My Child Choked, And This Is How I Knew What To Do

by Colleen Green
Originally Published: 
A two-part collage of Colleen Green hugging her daughter, and Colleen Green's daughter holding a cra...
Colleen Green

Public Service Announcement, from one parent to all other parents:

If you have not taken a CPR/First Aid course ever, or lately, please seriously consider doing so. If you have kiddos, I’d make this request urgent. If you have older kids in the home, have them come to the class with you.

I’ve been a lifeguard since I was 15, have been a lifeguard instructor, have taken and taught CPR and First Aid classes basically every year since I was 13 and have been a first repsonder — I’m not freaked out by blood and I feel pretty confident that in an emergency, I’m the one you want with you.

And despite all this, it is wholly different when it’s your own child.

Last night, my child choked. Sitting across the table from me, at dinner, in our home, while my husband was deployed — my only child choked.

She is, thankfully and most importantly, all right.

But, this was a full-on choking incident. Not just coughing for a bit because something was stuck and she could still breathe.

Not just “something went down wrong.”

My child was sitting across the dinner table from me and she started choking.

There was one cough. One high pitched whistle (it’s called stridor). Then nothing. Her eyes were super wide, she was very clearly scared.

Again, I know what to do, but this was my kid.

She sort of “fell” off the chair she was sitting on, trying to get around to my side of the table. I feel like I basically leapt across the table to meet her where she was, her hands grasped tightly up to her neck (turns out, the universal sign for choking is, in fact, universal even for five-year-olds).

I hit her on the back and asked her if she could cough. I tried to get her to cough, saying, “Honey, please cough.” She looked up at me with eyes wider than I have ever seen and she shook her head no…no coughing.

I got down on my knees and did the Heimlich, kid version…nothing. It was not a pleasant feeling to feel the power of my adult arms squishing and squeezing my daughter’s body — and knowing that it was not helping, that she was still choking, unable to breath.

Thankfully, my kiddo is tiny and I picked her up, like you would do for a smaller child, or a baby, and did the back blows with her head facing toward the ground — body propped on my arm, against my thigh.

Four blows to the back. Pretty forcefully, truth be told.

Out came several chunks of food.

But can we just pause for a second and let this sink in? I had to Heimlich my child and that did not work and then I had to deliver four forceful blows to her back in order to clear her airway so she could breath. I held my baby, our child, in my arms and had to deliver back blows in order to, quite seriously, save her little life.

If I did not know what to do, I’m not sure what would have happened. Turns out, I did. I did know what to do.

According to the New York State Department of Health, “choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional death in children under the age of 5,” and for children in this age range “the most common cause of nonfatal choking in young children is food.”

My child is 4.5 years old. Her food was cut up into pretty reasonably bite-sized pieces. I was sitting at the table with her. As we sat at dinner chatting about our day, I did not think at all about the fact that “at least one child dies from choking on food every five days in the U.S.” and that on top of that, more than 12,000 kids head to local ERs every year for choking-related injuries.

Now those statistics are seared into my brain.

Now, I also feel more strongly than ever that anyone with kids, and frankly, just everyone, should take a CPR and First Aid class. Yes, they have them online, but I don’t feel like those prepare you in the same was as feeling what chest compressions, and back blows, and the Heimlich feel on a body — even the mannequins they use prepare you for the feeling of this better than watching a video. And to be fair, and totally transparent, I have done Heimlich, rescue breathing, and CPR on real people before in my work as a first responder and lifeguard.

It is different when it is your own child.

I remained calm, yes, and my child is now OK, but please know, this freaked me out more than anything has — ever.

So I implore you: find your local CPR and First Aid class and sign up. Maybe — hopefully — you will never need it. And maybe critics would say that taking just taking a class once is not sufficient, and perhaps that is true — and I would have to say I agree — but one class is a start.

In our house, last night, there were tons of tears afterwards, loads of cuddling, and constant checking all night long to make sure she was all right and safe. I, for sure, did not sleep a bit last night, but sat up and watched her sleep a little more restlessly than normal.

In the end, yes, she was fine the next morning morning. She will probably chew her food a little more from now on. But here’s the thing: She’s almost five. And she was not messing around, being goofy, doing anything “wrong.” She really was just eating. And this happened.

If I didn’t know what to do, I do not want to even imagine the article I would be writing this morning.

Check out American Red Cross or The American Heart Association or your local Fire Department to find CPR and First Aid classes near you.

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