When Baby J. was about eight months old, she choked on a banana. We were spending the morning at the play area of Yankuta and she was hungry, so I took her to one of the tables and peeled a banana. I handed it to her to eat and she took too big a bite. It took an instant for me to realize that she was actually choking on the banana and I scooped her up and ran with her towards the cluster of women hanging around the reception desk. I wasn’t cradling her, but holding her outwards towards these women while yelling “help, help me, she’s choking.” My screams broke these women out of their calm conversation and the receptionist grabbed Baby J and started to bang her on the back. Within seconds, we realized that Baby J. was no longer choking. Somehow, she had managed to swallow it on her own. It’s still not clear to me how it happened, the only thing I can think of is that she managed to cough it up and then chew it and swallow it as I raced the few steps towards the help. From that moment, every time I fed her, I envisioned exactly what needed to be done in case G-d forbid she choked on food. I would set her plate of macaroni and sauce in front of her on the tray of her high chair, sit down across from her, and literally envision quickly removing the tray, unsnapping the belt, lifting her up, putting her onto my forearm, head down, and whacking her on the back. Every. Single. Time. I. Fed. Her.
Now that she’s older, and has all 20 of her teeth, I have relaxed a bit. I’m still anal about how I hand her food, and no matter how much she cries and beg, or how she points out that other kids parents let them eat whole cherry tomatoes and grapes, I shrug and just cut them up into little pieces. She will be getting cut up cherries, grapes and cherry tomatoes until she’s at least 5, and no amount of pleading and screaming will change my mind.
So you can imagine how I was completely unprepared for my 9 week old to choke. Fortunately, she didn’t choke on a foreign object, but rather on about 2 ml of Acamoli (Israel version of Tylenol). You see, this morning, Baby S. had an appointment with Tipat Chalav for three innoculations. The nurse warned me that she would most probably get a fever and be in pain all afternoon. So, it’s not surprising, that Baby S. screamed her little head off for almost an hour this afternoon. I decided, after listening to the poor thing cry and know that she wasn’t dirty, wasn’t hungry, and was obviously in pain, that she should get some Acamoli.
I measured out the 3 ml based on her weight (holla, my kid weighed in today at 5.07 kilo!!) and asked my husband’s cousin/baby sitter to cradle her upright in her arms. But, I didn’t wait for Baby S. to finish screaming before I plunged the syringe of medicine into her mouth.
Now, don’t you think if I could have calmed her down first, I would have? She was hysterical, and I honestly thought I just needed to get the medicine into her and she would calm down. But, she inhaled deeply into the scream as the medicine was going down her throat, and the next thing I knew she was choking.
I will never, ever, get the sound she made out of my head. It was like she was drowning. She was spluttering, coughing, screaming when she could get some air, and then she was drowning again. I had no idea what to do! I didn’t think to put her into the same position as someone choking on a foreign object since there was no object! Our babysitter looked on in horror, as Baby S. continued to struggle for breath.
Not knowing what to do, I walked her into the bedroom and sat down on the bed, trying desperately to just calm her down. I hoped that if she would just relax, that maybe she would be able to cough up the medicine and clear her little lungs. She continued to struggle until finally, she let out this loud noise that sounded like a cross between a giant burp, a gag and vomiting. The skin by my neck was now really sticky, and she was crying in earnest. I breathed a little bit and held her in my arms. She is also congested, and was struggling to breath even before the medicine, and so I put some saline drops into her nose. I don’t think that was such a smart idea, but in the end it did help clear her nasal passages.
Finally, after listening to some clear, hearty crying, I breastfed her until she calmed down. She closed her eyes, her cheeks wet with tears and spit up, and whined in pain as I rocked her a bit in my arms. I handed her to our babysitter and went to call my Mom, to see if I had done irreversible damage. Baby S. was also now making weird gulping sounds as she breathed, so I needed to make sure she was okay. Mom told me to call our Dr., just to make sure Baby S. didn’t need to be seen. I got the Dr. on call at the Medical Center – who happened to be OUR Dr. – and explained what happened.
After I described the events, and then held the phone up to her nose so the Dr. could hear her breathing, I asked if “I had done something to hurt her.” To our Dr.’s credit, she told me that I hadn’t. But still, I feel like I did. I hurt her.
What was I thinking? Of COURSE you don’t shoot liquid down the throat of a crying infant! Of COURSE they’ll inhale it if they’re crying!
But what else could I do? She was screaming in pain for over an hour, without stopping! How was I going to get the medicine in if she wouldn’t stop screaming?
So now, I’m on baby watch. I have to monitor her for the next couple of hours and, if her breathing worsens, will have to bring her in to be checked out. I’m praying she’ll be okay, that whatever Acamoli actually got into her system will take away the pain from all three vaccinations, and that her little lungs will clear.
Meanwhile, I think it’s time to take a refresher course on how to deal with a choking baby/toddler. You can never be too prepared.
Have you ever dealt with a choking baby? What did you do?