He didn’t choke

Monday, July 7, 2008

You’re sitting in a restaurant enjoying a quiet meal, when the commotion at a nearby table can’t be ignored. A woman is screaming and a man is clutching at his throat while he turns blue. Do you know what to do?

Take a lesson from Tony Gonzalez, the alstar tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs. He rushes to the table, grabs the man, performs the Heimlich maneuver and saves him from choking to death. Gonzalez performs under pressure on the football field and he didn’t choke when it really mattered away from it. It was also a reminder that everybody should be trained in the basics of CPR and first aid. The best ambulances and the best emergency departments in the country need the help of bystanders to save lives. When time is of the essence, your next door neighbor may be your life saver.

Choking occurs when a piece of food or other object gets stuck in the throat and blocks air from getting into the trachea or windpipe. The victim often makes the universal sign for choking: hands clutched to the throat. There may be attempts to cough or to speak but nothing happens. Air in the lungs can’t be move out of the lungs through the trachea and the larynx (voice box) to make sounds. Nor air movement means no oxygen to the body and brain. Time is critical. Somebody needs to do something.

There are two scenarios:

If the person is awake, then the abdominal thrusts or the Heimlich maneuver should be attempted. Standing behind the victim, arms wrap around the body and one hand is made into a clenched fist placed above the belly button. The other hand grabs the first and an upward thrust is attempted like trying to lift the person off the ground. If at first you don’t succeed, try again.

If the person is unconscious, the victim should be lowered to the floor on the back. If there is something in the mouth try to remove it. If there is no pulse, start CPR.

Most bystanders have good intentions but freeze because they fear that they will do something wrong. For most choking victims, the situation can’t get any worse. Like love, it is better to try and lose rather than do nothing at all.

The key, of course, is to know what to do. As a favor to family, friends, neighbors and complete strangers, get training in first aid and CPR. Courses may be available through the American Heart Association, the Red Cross or your local hospital.

At the end of the day, Tony Gonzalez confirmed his status as an all-star, not on the football field but on the field of life. Rah, rah, rah!

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