Choking! Time to Review What to Do!


Close-up of a fruit bowl, made from a cut cantaloupe, that holds raspberries, kiwi slices, and other fruits, Washington DC, 1981. (Photo by Joseph Klipple/Getty Images)

Two weeks ago my worst nightmare became a reality.  My 2-year-old son choked, and not the cough, cough, “Are you ok?” kind of choking. This was the silent, turning red in the face, “Mommy, I can’t breathe” choking.  

We were getting breakfast at a crepe place in Palo Alto. The waitress placed my son’s plate down in front of him, which had a small side bowl of fruit.  As soon as she left, I grabbed the small cup of fruit and began cutting it up into toddler-size bites.  Somewhere in this process, my son swiped a piece of cantaloupe.  He held it up proudly to me, and I said, “Careful, that is a big piece. Take a bite.” Two months ago, I would have ripped it out of his hand in fear, but I am trying to teach him to eat carefully and to know when things are too big to just shove in his mouth. At some point, you have to let them eat, right? Ugh!  

He listened and actually took a bite, and with that, I turned my attention to the rest of the bowl of fruit.  Then, I heard my husband (who had been managing our 6-week-old) from across the booth calling out to my son to see if he was alright. Unbeknownst to me, as I turned my head, he had stuffed the other half of the fruit in his mouth. And now he was choking, for real.

I immediately stuck my finger in his mouth (which you are not supposed to do, but it is natural instinct) and I could feel a blockage. I was unable to remove it, so I quickly threw him over my lap at a diagonal with his head down and began hitting him on the back. The fruit came flying out after a few seconds, thank goodness, and he began screaming and crying in fear. I was shaking.

As a Physician Assistant, I have unfortunately experienced life-and-death situations before. I have performed CPR on a patient with an open abdomen on the operating table. I have sutured a hemorrhaging artery at a patient’s bedside because it would have taken too long to get to the surgeon in the operating room. I have seen it all, but nothing compares to seeing your child in distress and having to take action.

I was a wreck for days over this. And later that week, as I attended our weekly Mommy-and-Me class, I told all my girlfriends the horrific choking tale. Surprisingly, almost every woman in the room had a similar terrifying experience with at least one of their children. Who knew choking among kids was so common?  

Refresh yourself on what to do if your child chokes

With that, I thought I would share some important reference websites because we ALL could use a refresher on what to do in an emergency situation.

Red Cross First Aid Choking Reference Sheet

WebMD Steps of Heimlich Procedure

MedLine Causes of Choking

YouTube also has great refresher videos. Search by your child’s age.

Another important thing to remember is sometimes food can get partially stuck, allowing a small amount of air to pass. This happened to a good friend of mine; her daughter got a piece of an apple lodged in her throat. Her mother realized it after she became very weak and sluggish and was drooling a sticky substance (liquefied apple). She immediately went to the ER, where they had to remove the apple.  

These things happen, so be prepared. Take a minute this week and review with your partner and caregivers what to do if your child starts to choke. Hopefully, you will never have to apply the knowledge.


Editor’s note: This article originally published on May 31, 2016, and was lightly edited prior to republishing.


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