Monday, May 09, 2011

39 Months (the second)

The incident almost happened. The one most feared by parents, cutting straight through your bones just thinking about it. The one of nightmares that may languish the rest of your life if it were to ever come true. The one that reaches into your heart with the icy devilish touch of dismay and terror. No one who has ever felt a moment of love for a child would welcome the event that happened at casawex and we were the lucky ones.

Quinn loves to eat with gusto, cramming her food into her mouth without regard for the capacity of that orifice. We often find ourselves shaking our heads at the comic display of her attempts to masticate a congealed blob of savory goodness that easily may veer off into an unsavory spectacle; food spat on the ground or pulled out then shoved in your general direction or choking. More than once we've had to encourage her to slow down and enjoy her food but it's difficult to get through to a three-year-old sometimes.

Shockingly, the incident didn't arise because of overabundance of food but I'm sure the grape arrived in her throat due to an eager carelessness that surrounds our lovely daughter when it comes to meal times. I don't even know how it all began because I was casually lounging in the other room enjoying a good book as the day was fading from view. All I heard was Christina asking Quinn if she was okay. This is a common question that we ask of Quinn, from her typical crying reaction when she doesn't get what she wants to common toddler mishaps to brotherly bratiness, so I wasn't concerned. Until I heard the concern in my wife's voice. Then it escalated very quickly once we all realized that the reason Quinn wasn't responding was because she wasn't breathing.

We've had moments with both Lucas and Quinn where you freeze for an instant because you think, Is my child choking right now?, then they invariably start breathing a second or two later. When I went over to check out the situation, I quickly realized that this wasn't going to correct itself of its own accord. If we didn't want Quinn to die, we were going to have to do something about it.

Let me just say that I either don't know how to do the Heimlich Maneuver or it just doesn't work with a three-year-old. While panic began to escalate around the room; with Lucas running in fear as both his parents voices and breathing reached tremulous levels and as Christina pounded out 911 on the telephone; the only thought in my head was that I could take care of this. I don't know why I thought this, because I have never been in a situation where I had to help someone to breathe again. I also have been known to become overwhelmed with confusion during extremely stressful moments, even though during normal tasks I always feel very comfortable handling whatever comes my way. Though this was far from an ordinary situation I did find myself responding with confidence rather than confusion and I felt that if I just take one step forward, I would be able to accomplish this crazy and terrifying task.

Step One: The Heimlich Maneuver.

I got down on a knee, turned her around, put one fist into her stomach and proceeded to push upward. Each time I did this it felt absolutely ineffective, which turned out to be true because nothing was happening. I pushed and pushed, each time harder and harder, waiting for that revelatory moment when the grape would expel violently from her mouth and we could all breathe a sigh of relief. Nope. Nothing happening.

So then I thought, Well, every time I saw the Heimlich in action, the person was using two hands. This seemed like it wouldn't work on Quinn's little stomach, which was why I only used one hand to begin with, but we were getting toward a minute or so without breathing so the stakes were going higher and higher in this poker match. I reached around with both hands, pushed my chest against her back and lifted with all the strength that I had in me, while still taking care for her safety, of course. We didn't want any broken ribs in the process. I pulled and pulled and pulled and pulled, her feet now completely off the ground, all to no avail. Nothing was coming out of her mouth.

With my heart pounding more and more desperately, all I could think was, How is this even possible?

Step Two: Reevaluate The Situation.

Whatever you do, you cannot panic at this point because it could easily spiral out of control but I have to admit that I was definitely starting to panic at this point. The strangest thing about it though was that Quinn was completely calm, so much so that I had to put her down and look closely at her. Maybe she wasn't really choking after all. She could stand on her own two feet, looked right at me with no fear in her eyes, so I asked her if she was all right. No response. I've heard that people who drown reach a point where everything descends into complete serenity, almost as if they accept the moment filling them with calmness. Now, I don't know if that was happening to Quinn but she was very mellow about the entire situation, the only one in the entire house who could say that. Even Mishu was probably stressing out.

But then I looked closely at her and I could see the skin around her mouth was turning purple. And her forehead was as white as a sheet. And Christina was saying into the phone, "She's not breathing! Oh mt god! She's turning blue!"

This was the moment of despair for me. I immediately imagined Quinn dying in my arms and it was the most terrifying thought that I have ever experienced in real time. That instant I was overwhelmed with the horror of it all but fortunately my brain or body did not shut down.

Step Three: Do Whatever It Takes

Sometimes, to diffuse a situation you have to be as honest about what is actually happening as possible. I've seen people stand forth during such incredible confrontation that all ulterior motives vanish and the raw truth of the experience shines anew. I only knew one thing, my daughter was dying because a grape was stuck in her throat. The only way I could think of getting it out was to reach down and take it out. I figured I would either pull it out or squash it so that the juices would make her cough it out or throw it up. I have no idea if this is foolish and if this story may cause others to attempt what I did causing a deleterious effect. All I knew was that I had to get that grape out.

So I reached in and immediately could feel the obstruction. It wasn't far down and my finger was long enough. Yet, when I felt it, I forced myself to stop for just a second. This was difficult to do because it seemed at this point every second counted but I knew that if I didn't do this correctly, I would be regretting it for the rest of my life. I felt the grape, massaged it. How stuck was it? I turned out that it was actually just kind of resting in a bowl like depression at the top of her throat but it was just too big to come out. It had squeezed into this small space but it wasn't jammed in there.

I delicately began to work my finger around the edge of the grape until I could tell that I had enough leverage to yank it out. So that's what I did. Then I presented a mucus swathed grape toward Christina, who was still on the phone.

"I got it!"

I had saved my daughter's life by reaching in and taking the grape out of her mouth. It sounds so simple but it was the most traumatic two minutes of my life. Christina was so happy that tears were streaming out of her eyes. Relief poured out of us with joy in our exhausted hearts. We were the fortunate ones who didn't have to tell another story that only brought grief with each telling.

Quinn, meanwhile, was acting like nothing had happened to her. Still serene, she sat back down at the table and began to eat more grapes.

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Anonymous darwinsgirl said...

holy shit. you saved her life. i will cut grapes from this day forward.

9:11 PM  
Blogger mishupishu said...

It was a nightmare but fortunately we managed to escape with hugs and smiles after all was said and done. Must say, though, we still don't cut her grapes.

4:35 PM  

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