Monday, January 17, 2011

Uncool Near Death Experiences

So I was watching a football game with some friends earlier. There happened to be nachos (!), and we were all munching on the them, as is appropriate. At some point, I noticed that one of the girls in the group was reaching for a glass of water just beyond her reach. Fortunately, I was within arm's reach of both the glass of water and her hand, so I grabbed the glass and passed it to her. "Man, I'm so perceptive," I thought to myself. "Her boyfriend didn't even notice that she was thirsty, and I did. I'm pretty darn awesome."

While I was congratulating myself on being one of the best friends ever, the girl tried to gulp a little bit of water. I turned my attention back to the TV, but was distracted when the girl started waving her hands around and making all sorts of spastic "I can't breathe" gestures. Everyone present quickly conferred and decided that she was trying to tell us she was choking. In fairness to us, she didn't use the universal "I happen to be choking" sign*, so it wasn't a given that all of her gesturing to her throat meant that she couldn't breathe.
*I think you can buy one at most pharmacies. They're wallet sized. Right?

Fortunately, I've sat through my fair share of CPR/First Aid classes, and the only thing I ever really payed attention to was the Heimlich Maneuver*, so I actually knew what to do. I was able to dislodge the offending nacho, so I felt briefly useful, which was a really cool, novel feeling that I don't expect to experience any time again for a while. Also, the football play that happened at the time she was choking was a really important play, so there was a lot of adrenaline going on right then.
*Accusations that I felt up my beautiful partner were completely unfounded. I swear.

Still, there isn't really a hero's acclaim that goes along with saving someone who is choking, and I understand that. At first, I was disappointed that no one patted me on the back and told me "That was awesome, man! Holy shit!" But then I thought back to when I was younger and choked on pizza in a restaurant. My dad performed the heimlich on me, which I am thankful for, but I remember immediately afterwards feeling really embarrassed. It was sort of a big deal in the restaurant at the moment, and truth be told, it was pretty awkward. I just sort of sat around at the table afterwards and tried to slip under the table where no one would notice me. That's because even though choking is dangerous, it's not a "cool" near-death experience, and I group it with a few other uncool near-death (or moderate injury) experiences that I've been in.

1) Choking: Everyone is hanging out, having a nice time, snacking away. All of a sudden, you're the idiot who doesn't know how to even eat, a function most animals with brains way smaller than yours can manage. Now someone needs to get up, stand in a pretty weird looking position, and make it look to every onlooker like your rescuer is being abusive. In actuality, you just can't swallow food right, and now, everyone around knows exactly how big of an idiot you are.

2) Nearly getting hit by a car: You're crossing a street, paying attention to something really important to you. Maybe you're wondering about something really important, like why crayons don't taste as good as they look, or maybe you're just doing your best Ray Charles impression, but you totally don't see a car coming right at you. An instant before you hitch a ride on the hood of a taxi (one of the dangers of New York), a stranger grabs you by the arm and pulls you out of harm's way. He probably has a questioning look normally reserved for people who suggest that Elvis staged the moon landing from the Hindenburg.

3) Tripping while walking: Maybe it's not near death, but it can be dangerous. You all know the feeling; you're walking smoothly, then all of a sudden, you're not. Maybe you sprain your wrist on the way down, or maybe someone grabs you to keep you from falling. Either way, it would be the equivalent of watching a bird just fall to its demise*.
*But nowhere near as touching as this video, and without the good soundtrack:

In short, for all of these events, there exists this tacit understanding that, despite something really serious having just happened, maybe it's best not to talk about it for a bit. It's not like, say, being in a plane that plummets ten thousand feet before its engines come back to life, or being in a motorcycle accident. It's just not a good story, and it reflects poorly on you.So don't worry. If I see you involved in one of these situations, I'll have the decency not to say anything about it. I expect the same from you.

Anyway, I hope all is well and that you avoid all uncool near-death experiences. If you have any others that you'd care to share, I'd love to hear them!


  1. "there isn't really a hero's acclaim that goes along with saving someone who is choking"

    I would disagree. See:

  2. Isis, thank you for bringing this to my attention! Don't get me wrong, I think knowing the heimlich is a wonderful skill, and I'm super thankful to have been present when it was needed! That being said, there is nothing glamorous about choking. But your twitter feed is awesome and inspiring, thank you for featuring me!