Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Choking Man...

A week ago, at a lovely restaurant, in the company of extraordinary women, I witnessed the near death of a man I don't know.

He was eating dinner a couple of tables away, when something got stuck in his throat. For what seemed like an hour, but was closer to a minute, choking man tried to catch a breath, and he couldn't. One of our fellow diners gave him the Heimlich Manoeuvre, to no avail. The sound of someone trying to breathe, and being unable to, is seriously something I never want to hear again. A good 50 people sat frozen in time, watching, hoping, not sure what to do, wondering whether we should stare or move away.

Thankfully, at the peak of his struggle, a second diner took over the manoeuvre and the choking man was saved.

Just like that, crisis over. The choking man thanked the Heimlich men and they all went home.

We tried to resume conversation where it had stopped, matrix-fashion, a minute/hour ago. We tried but we couldn't. Two of our number were crying and the rest of us were a little discombobulated. It's not surprising, in many ways. Choking is scary. Almost dying is scary. The way a potential choking incident resolves itself instantly is just plain surreal.

We talked about the fact that choking hits close to home - low tone kids, oral motor weaknesses, accidents involving other kids... it was hard to watch, hard to experience, hard to reconcile.

For me, I have to say, the thing that hit me the most was that it was over.

I was relieved the man was still alive. I was absolutely delighted the men who intervened had been successful. I was glad the crisis had passed, and everyone could go home in one piece.

But if I'm really honest, and I try to be, I was a bit jealous. Because it was over for them.

I'm not proud of having these feelings. I'm not proud of appropriating someone else's crisis for my own emotional wallowing. But it stinks some days that our crisis isn't over. It's not always a crisis. Not every day. But it's always lurking. It's hanging around, waiting for its moment.

Some days, I want someone to appear from the shadows, give me a good sharp squish in the solar plexus and make the whole damn thing go away.

I don't want Billy to go away, not for a second. It's not really even about autism going away, although I'm not going to lie, I don't love every aspect of autism every day. It's about the underlying possibility of crisis.

Choking man reminded me that crisis is possible for everyone, for sure. It's awful to watch, and obviously, it's awful to experience. It's life. I get it.

But he also made me realise that my challenge as Billy's mother is to make sure he lives his life without the sense of lurking doom that I often have. We've spent too much time in hospital already, we have too many medications and doctors in our lives already, we see the smoky threads of future issues. We need to find a line between informing him of the risks he faces (maybe we should start with properly identifying as many as we can) and letting him live a life full of possibility.

We've been travelling for three weeks, and he has handled himself like a champion. He has been brave and accommodating and engaged. He has learned to regulate himself to the point where he can ask for (OK, demand) his own time (thank you, YouTube). He is clearly challenged, no doubt about it, but he manages his challenges (and is permitted to manage his challenges) in a way that has made this whole adventure possible.

The fact that things might happen, the fact that things will happen... just is. The things might be great or the things might be challenging, but we have to be open to... things. We have to welcome... things. Without a sense of dread.

This is probably a good mindset to be in as we prepare to get back on a plane for 14 hours.

Without knowing anything about choking man at all, I really hope he's OK. I hope the men who intervened and saved his life are OK. I hope everyone in the restaurant is OK.

At the end of the day, I want my kid to be OK.

Nothing to see here.


Mama Deb said...

Ahh...I have replayed that event 1000 times in my head since it happened! I wanted to share this information here for your readers. (I've also shared it with Niki, and she's begun to implement it with A)
My good friend is a pediatric OT and she told me that she has parents of children with oral motor issues who might have tendency to choke on their food to teach their child to chew to the point of needing to swallow, and then before they swallow, to have them tuck their chin toward their chest. By doing this, they are effectively blocking their windpipe, making the food impossible to pass that way, and only to go down the throat as it should. I don't ever want to witness another near death like we did. I've refreshed myself on the Heimlich maneuver just in case, though, and spread the word to my friends!!

Dana Meijler said...

Val, I think you voiced very eloquently the way a lot of us feel about our dealings with autism. It is in many ways a crisis that never goes away. Yes, like the tide it ebbs and flows, some crises are worse than others. It's weird to talk about autism making me grateful but one thing I think dealing with autism and my child and her problems has taught me is to not sweat little things as much. I know now what real crisis and worry are and don't sweat what I used to worry about pre-k-a (pre kid, pre autism).

I am afraid there is not much to do about the crisis, it is there, but know that if you put your hand out there, I will grab it and listen.