Dr. Heimlich and God … thank you!
I would guess nearly everyone reading this would know what the “Heimlich Maneuver” is. It’s famous for saving lives. It’s the technique for choking victims that was first described by Dr. Henry Heimlich in 1974 and one he has personally used twice to save lives. Also, it’s the technique that saved my friend and pastor’s life last week. More about that later.
First, here’s exactly how you do it and then I’ll tell you what happened. Make yourself familiar so you know how to do this. In most cases a rescue squad could never get there in time. The Heimlich maneuver involves a rescuer standing behind an upright patient and using his or her hands to exert pressure on the bottom of the diaphragm. This compresses the lungs and exerts pressure on any object lodged in the trachea, hopefully expelling it. The rescuer places his or her fist just above the person’s bellybutton, grasping it with the other hand and then using upward thrusts as if the rescuer is trying to lift the person.
If the victim is not upright, the U.S. National Institute of Health recommends positioning the person on his or her back, then straddling the torso and using chest thrusts.
It is possible for a still-conscious choking victim to perform the procedure on himself, without assistance … well maybe.
Here’s what happened. My pastor was attending the Marysville Area Ministerial Association (MAMA) meeting at the Hope Center recently. It was just ending and she stepped over to get another cup of coffee. This all happened very quickly. She had food in her mouth and then there was the sneeze. That’s what did it. Suddenly food was lodged in her trachea, where it doesn’t belong. There was no air coming in or out, no matter how hard she tried and the other members of MAMA were all talking among themselves.
She quickly tried doing the maneuver on herself, but no result. Again she tried to get air in and realized this might be it … this might be the end. She quickly remembered the thing she always says, “God‘s got you.”
OK, resign yourself to whatever will happen, she thought. But her brain said, try to get someone’s attention for help. She started banging hard with her hands on the sink, where she was standing, and finally one of MAMA members looked over and said, “Oh no, she can’t breathe.”
Had she been alone in that room it would have been the end. Several of the members knew what to do, but it was Sam Meyung, a staff associate at Young Life, who was first to her side. He grabbed her from behind, performed the famous maneuver and out popped the offending piece of food. How quickly our lives can change in just seconds. It wasn’t her time to go.
Immediately, she hyperventilated, trying to get air in. It was a very scary time and she remembers the first breath being so uncomfortable. She said the air sears through your chest. It actually hurt to breathe and she described it as feeling like a belly flop into a pool.
Later she thought about the event she has seen many times – the end-of-life gasping for air – and wondered, is that how it feels?
Her chest is still sore four days later, but she’s OK now. It’s ironic that someone so kind, who works very hard at caring for others, could have this happen. Among the MAMA members, there were hugs and thank yous all around and then just a few minutes later she arrived to lead Bible study at church … she’s tough! That’s how we heard the story. Even more so, that day our ending prayer at Bible study was, “Thank you, God, Dr. Heimlich … and Sam.”
(Melanie Behrens – firstname.lastname@example.org)