March 2011: In Case of Emergency

It’s almost spring break!  This month’s newsletter is a bit out of character from a typical Healthy Kids Ideas Exchange newsletter, but this is an important topic that stems from a recent event in my life with my 7-year old son:  He had a life-threatening choking episode.  Everything turned out fine, but as I related the event to friends, I began to hear again and again how terrified parents are of a child choking and how many times we experience nerve-wracking moments.  Now when I say choking I am talking about when the air pipe is completely blocked (as opposed to when a little something “goes down the wrong pipe” which is uncomfortable but remedied by coughing).  A real choking incident requires that the parent stay very calm (which is hard to do if your child is kicking and turning blue) and confidently follow some steps that this month’s newsletter will cover for you.

So what was the infamous item that caused the terrifying choking incident at our home?  It was a chocolate truffle(!) that my son Alexander had been given as a present.  (We still love truffles, don’t get me wrong, but I’ll be slicing them up from now on; Alexander has sworn them off).  Any circular food can be a culprit for chocking incidents.  (Toys and coins, of course, are also issues with very small children).  Here is a list of foods that are most likely to be choked on by a child (note the circular shape):

-hot dogs
-hard candy
-whole grapes
-raw carrots (cut in circular shapes)

There are many other foods that can cause problems, notably peanut butter, chewing gum, marshmallows, peanuts/nuts, and popcorn.  I was in a restaurant as a child when a man choked on a piece of steak, and I remember it was really scary (he was waving his hands about wildly and eventually fell to the floor before someone did the Heimlich on him and the piece of steak flew out).  As a small child, I myself choked on a bay leaf that was in a stew and not removed before serving.  Apparently I was sitting at the kitchen table (about age 5), turning blue.  My dad took me by the ankles and shook me vigorously downward to get gravity to help.  It worked (so I can be here today writing this).  However, this was about the same time when Dr. Heimlich first published his views about his namesake maneuver — in a June 1974 informal article in Emergency Medicine entitled, “Pop Goes the Cafe Coronary”. Dr. Heimlich’s maneuver completely changed the way the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association trained rescuers over the years, saving approximately 50,000 lives along the way.  Now, the Heimlich maneuver is definitely the way to go.  I learned the Heimlich maneuver when my husband and I took a CPR course together after the birth of our first child.  And did it work for me when I needed it?  A very grateful “yes” is the answer!  That truffle popped out of his mouth after about five really vigorous attempts.


So what can we all do as parents to be prepared?

Take a CPR course.  Your pediatrician might have some great ideas of where to enroll or you can check out this site. Babysitters should know what they are doing, too.

Review how the Heimlich maneuver works.  This link is from the Heimlich institute.  Or if you are video-inclined, check out this brief clip from CBSnews. (Note from this video that waving your arms around is not a great way to communicate that you are choking;  there is actually a universal signal for choking which is placing your hands across the front of your neck).

Have a plan in the case of Emergency.  Teach your kids to call 911, and always do this (tell someone, “YOU, CALL 911!”) before you attempt any emergency procedure yourself.  This call is your backup in case your own attempts don’t work.
Post reminders in easy-to-find places throughout the house.  It has been a long time since my CPR course, so I keep a one-page reminder taped to the inside of doors/cabinets in case I ever need it.  The Poison Control number is also good to post in the same place.
Get all your papers together (immunization records, numbers of doctors, health insurance information) and put them in an envelope marked “In Case of Emergency” and post this in a place in your house that you and all care-takers know about.  I have a sheet that gives instructions (and it starts with the most basic of information—what is our address if someone is calling 911—as you might have a new babysitter or someone who is just not thinking clearly when making an emergency call).  If you have multi-lingual help in your house, post the instructions in multiple languages.

Talk to your child’s doctors and dentists about their views on emergency situations, so you feel confident if anything ever arises.

-Most importantly (in my view): stay calm in any emergency situation.  This is easier said than done, and I’m very surprised in retrospect how calmly and straightforwardly I handled our recent situation.  I remember one of the most important things that I did for my son was to say (as he was panicking),  “YOU ARE GOING TO BE OKAY”.  It helped him to stop thrashing about and stay still so we could get that bugger unstuck.

I really hope that you never need to act on any emergency situation for your child, but it is always better to be prepared.  Do you have any tips on how we can keep our children safe?

Please post a comment on Healthy Kids Ideas Exchange and share it with us!


  1. Martha Weinfurter says:


    So glad to hear it was a happy ending, this happened to my niece with a piece of hard candy.
    Placing her upside down like your father did, with some strong blows on the back brought it up.
    Staying calm, as you so beautifully phrased it, is key!

  2. Martha Ross-Mockaitis says:

    I’m considering holding a CPR course here at church so that youth, adults, caregivers can get the new training for infants and children. Is there enough interest in hosting such a training?

    Staying calm is definitely key, and telling Alexander he was going to be fine was terrific. Thank goodness you were nearby! I appreciate your sharing this important life-saving information.

  3. Susan Pabich says:

    OMG Kathryn! I am so happy to hear that Alexander is ok!! What a terrifying incident!! Thank you for sharing the story and, of course, for the tips on what to do in this kind of emergency! It is so scarry to know that it can happen to anyone’s child, but being prepared for the worst can make a huge difference! Thanks again!

  4. In the case of emergency only CPR people save the life of other people so CPR traning is very necessary for everyone including child and old man.

Speak Your Mind


Share This Post!