1/30/17, Heimlich

Hi Everyone,

I hope January rolled out nicely for you, and you got some things done, and managed to stay warm. It was freezing cold everywhere I went, or pouring rain, or both, or snowing. Definitely a rugged winter in the places where I go!!!

It’s not a glamourous subject, but I wanted to share with you an experience I had over the holidays, which was a bit of a wake up call for me, and led to some useful thoughts. I managed to catch a nasty cold (people talk about a “bad” cold—-is there a good cold? Definitely not!!), travelling from Paris to New York, and home to San Francisco for the holidays with my kids. Between plane travel and freezing cold weather along the way, and being busy, my cold was bad by the time I got home, and I was taking lots of Vitamin C. I was rushing around, all my kids and their partners were home, many of them brought their dogs, meals took a lot of planning, every outing and meal involved a large group, and I was really busy. I was getting ready to go out for dinner with them one night, and thought, oh I’ll pop another vitamin C for good measure, tossed it in my mouth, took a small sip of water while doing 10 other things and rushed out of my bathroom, AND OMG, the damn vitamin got stuck in my throat. I mean REALLY stuck. Not the kind of coughing and spluttering where you choke for a minute and tell everyone that it went down the wrong way, it lodged right in my windpipe and not a wisp of air could get in or out. That has never happened to me before. It was like being strangled, and I knew instantly that I was in BIG trouble. NO AIR AT ALL. Zero. Apparently, the normal reaction of many choking victims is to run away, like leave a restaurant table and rush to the bathroom—-because it’s embarrassing—-where often choking victims die alone with no one to help them. Fortunately, I didn’t do that, and had the opposite reaction. I knew I needed help and fast, before I passed out from lack of air, and might have died in my bathroom. I rushed out of the room and ran to where most of my kids were congregating in the hall with husbands and boyfriends, and some employees, about a dozen people or so. I pointed to my throat, and they could see my distress immediately. It took a few seconds to register, and then literally everyone started to scream, really scream, “OhmyGod, she’s choking!! What do we do?!!” A few people screamed call 911, which they did, but mostly they panicked and so did I. I was still getting absolutely no air at all, and one of my daughters grabbed me, and started squeezing me. She had heard that’s what you do for a choking victim, didn’t know how to do it but tried (you’re supposed to stand behind them, put your arms around them and press hard, forcing air upwards to dislodge what is stuck). She’s strong and squeezed hard and I tried to push her away, and not knowing what else to do, she started lifting me off the ground, and banging me back down on my feet. I tried to get out of her grip and couldn’t, and suddenly the nasty little vitamin flew out of my mouth onto the floor, and I could breathe again (it had the effect of a cork in a bottle, and sealed out all air). Although she didn’t know how to do the Heimlich maneuver for choking victims, and did it in a very rudimentary style (squeezing me, which pushed air up from my lungs to where the pill was stuck), and banging me up and down on my feet on the floor, she created enough momentum to dislodge it and save my life. The experience scared the hell out of me!!! And all of them. I could easily have died, by the time the paramedics would have come, I would have choked to death, which happens to many, many people every year, with food. It was a real wake up call to all of us. I’ve taken many, many first aid classes when my kids were younger, I know how to do the Heimlich for a choking victim, but have never had to use it. Of my 9 adult children, only One has taken a first aid class, and she was out at the time. Of the employees standing by, NONE knew how to do the Heimlich, and only one of my kids figured she’d better do something, anything before I died, and it worked. After it happened and we stood around, we all talked about what you’re supposed to do, but no one knew. Another of my employees used to be a nurse, but she was out too. Everyone resolved that night to go to a first aid class, it’s a really smart thing to do, you might save a friend, a stranger, a child, one of your parents, or someone in a restaurant, (or yourself with the methods they teach you to use when you’re alone, which I didn’t think of in my panic) with just minimal knowledge and a class you’ve taken. If my daughter hadn’t squeezed me and banged me around, desperate to help, I would have died, from something so dumb as a vitamin C. It can happen to anyone, I was rushing, not paying attention, and swallowed wrong. VERY wrong.

