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Don’t Inhale

Don’t Inhale

by Steely Dad on May 19, 2009

Have you ever had one of those days where it just seems that everything goes wrong?  I recently had one of those days and it crescendo’d with my daughter ending up in the hospital.

Last Thursday I took the family to see the Padres play the Cubs at Wrigley Field. We went early to the ballpark for batting practice which is usually when you can interact with the players.  I’m not going to go into it here, perhaps I’ll save it for another post, but the Padre players were jerks and downright rude to my son. ‘Nuff said.

Following BP (that’s inside baseball talk for “batting practice”) we strapped on our Everest-capacity oxygen tanks and adjourned to our assigned seats. It took a while as we had to perform an altitude acclimatization regimen (OK, you get the peak, I mean point).

Steely Wife immediately excused herself and headed for the loo leaving me solo with both Steely Kids. No big deal, right? I’m a seasoned stay-at-home dad and this is certainly not my first rodeo. The three of us were famished after our Alpine climb so we began to devour our snacks. We were eating granola bars and trail mix and who the hell knows what else. My daughter, who we like to call the “Viper” because when she grabs for something she strikes like a coiled serpent, grabbed a tiny plump-fist full of trail mix.  As you are all aware, trail mix includes peanuts, yes as in those peanuts, the little nut with a major PR problem. I wasn’t worried. We tested her for nut allergies. I wasn’t worried. She’s a good eater and hasn’t had a choking episode.

Suddenly, I was worried.

When she saw Mommy walking up the stairs to join us at our seats, my daughter started to cry (she’s been experiencing Mommy withdrawals lately). Being the astute observer that I am, I didn’t notice that she had yet to swallow the edibles in her mouth and when she went to take a breath the food went down the windpipe like a Hoover vacuum. She started to choke big-time. I immediately grabbed her to administer what, I had no idea. I took a CPR class before my son was born so that was nearly four years ago and fortunately or unfortunately, I hadn’t had the opportunity to practice my craft. It was good luck that she had her mouth agape because it allowed me to look inside and remove the obstruction. Now mind you this is all happening very quickly but my first instinct was to perform the “finger sweep” because I could see the food but in a flash I recall a stern admonition not to use this technique as it can further lodge food into the critically important windpipe. I couldn’t recall if she was too small for me to perform the Heimlich. Panic. Finger sweep. Here goes nothing. I was hoping against hope that the finger sweep had since made a comeback as the preferred un-choking method. You know, firm bristles, soft bristles.

I managed to remove the food that was in her mouth. She coughed and even more food particles were ejected from her mouth. She started to breathe again and we thought the worst was behind us. Of course she was really upset and crying.

Fast-forward to later that evening, I was playing with both kids in the backyard. I noticed my baby girl wheezing, just a faint little whisper that was barely audible. We couldn’t hear it during the Cubs raucous victory. Nevertheless, I grew concerned because her laborious breathing was not commensurate with the level of activity.

When I shared my concern with Steely Wife we began to hypothesize that perhaps Steely Daughter had inhaled a particle of food. Could it be a coincidence that she had this choking episode on a day when she was coming down with a little cold that caused the wheezing or had she in fact inhaled some of the food that almost took her out?

We didn’t take any chances and called the doctor straight away. The doc advised us to keep an eye on her during the night and then bring her to the office in the morning. I took my son to preschool while the missus went to the appointment. Don’t ask me why but I had this strong feeling that something just wasn’t right and that this was more serious than at first blush. Sure enough while at the preschool I received “the call” from my wife. “Meet us at Children’s Hospital. We’re heading over there in an ambulance.”

I scooped up my son and headed Dukes of Hazard-style to the hospital. Yep, you guessed it, I even beat the ambulance (but only by 30 minutes).

After an examination and some chest X-rays which demonstrated her left lung was expanding but not collapsing, the physician determined that my daughter must have breathed in some small particles during her first desperate inhale for oxygen.

So what do we do?

Remove it.



Surgery? As in general anesthesia?

Yes. We will insert into her lung a “tiny baby instrument” that has attached to it a camera and forceps in order to grab and remove the food particle.

Can I be in the room?


As a dad who hasn’t left the side of his baby girl since the day she took her first breath, this was very difficult for me to accept. After a vigorous lobbying effort, I was resigned to putting the welfare of my daughter in the hands of the experts.

And I’m glad I did.

After the longest hour and a half of my entire life, the doctor and his team were successful in removing the particle that had lodged itself in the lower regions of my daughter’s lung. She emerged from surgery a little drowsy but with her resilient spirit still fighting. Relief. Tears. Smiles. Hugs. Kisses.

What did her big brother do during this entire ordeal? I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how good this kid was throughout our little misadventure. He was brave, stoic and cooperative. Whenever we were in the presence of his sister, he kept a smile on his face and eased her tension as only a big brother is able. However, when I took him home from the hospital (my wife stayed with my daughter at the hospital as they wanted to keep her for observation) he broke down and cried. He was concerned about his baby sister. It was the sweetest, purest demonstration of sibling love I’d ever witnessed and it filled my heart with pride and awe.

So, what’s the lesson here, kids? One, remember that which sustains can also kill and two, do the Clinton: don’t inhale!

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