He choked. I panicked.
Our eat-in kitchen was warm and sunny during lunchtime. The back-door-neighbor kids were out playing on their swing-set, their muted laughter filling our space. My daughter had already started to eat her sandwich. Between bites, she was discussing the reasons why Rapunzel is her favorite princess. I brought my salad to the table and settled down, ready to argue on Cinderella’s behalf. My son was next to me in his high-chair. His eyes were peering at our plates. He was hungry, too.
I casually tossed some Puffs onto his tray. He had eaten them many times before. And as I continued the conversation with my daughter about Cinderella’s merits, I heard an odd cough coming from the chair to my left.
I turned to look at my son, his face was pink with his mouth was gaping open. He sputtered. No sound. Pink turned to red, to scarlet, to crimson. His blue eyes opening wider and wider. No sound. No sound.
He choked. I panicked.
This was not happening. It can’t be happening. What do I do? He is not breathing. Think. Think. He has to start breathing. He is not really choking, is he? Think. Back blows, right? How many? Do I pick him up? Is he going to breathe? Breathe, now. Please.
I bolted out of my chair, knocking over my glass of water and spilling my salad onto the floor. I reached out my arms to grab him, primal instincts taking over. Before I could reach him, his body lurched forward in his chair. He puked.
Seconds seemed like hours. I stood there, arms extended, motionless.
Crimson, to scarlet, to pink. He inhaled, dazed. His blue eyes turned up to me, and he smiled. Shaking it off like a dog does a bath, he reached for another Puff.
“Why did you drop your salad, Mommy?” I heard from the chair across the table. My daughter’s voice snapped me back into the present.
“He’s OK, babe,” I said to her. To myself.
“Who?” she asked, sandwich crumbs on her plate.
“Your brother. He choked. Didn’t you see that?”
“See what?..... Ewww, he spit up! A LOT.”
I grabbed the Puff from his hand, and took the rest from his tray. I began to clean up my son, the water, and the salad. I collected as much as I could in the napkins from the table and walked over to the sink. As I rinsed the napkins and plates; fear and relief fell with my tears, down the drain.
He was OK. He is OK. I am OK.
The more I re-played those few seconds, the more my reaction really bothered me. In times of emergency, I don’t panic. I am trained to take care of kids in crisis with calmness and expertise. Life-saving medications, breathing tubes, even chest compressions are interventions that I have administered swiftly, and unruffled.
But, on that sunny day, I was not in my white coat. I was not in my office. My mind was in Rapunzel’s tower and Cinderella’s castle. Suddenly, a distressed child was in front of me, and he was mine.
I discovered that two parts of me I thought were indivisible, one-in-the-same, were set against each other. The emotion of a mom had trumped the collectedness of a doctor. The deep, crazy feelings I have for my son caused me to act in a way I otherwise never would. My panic was the consequence of love.
That day in the kitchen, I was taught a lesson that will help me be a better doctor and a better mom.
Love can do that.