The Scariest 60 Seconds of My Life

I truly didn’t know what bone-chilling, gut-wrenching FEAR feels like until a recent incident at the mall. I haven’t written about it until today because just the thought of it makes my stomach pitch and brings tears to my eyes.

Because for 60 seconds, I didn’t know if I could save my daughter.

That’s not meant to be melodramatic. The spoiler is: Audrey is FINE. Everything went as it SHOULD in this situation. And she has no lasting memory of this experience that was so traumatic for me (and for her poor Daddy who found himself terrified and helpless).

We were at a mall, running a few errands, when we decided to grab some lunch at a fancy sushi restaurant. Not in the food court — this was one of those places right in the middle of the building, with a conveyor belt of food and color-coded places. “Fun!,” we thought. Lots of finger foods for Audrey, vegetarian options for me and just a different eating experience.

Things were great for a while. We got edamame — no problem. Spicy noodles? Delicious! And then, we grabbed a few plates of sushi.

Audrey has been eating solid foods since we started baby-led weaning at 6 months, so I’m never surprised when she gags a little bit (as I learned in my Adult/Pediatric CPR and First Aid class, the scary part is when there are no noises and no gagging/coughing).

She deconstructed a few pieces, eating the rice and veggies but not touching the nori (seaweed wrapper) but then started to put a whole piece in her mouth. I started to protest but then let her do it. I helped her take a bite, but anyone who eats sushi knows that chewing through that wrapper can be a challenge, and she ended up with a large piece in her mouth.

I watched her chew, and then I watched as she stopped chewing. Her eyes started to bulge, her face turned red and then blue, and I realized that she wasn’t coughing, gagging or breathing.

I have never, EVER, been so terrified in my life. Thank goodness, my training (or maybe just instinct) kicked in and instead of panicking, I took my pinky and swept her mouth to try to pull the food out.

One try. Two tries. Finally on the third try, I shoved my finger down into her throat, got under the sushi and scooped it out. She took one big breath, threw up and then started crying and grabbing for me.

That cry was more therapeutic than the one I heard on her birth day. Even as I held her shaking body, I knew that she was alive and OK. And I knew I was very lucky.

The piece I pulled out was a huge chunk of nori, chewed up and kind of stuck together like a giant piece of bubble gum. It was too big to go down her throat but too big to force out, so I know she needed my intervention.

And fair or not, I still feel guilty for not stopping her from eating that piece. I still cut her grapes into quarters. I squish up her popcorn. I don’t let her eat gummy treats. But I let her eat something that stopped her from breathing.

About 5 minutes after the incident, Audrey was fine. She was back to eating (no sushi!) and smiling. I was shaking so hard that my muscles were sore for two days. I almost got sick myself. And obviously, I’m still having a hard time thinking back to that day.

But I wanted to share, especially after reading this mother’s post about an emergency involving her 2-year-old and some raw almonds. Thankfully, her daughter is OK as well, but it’s a good reminder: be prepared. Get trained in pediatric heimlich and CPR. Watch for potential hazards. And hug your kids tightly.