On Tuesday night, as I walked from the train and took a shortcut across the park I saw a woman chilling out while sitting on the bench next to the baseball diamond. I looked down at my phone for a minute or two and as I got closer, she was standing up and looked panicked.
I took out my earbud and asked, “are you okay?” She didn’t say anything but started pointing to her throat.
She was choking.
I ran over and she motioned to the top of her back, which I slapped to try and get whatever was stuck in her throat, out. Nothing happened.
Then she pointed to her stomach so I put my arms around her from behind, clasped my hands together under her ribs and pulled hard. After a few goes, a bit of food and mucus came out.
She was still struggling to catch her breath as her throat was agitated. I pretended to be calm enough to talk slowly, rub her back and get her to breathe slowly.
We said our goodbyes and her baseball friends had almost arrived. As I continued my walk home I realised that I had no real idea what I was doing, luckily I remembered the basics from my safety training from my days on cruise ships.
For my future self and for anyone else who might find themselves in the same position, here are the step-by-step instructions for a proper Heimlich maneuver.
As I’m not a doctor, here are the instructions from the Mayo Clinic:
Please note, for children and pregnant women, Healthline.com has more info.
The universal sign for choking is hands clutched to the throat. If the person doesn’t give the signal, look for these indications:
- Inability to talk
- Difficulty breathing or noisy breathing
- Squeaky sounds when trying to breathe
- Cough, which may either be weak or forceful
- Skin, lips and nails turning blue or dusky
- Skin that is flushed, then turns pale or bluish in color
- Loss of consciousness
If the person is able to cough forcefully, the person should keep coughing. If the person is choking and can’t talk, cry or laugh forcefully, the American Red Cross recommends a “five-and-five” approach to delivering first aid:
- Give 5 back blows. Stand to the side and just behind a choking adult. For a child, kneel down behind. Place one arm across the person’s chest for support. Bend the person over at the waist so that the upper body is parallel with the ground. Deliver five separate back blows between the person’s shoulder blades with the heel of your hand.
- Give 5 abdominal thrusts. Perform five abdominal thrusts (also known as the Heimlich maneuver).
- Alternate between 5 blows and 5 thrusts until the blockage is dislodged.
The American Heart Association doesn’t teach the back blow technique, only the abdominal thrust procedures. It’s OK not to use back blows if you haven’t learned the technique. Both approaches are acceptable.
To perform abdominal thrusts (Heimlich maneuver) on someone else:
- Stand behind the person. Place one foot slightly in front of the other for balance. Wrap your arms around the waist. Tip the person forward slightly. If a child is choking, kneel down behind the child.
- Make a fist with one hand. Position it slightly above the person’s navel.
- Grasp the fist with the other hand. Press hard into the abdomen with a quick, upward thrust — as if trying to lift the person up.
- Perform between six and 10 abdominal thrusts until the blockage is dislodged.
If there’s someone else with you, call 911 and get emergency services on the way if things don’t get quickly better.
For more information, including how to perform abdominal thrusts on yourself, visit the Mayo Clinic website.