It REALLY scared me. For about 2 weeks after, I didn’t take a vitamin or even a Tylenol when I felt lousy from my cold. After that, I would only take a vitamin with someone present, and would say loudly “I am taking a vitamin now” in case I choked. A month later, I’m still too scared to take a vitamin alone. What if no one was in the house??? I would have died. I bought signs to put in our kitchen in San Francisco and Paris, usually used in restaurants, to show what to do for a choking victim. And everyone who saw it happen has decided to take a basic first aid class, it’s a really smart thing to do.
I mention it only because it was a wake up call to us. Would YOU know what to do if someone were choking in front of you? Can you do the Heimlich maneuver? It’s easy to do if you know how. Anyway, I thought I would share this experience. You could save a life sometime, or someone could save yours. I will never forget the screams of panic that night, the look of terror on my kids’ faces, and my own terror when I could NOT breathe. So maybe a good idea is a first aid course this year (The Red Cross has them, and other places). It might serve you well. And I am going to be sooooo careful taking vitamins or any pill from now on. Scaaaarrrryyyy!!! And I am soooo grateful to be alive, and grateful to my daughter, for saving my life!!!

Have a great week!!

love, Danielle

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9 Comments so far
  1. Janine Hewitt January 30, 2017 12:04 pm

    Oh my goodness Danielle!!!!!…Happy for your happy ending and good advice for everyone to learn about the Heimlich technique! My mom tells us how my grandmother almost choked on a watermelon seed while laughing at a family backyard picnic. She said the whole family was so scared! My grandmother had a happy ending too. The seed dislodged on its own. Thank God!

  2. Alex January 30, 2017 1:22 pm

    Which of your girls saved you? We have to thanks her too!

  3. Elaine January 30, 2017 3:36 pm

    Hi Danielle,

    Thank God that you are alive and that your daughter was there to save you!!! What a traumatic incident, but yet you find good out of it in reminding us all to take first aid classes and to learn the heimlich (so true).

    Regards, Elaine

  4. Judith Briggs February 3, 2017 3:41 pm

    Last year while at a funeral reception I started to choke on a piece of stollen bread
    I grabbed my neck and ran into the washroom. I could barely breathe. Luckily, someone had seen me leave and told my husband. He came in, took one look and did the Heimlich manoeuvre on me which cleared my airway. It was very scary.
    No more stollen bread for me.

  5. Lee Laurie Yoas February 4, 2017 4:37 pm

    I am so glad that your daughter thought fast enough to save you. That is so scary! I have a hard time swollowing pills. I have to relax myself first and be very careful. I almost choked to death on a peppermint years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. A very frightening experience.

    Just wanted to say I love your books. I’ve been reading them for many years. Right now I am reading Blue and I love it!

  6. Lorraine February 6, 2017 5:51 pm


    I am so happy you are ok. I can’t imagine how frightening this was, occasionally I’ve been in a situation where something “went down the wrong way” but nothing like you have described. How awful. But I think it’s great you made people to be more aware of this, and that you can also do it on yourself. The courses are a great idea, and people can also view this type of thing on utube. Thank you.

    Love, Lorraine

  7. Helen Hu February 17, 2017 4:50 am

    Hi, Danielle, Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I remember in your book “Sunset in St Tropez”, you described how Gwen saved John’s life by using Heimlich technique. Never know some day it happened to you and other persons. Very good advice. Cheers!

  8. Kerri February 17, 2017 9:15 am

    Oh wow! Glad you’re okay after that scary episode. Which of your daughters saved you? My thanks to her for having the guts to act in a split second to save your life. I strongly encourage you, your children, your staff, and even your grandchildren to take first aid classes.

    My tip: drink water before taking your pills – the water lubricates your throat and makes it easier for the pill to pass through. Then drink more water but with the pill. If it’s a big pill, cut it in half and follow the water tip.

  9. Cairine February 17, 2017 11:28 am

    Bill Murray in the film ‘Groundhog Day’ uses it on a man in a restaurant choking on a piece of beef. It’s a pretty good illustration of what to do!