I’m going to lose her. That was the thought that kept running through my head, the terror ripping through my heart. I was going to lose my darling girl, because I had no idea how to save her.
I heard a noise from the bathroom. The bathroom where my daughter had been happily singing the ABC song and had just shouted to me, “I’m almost done cleaning up, Mama.” I had left her in the empty bathtub to clean up her toys, as I dressed her little brother in the bedroom across the hall. Actions and routines we’ve done a million times before.
Something didn’t register right in the noise. It was a noise but too quiet of a noise. Loud is always a good sign with kids. Quiet is not.
Madisyn – our Maddie – was hunched over in the empty tub, arms and hands extended in panic. Her head was thrust forward, mouth open. The noise coming out her open mouth was too quiet.
I grabbed her wet body and flipped her over, hitting her back. Again and again. I stuck my finger in her mouth and felt nothing. I could see the distress on her face and it confused me. I knew she was choking, but on what? The bathtub toys were not small enough to fit in her mouth. She doesn’t even put toys in her mouth. She never has, even as a baby.
Her lips were blue.
I screamed and ran because I needed someone to save my little girl.
I’m going to lose her.
I ran. I ran with my naked, wet daughter belly down on my arms. I ran without shoes. I shouted to my little boy, “Stay right there, Mama will be back,” and I ran.
I screamed, louder than I’ve ever screamed. I ran and I screamed; out the front door, across our lawn, across my neighbor’s driveway and up the stairs to their front door. I screamed and ran because I knew I needed help. I screamed and ran because I didn’t know where my phone was and I needed someone to call 911. I screamed and ran because I needed someone to save my little girl.
I’m going to lose her.
I think she’s choking, she can’t breathe. Please help me.
Ms T, our beloved next-door neighbor and daycare provider, heard my scream. She was opening the door as my fist made contact with it.
“I think she’s choking, she can’t breathe. Please help me.” As I fell forward, Ms T caught Maddie in her arms. Her feet were white. Her lips were blue. Her noise was too quiet.
It took one more pound on her back and the toy flew out. The toy that was not a bathtub toy. The toy I didn’t even know was in the bathtub. The toy my three-and-a-half-year-old had played with dozens of times and had never once put in her mouth. The toy that somehow went in her mouth and lodged itself in her throat. The toy that almost killed her.
She took a ragged breath and started coughing. The beautiful peach color flooded back into her feet and lips. She looked at me and started crying. I grabbed onto her small, trembling little body with all I had.
I didn’t lose her.
But I could have. It could have ended so differently. It could have been longer before I realized what was happening. My fear could have caused my body and mind to freeze; a very possible bio-mechanical reaction. My amazing neighbor could have been gone. All my amazing neighbors (neighbors who are former EMTs and firefighters) could have been gone. I could have lost her.
I want you to feel the panic I felt and I want you to do something about it.
I’m not writing this because I enjoy revisiting those terrifying moments. They will be on loop in my mind for a very long time, haunting my thoughts throughout the day and my dreams throughout the night. I’m writing this because I want you to feel it. I want you to feel the panic I felt and I want you to do something about it.
Not every parent is lucky enough to have a neighbor with 35-plus years of child CPR and first aid training. Not every parent has a firefighter or former firefighter living across the street. Not every parent lives in a neighborhood with a fire station down the road or first responders who can arrive quickly enough to save the life of their choking child.
Not every parent has CPR and first aid training that would allow them to save their child’s life. Including me. If you babysit when you are young, you may have it. Perhaps you decide to take a parenting class for your firstborn and have it. But, like me, those ‘ifs’ may have been 8, 10, 15, 25 years ago.
I hope you read this with a racing heart and tears in your eyes. I hope you breathe a sigh of relief knowing my little girl is just fine…and then I hope you move through the rest of your day with my words nagging at the back of your thoughts. I hope you find yourself on your phone, your computer, your tablet searching for a CPR course and registering for it.
I hope you never need it to use it. But I hope that you know how to, if you do.
This story first appeared on Leah’s own blog, Out of the Nutshell.
First Aid & CPR Training
If you’re unsure where to look for a course, the Red Cross is a good place to start.
New Zealand – https://www.redcross.org.nz/first-aid/book-course/