that almost killed you. Taking it inside when you get home to show your dad. Telling him about how it was sort of stuck and you thought the smart thing would be to drink the iced tea in the consul to help it find its way from throat to stomach. Only immediately, you realized how stupid that was when this breathing-hole-shaped piece of chicken covered in honey mustard sauce just lodges, locking itself into place. You’ll tell him how you began to panic. How, unable to breathe, you forgot the universal sign for choking and instead resorted to flailing you arms. Your mom, who had been talking to your new boyfriend, realized what was happening and started screaming, “she’s choking, she’s choking.” He’ll hear about how she pulled the car over and you unlocked the door to get out. You had, at that point, not been breathing for maybe 20 seconds. It felt like 20 minutes. But standing on the side of the road didn’t work, so you got back into the car and worked very hard to expel the sandwich. It took four tries. But on the fourth, your mom’s panic subsided and you could breathe again.