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My Son’s Life in My Hands … and the Hands of Others

February 1, 2011

Last evening, I had my child’s life in my hands. And today, still, my hands are shaking.

Last evening, for the second time in less than a week, The Buddha was choking. A few moments later, after an inexpert but effective-enough use of the Heimlich maneuver, The Buddha was back in his seat, excited to get back to finishing his fajitas. I, in contrast, was a wreck. Sick to my stomach and flush with the aftermath of an adrenaline rush.

Last evening, after the boys went to bed, I lay my head on my husband’s shoulder and cried. A lot.

“What if?” I sobbed to my husband, who seemed shell-shocked. What if? What if? I could barely say it. What if my Heimlich hadn’t worked? What if I hadn’t been able to force that piece of chicken or yellow pepper or whatever it was out of his airway? Holy shit, honey … he might be dead!

Grief, Interrupted, indeed.

All day today, almost every time I have talked about it or let myself roll the tape in my head, I tear up. I am scared. I am scared it will happen again. And I’m scared shitless that, if it does, I won’t be able to save him again.

One choking incident seemed, well, like something that could possibly happen to a boy known to have weak mouth muscles and some swallowing dysfunction (though never, ever before a choking incident). Two incidents so close together, though, made us wonder, had something recently changed in his anatomical structure? Or had we all just gotten a little too complacent because, according to his feeding specialist, he had met his goals for the moment and actually began a break from therapy in December.

We’re actually not 100% sure that his airway was fully obstructed. It’s tricky for amateurs to assess in a kid like him. In each case, at first he was coughing/gagging, which made us think he might clear the obstruction himself. But then he got quieter and quieter. Last night, when we asked him if he could talk, he clearly and calmly shook his head. He became eerily silent. That’s when I began doing the Heimlich maneuver. Did I need to do it? I honestly don’t know. Do I regret doing it? Definitely not.

Thursday, the evening of the first incident, I did it all wrong. I had a clear image from years before of a friend angling her choking 3-year-old downward and hitting her on the back. So, yep, that’s what I did. Even though I know better. I panicked. Luckily, a friend was there to do it right.

Last night, I was a bit panicky, but remained calm enough to do what I had to do. I learned I could count on me in this particular crisis, but I hated every millisecond of it. It felt like an incredible amount pressure. Even though I brought this sweet, precious boy into the world, in that moment, I didn’t want to be responsible for his well-being. I just wanted him to be OK.

Now I have to count on me — somewhat forgetful me — to watch over The Buddha when he eats. To remember to cut up all his food and to remind him to take small bites ONE. AT. A. TIME. then swallow before taking another bite. Man, I thought we were past all this.

I want The Buddha to be independent. He’s growing up and becoming his own little man in so many ways. I don’t want to watch over every bite — and he’s been letting me know he’s not so thrilled about it, either. But, for at least a while, I must. And so must his amazing father, his wonderful teachers, his attentive babysitters. After all, my child’s life is in our hands.


Coach’s Query

When have you risen to the occasion, even when you were scared?

Also, I invite you to share your story of being similarly scared.

  1. Linda permalink

    Michelle, I know your panic. A few years ago we were in a hurry to get to school and I put both boys in the car, turned it on and started to scrape all the snow off. It was at least a minute before I noticed the tail pipe was completely blocked by snow. I flew to the side doors and threw them open. BOTH my babies could’ve simply fallen asleep and not woken up. I still get nauseated when I think about how fast it could’ve happened. Now, no one gets in the car until I check the tail pipe.

  2. Michelle Buzgon permalink

    Oh, Linda, how scary. Thank you for sharing your story. I think these kinds of things happen far more often than we know. Next time it snows, I’ll be thinking about the tailpipe, that’s for sure.

    And that, I hope, is an example of one of the gifts of this site … permission to talk about these difficult topics in a way that allows us to all learn from each other.

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