How to Recognize Signs of Choking and What to Do!


Foodie with Family

This picture is me alive with Diane Cu of White on Rice couple on Sunday afternoon. Phew. “Say WHAT?” you ask.

You might think that as a professional food writer, recipe developer and cooking instructor (and 38-year-old human) that by this point in life, I might just have a handle on how to eat properly, too. Right?

Well, in fact, no. Clearly I don’t. Let me back this story up a bit, though…

Last Friday I flew down to Orlando to attend the Food Blog Forum. This fabulous event put on by Jaden and Scott Hair, and Diane Cu and Todd Porter was to be attended and spoken at by a virtual who’s who of bloggers I had respected for years. Among those bloggers were David Leite, Elise Bauer, Julie Deily, and Lindsay Landis. I was thrilled to get the chance to connect with them at the Friday reception and went into Saturday’s classes ready to absorb all the wisdom they had to share with the rest of us. I connected with Elise Saturday morning just prior to breaking out of sessions for lunch. I’d wanted to thank her face to face for years for pointing me toward my beloved homemade root beer recipe and was overjoyed that I had finally delivered those thanks along with a hug.

I made a bee line for the conference room two doors over where lunch was being presented with bells and whistles and illuminated Tinkerbell plate flair by Disney’s children’s menu chefs. The room buzzed with the happy sounds of a 150 or so munching, laughing and chatting food bloggers and service professionals.

Hors d'oeuvres

Image: Richard Munckton via Flickr

I laid my hands on a delicious looking plate of food and attempted the trifecta of talking, walking and eating. That’s the first place I went wrong. Since I wasn’t at the table, I didn’t cut my food as small as I normally would. It wasn’t a slab of food I popped into my mouth, but it wasn’t a genteel bite either. And in a moment where I’m still not clear what happened, that bite of food slid to the back of my throat and lodged itself firmly over my windpipe.

I could not breathe. I could not cough. I could not speak.

I was completely terrified.

I then did what every single food service training and first aid training I’ve ever been to warned against doing. I tried to save face (because I knew that food had to come out of my mouth instead of going down) by walking briskly toward the door where I could hopefully cough and propel it outward. In my single-minded race for the door, I laid my hand on the back of Elise Bauer -- whom I had waited so long to thank -- and pushed her to the side.

I got out the door and tried to cough and that’s where I knew I was in very big trouble. There was no way to cough because to cough, you have to take air in first and, baby, there was nothing coming in OR out. My head started swimming and -- this isn’t pretty, but it’s true -- my eyes watered, and I had a river of drool pouring out of my mouth because I couldn’t swallow.

I’m not going to say my life flashed before my eyes, but I will tell you at that moment when I realized it was dire, I had two thoughts: Lindy.  The boys.  Oh, and GET HELP NOW!

I ran back for the door and banged my hand as hard as I could on it to draw the attention of anyone who was nearby because I couldn’t talk. Have you ever tried to call for help and had ZERO ability to do it? That’s where I was. Thank heavens I wasn’t so far gone I couldn’t bang on a door.  A couple of chefs and Disney representatives looked my way, and I held my hands up to my throat in the Universal Sign of Distress*.

*I’m going to talk more about this in a moment. Please… if you don’t want to read anything else, scroll to the bottom and read the information I’ve linked you to below. I’m serious.

I knew the chefs would’ve had the same training over the years that I had and would know enough to grab someone who knew how to help. I couldn’t have been luckier in where I choked if I tried, even though I did everything wrong.


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