Tamales, Be Damned!
Updated: Jan 6
There have been two instances in my 43 years where I thought I was going to die. The first instance occurred many years ago when I found myself in the vise like grip of a rip current in the Atlantic Ocean while vacationing in Nags Head, North Carolina. A couple were walking the beach and recognized my distress and the man fought the strong current and ultimately prevailed, pulling me free. The other time I thought I was going to die was today. I was attending day 2 of a training in Boston with a work colleague. We were eating lunch when my bite of tamale went down the wrong pipe. I was able to cough a bit initially and did so in an effort to dislodge the shredded chicken. My colleague eyed me with concern and I waved her off and took a drink of water which was a terrible plan. I then stood up and recall making a ragged, gasping sound and then....silence. “Are you choking?” My colleague worriedly asked. I remember thinking, “Ugh. This is embarrassing. I should go to the bathroom.” And my next thought, “That’s a really stupid idea. Would you rather die than ask for help?” “Are you choking?!” My colleague asked, calmly but concerned. Perhaps a bit more insistent now. And I decided that I’d rather ask for help than die and nodded slowly, wild eyed, & moved my hands to my neck in the international symbol for choking. “She’s choking!” My colleague clarified and the room sprang into action. The woman seated across from me sprang from her chair, got into position and began the heimlich. I was aware of what was going on around me but dimly so, as if I were barely a part of it. A line of would be good Samaritan’s formed to take turns as necessary and I was handed off to another person who urgently, violently administered the heimlich. At last, I felt something give and signaled wildly to stop the heimlich. I coughed began to speak. Someone re-entered the room clutching their cell phone and asked if he should cancel the ambulance and I croaked “yes!” And attempted to look put together as a very calming man gently assured me I’d be okay and this happens. “It’s never happened to me,” I sputtered, eyes watery. I realized the room was still very silent and still and turned to face everyone, “Thank you. Carry on!” I said impishly. The instructor picked up on my humor and added, “Nothing to see here.” And the group chuckled in relief. The instructor, my colleague and I exited the room and someone brought me a mug of warm water to drink which felt soothing to my irritated throat. I thought, “Jesus. That would have been such a lame way to go.” Like an episode of Six Feet Under, each of which begin with a death some more absurd than others. My colleague said, “All I could think of was that I should have taken that Heimlich course when it was offered.” We laughed with relief that she wasn’t going to have to tell our boss that I wouldn’t be returning to work because I’d been done in by a tamale. In an episode of Young Sheldon, Sheldon chokes on a breakfast sausage (at home so it wasn’t witnessed by a roomful of strangers) and decides he will avoid solid foods. The episode is comical but I completely understand why Sheldon opted to blend his PB&J sandwich following the terrifying incident. Sheldon’s parents take him to therapy to help him overcome his fear of dangerous solid foods and Sheldon asks his mom, "Did you tell him (therapist) that I have a lot to accomplish in my life and cannot afford to be killed by a sausage?" I still have a lot of living to do too and (thankfully) I’m still here to do it. Tamales, be damned!