It was a buttermilk pancake.
Golden brown and fluffy inside, the outer crust was crisp from cooking on a grease slicked griddle. My husband won’t tell me what recipe he uses, but I think it’s from Martha Stewart. Buttermilk pancakes are a treat on the rare lazy weekend we play hooky from church.
That Sunday, our daughters stood in the kitchen, and watched Daddy expertly flip a tower of pancakes. Then they each ate a stack, dripping the Vermont maple syrup saved for special occasions. After breakfast, my husband put on his straw hat to work in the backyard. Our oldest daughter went upstairs to read. Her nine year old sister plopped down on the couch to watch cartoons.
I turned around from the loading the dishwasher to find her standing next to me.
This beautiful, blue eyed girl is the loudest person I have ever met. She came into the world screaming, and nine years of frowning at her with my finger to my lips, shushing her in elevators, and hissing “Quiet” in restaurants have done nothing to tone her down.
Like a chirpy bird, every waking moment is spent making noise - singing, filibustering through arguments, or telling jokes. It’s easy to find my daughter on the playground. I just close my eyes. Then listen. Above the deafening wall of sound that 75 fourth graders make, her booming little girl voice is always clear above every other child’s.
But that Sunday in the kitchen, wearing pink ballerina pajamas, she was silent. And she was clutching her throat.
My husband and I have spent many a dinner wiping up after one of our girls drank milk too fast, or swallowed too much rice. They flail, spew, and spit, eyes watering and noisily coughing. But this was different. Our never ever quiet kid wasn’t making a whisper.
“ARE YOU CHOKING?”
Opening the door to the backyard, I shrieked “Help,” to my husband, then grabbed my daughter. I have been CPR certified off and on for years. In addition to awkwardly practicing chest compressions and rescue breaths on a mannequin, the classes also include training on the Heimlich Maneuver.
Standing behind her, I made a fist with one hand and pushed it into our little girl’s warm, soft stomach. Grabbing it with the other, I jammed both hands upwards in one quick, ferocious motion powered by a huge gush of adrenaline.
It was a pancake.
One of those glorious buttermilk pancakes made by Daddy was choking her. Our precious, noisy, love her more than life itself daughter snuck one from the kitchen, laid down on the couch to eat it, and accidentally swallowed the entire thing.
The pancake shot out of her mouth and landed in the sink. She gasped. Then she shrieked, and began sobbing. My husband tore into the kitchen, yelling “What’s wrong?”, to find our daughter wailing, me crying, and one of his perfect pancakes in a slimy wad in the sink.
According to Injury Facts 2017, choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury deaths. The foods that young children often eat – grapes, hot dogs, and candy – are perfectly sized to block their small airways. Even adults in the prime of life and fitness can find themselves in distress, however. Body builder Dallas McCarver died in August at the age of 26 after choking on food.
Choking is a medical emergency that can happen anywhere, at anytime, and to anyone.
The Heimlich Maneuver is simple to learn. There are methods for doing it on yourself if nobody else is around. If your children are furry and four legged, there’s even a technique to save choking dogs.
Our daughter is fine. After calming down, she told us her throat was sore and her tummy hurt.
“It just hurts a little. Kind of like on the side, but sort of in the middle too. You squeezed me hard, Momma. Did you ever do it before? Were you scared? I was scared. I was so scared. I couldn’t breathe. That’s why I came to see you so you could help me.” And on and on she went, our sweet little bird noisily chirping once again.
We had stayed home from church that Sunday because she was supposed to finish reading a book for school. She argued, filibustered, and sweet talked me into letting her watch the movie “Titanic,” instead. And, honestly, it didn’t take much for her to convince me to watch it, too.
As usual, she chattered through the whole three hour movie. Debated whether or not it was safe for her to ever eat pancakes again. Asked everything I knew about the Titanic, then sang all the words to “My Heart Will Go On.” Her throat was sore and her voice was a little raspy.
Usually I would put my fingers to my lips, and shush her so I could hear the movie. But, instead, I just listened, so grateful to hear her loudly squeeze the life out of that song. Every. Single. Note.
Dawn Golik lives in Fresno with her husband and their daughters. You can follow her on Twitter (@MommyGolik), Instagram (@Mommy Golik), or connect with her on email firstname.lastname@example.org.