When editor Annie Ridout realised her son was choking on a breadstick, she followed all the advice she’d been given but it didn’t work. She ran to the door, shouting for help, before remembering something she’d seen in TV drama series The Affair…
I was in the kitchen, loading the dishwasher, while my daughter watched TV and my one-year-old son was in his highchair, eating small sections of breadsticks. As babies learn how to properly chew and swallow food, they often gag – and bring it back up. It’s a little alarming at first, but I’d got used to it, two children in.
So when I heard him trying to cough up the breadstick, I wasn’t worried. But then I saw his body go rigid. The breadstick wasn’t coming up. He couldn’t dislodge it. I ran over and pulled him out of his highchair and lay him across my arm, hitting his back to release the food that had got stuck. It didn’t work.
I knew the advice was to then turn him on his back, and hit the chest, but this felt counterintuitive; like it would in fact push it further down. So I continued hitting his back while running towards the front door, screaming for help. The thought I had on repeat was: this is the moment I lose my son. There’s nothing I can do. I was beside myself with panic.
The front door open, I was ready to pull in anyone from the street who could help, when I remembered the first episode the The Affair. The family are eating out and their child starts choking on her food. The waitress rushes over and hangs the girl upside down while hitting her back, which dislodges the food – and she’s fine.
At the time, I remember thinking: that’s not what you’re supposed to do. But when I was standing there holding my son as he choked, screaming his name and feeling utterly out of control, I was willing to try anything. And so as soon as this memory came to me, I turned him upside down.
I was holding him around the waist and continuing to hit his back. By now, he was a deep shade of purple and rock hard. After a few smacks, he starting coughing and spluttering. The breadstick was out. His eyes were bloodshot but other than that, he was absolutely fine.
I, however, was deeply disturbed. I sat on the sofa, tried to phone my husband – but he was driving home – and started shaking. My daughter blithely asked me what had happened, and I explained. Then my husband came in and I broke down. I couldn’t stop crying.
After putting the kids to bed that night, I checked on them every hour.
I found myself telling everyone about this experience. I needed to say it out loud to process it. I also put a post on Instagram, and someone commented on it – telling me about the completely tragic experience of The Small Folk founders, whose three-year-old son lost his life after choking on a bouncy ball. I feel deeply saddened by this, and so sorry for that family.
After this experience, I decided to do a kids’ first aid course. So a few weeks ago, we had a local guy come round – a firefighter, actually – to teach me, my husband and two other couples what to do if your child is choking, stops breathing or has a seizure. It was 1.5 hours, cost £15 and made us all feel so much more confident about dealing with medical emergencies.
I’m not going to go into what he taught us, because I’m not an expert and so might get something wrong. But I urge all parents, aunties and uncles, caregivers to do a first aid course. It’s not just to protect our own children, but also other people’s. Now, if I was out and saw a child choking, I’d know exactly what to do.