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Thursday, June 27, 2013
Rare is the day when anything you read in this column could save a life. Today we have an exception, so listen up.
It involves Herb Detweiler, an 84-year-old retired minister and insurance salesman who lives in Roanoke County. Even though it happened 31 years ago, the memory remains clear as the stars on a cold winter night.
He was out to dinner, on a first date, with a woman he’d met through a matchmaking service. They dined at the historic Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Mass. Detweiler ordered prime rib.
“I was trying to talk and chew and swallow at the same time,” he recalled. Suddenly, he couldn’t do any of those things — or breathe, either. A chunk of meat lodged in his windpipe.
If you’ve never experienced this, it’s quite frightening. Fortunately for Detweiler, he’d read about the potentially life-saving Heimlich maneuver and had a basic idea of what to do.
His date stared at him in bewilderment as Detweiler silently stood up at their table and motioned to his throat. That caught the eye of the maitre d’, who was standing on the other side of the dining room, near the door.
“He had obviously been trained in the maneuver — thank God! — and immediately rushed to me. I turned my back to him and raised my sport coat so he could get a good grip with his fist on my abdomen.
“He was a large man and gave a series of big upward jerks with his fist and other hand, practically lifting me off the floor. … I thought the guy was going to break my ribs, he was squeezing me so.
“The meat popped out with the very first jerk, but he kept on with them, almost knocking the precious wind out of me. It was all over in a matter of minutes.”
With that, Detweiler said, he sat back down at the table and continued on with his dinner.
That was his last date with the woman, though.
“I’ve never liked prime rib since then,” he added.
This is worth noting because across this country, more than 4,000 people — adults and children — die each year by choking on food or other objects. The American Academy of Pediatrics lists choking as a leading cause of injury or death among children aged four and younger.
Many of these deaths could be avoided with just a little education. Which brings me to my own close call, just a few months ago.
I was eating a sandwich late one night, after everyone else in the house had gone to sleep, when I inhaled at the wrong time.
Suddenly I couldn’t breathe. N obody was awake to help me. I ran out onto the front porch of our 1920 foursquare, where there’s a brick half-column topped with a concrete cap. It rises to just above my waist. I rammed my torso into it, real hard, a couple of times. The ham and bread blocking my airway popped loose. I’d probably been without air for 20 seconds, but it seemed like a lot longer because I was freaking out at the same time.
Then I coughed for about 10 more minutes and was sick to my stomach — the aftermath was not nearly as demure as Detweiler’s experience. But hey, I’m writing this column.
I learned that solo technique eight or nine years ago in a three-and-a-half hour Basic Life Support class at Community Hospital. It also covers cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, how to use a defibrillator, and other basic life-saving instruction.
Mostly the course is taught to Carilion Clinic’s 12,000-some employees, b ut they still teach it and more advanced courses to the public, too.
Keith Blankenship, a retired Roanoke firefighter and Carilion’s training center coordinator, estimates he’s taught CPR techniques and the Heimlich maneuver (it’s also known as the “abdominal thrust”) to as many as 35,000 people over the past 40 or so years.
There’s no telling how many lives have been saved because of those efforts. Blankenship told me he’s personally performed the Heimlich maneuver at least 10 times.
“It doesn’t take but minutes to teach it,” he said.
The BLS course costs $55, and Carilion usually offers them monthly, on a Saturday morning, in Roanoke and New River Valley. They’re offered less than monthly at some other Carilion locations, too. Carilion also offers off-site life-saving courses to large groups.
Fifty-five bucks will also buy you a nice dinner that could choke you to death.
That’s a dirt cheap price to avoid such a fate.
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