Today we all had a scare, which is really my way of down playing the fact that something seriously and truly scary happened. My son and I (the whole family really) came to a place where the whole rest of the lives of my family would have changed.
The kids were eating some almonds. I was right there, because you just don't cut kids loose with nuts. I think they actually grill you at the pediatrician about it. You get a list of everything that a child can choke on. I thought it would be easier to list the things they can't choke on: The Astrodome, Belgium, a crane, two shipping containers, and a rhinoceros. Zoë is nearly six and Ike is nearly three, so a person has to relax a little bit and let them try things with supervision.
Well, as it goes with old gun argument, the problem wasn't the nuts, it was the kids. As they were sitting at the breakfast counter in the kitchen, something happened: a shoe dropped or somebody was sitting too close to somebody, and Ike started screaming at Zoë.
As he was screaming his eyes went suddenly wide and his tongue lifted and began poking out of his mouth like the tongue of a chicken. There was no sound, nothing. He didn't know how to make the "I'm choking" universal throat grasp.
Zoë said, "Something's wrong with Ike."
I was right behind them both, literally 8 or 9 inches away. I reached around Ike's middle and gave him the Heimlich three times, then looked at his face. No change. He was getting scared, and Zoë said exactly that. I picked up Ike and kicked the stool out of the way and flipped him upside down and gave him one, quick smack, right between the shoulder blades.
The next thing I heard was a scream.
I don't know if something shot out of his mouth or what. But Ike was really pissed off at me for hitting him, until Zoë said, "Ike's breathing again. He didn't choke." Then Ike figured it out and leaned into me. I stood him up and he hugged my neck. I hugged him back and listened to the snot bubbles fill and snap against his lip. I felt his little back swell and collapse. I was never more glad to hear sobbing in my life.
I said, "Buddy, that's choking. Are you okay now?" He nodded.
Ike pointed to the ground and said, "Daddy, pick up dat stool."
I'm pretty useful in an emergency. I go into this space I call the funnel. I don't freak out, and in fact, the worse things get, the calmer I get. Sometimes people misread this: because I am not freaking out, I don't understand exactly what is going on, or don't care, or don't value other human beings. In essence, I become a robot, usually a command-giving robot. It's useful, but it takes a while for me to come down.
You go there, do this, then come back. You do that, this way, then do a second thing a second way, then stand still and wait for my next set of instructions.
When Ike cracked his head open, I did that to my wife. I had all the kids in the car, and we were going to the hospital. I called my wife at work and said in a very even voice, "Meet me behind the library in five minutes. We're going to the hospital. I will explain when you get in the car."
Later, I realized that such a phone call is probably the worst thing you could ever do to somebody. But when I get into the funnel, there is no context. There is only the next thing to do—that's what keeps me from freaking out—there's no time to think, what if this or what if that? There is only do this, do that.
This time, as I got down and picked up the stool and righted it and moved Ike back onto it, I had a moment to come out of the funnel, because the next thing to do was check on Ike's breathing, which was there. I had the time to think, what if he would have choked? what if the next thing for me do have done was to call an ambulance? call Alisa and tell her Ike was dead? These were not options, the option was hold him until he calmed down enough for me tell him again, "That was choking. That is why we have to be so careful while we're eating. We don't want you to feel like that again. It's too scary."
One thing I have to keep in mind, now that I take at least a part of every day and think about how easy it is to lose a kid, is that you can't hover over them or quarantine them or chew their almonds for them? It's really like one of our family rules goes: "Have fun but be safe." It goes in that order on purpose. We'd all be really safe if we just stayed in bed, but aside from the occasional extra hour on a Sunday morning.