This story is going to be immensely difficult to write, I just know it. But I feel it needs to be done, because I want to remember it for any future children I have, but I also want other mothers to see it too.
I’m very cautious about everything, especially safety and try at all costs to keep my kids alive despite their best efforts to put themselves in mortal danger.
However despite my efforts and persistent paranoia one day I nearly became a statistic. My daughter nearly became the victim of a tragic and completely avoidable death.
Yes, those small sweet, healthy, easy, moreish, snacks we so gladly fill our children with. They’re in Happy Meals at McDonalds, they’re sold year round, they’re inexpensive and easy to store, grab and go. My 20 month old daughter particularly loves them.
Now, Elissa (my daughter) is restricted in what she can snack on, because she is sensitive to dairy, and so cheese, butter, sandwich fillers, cheese flavored snacks and most biscuits are out of the question. It really does make life quite difficult and so fruit is one of my go-to snacks for her between meals.
It just so happens that out of all of the fruits on the planet, Elissa loves grapes the most.
So a bit about me, I’m one of those parents who think her kids are going to die every few minutes and so of course I always cut my grapes length ways and there has never been a problem. Until the day I bought some grapes from Costco…the shop where everything is one thousand times bigger than normal and if you want to buy toothpaste you have to buy 16 tubes in one go.
The grapes in Costco were double the size of our normal store bought grapes and without my looking Elissa managed to pull one out of the carton whilst she sat in the trolley and we walked around the store and shoved it into her mouth. I only noticed once she had chewed the whole thing and was swallowing it, like a grape eating pro. No problems. But I moved the carton out of reach in any case.
We later had a picnic and Elissa continued to eat the grapes during the picnic, this time however they were cut in half. But a part of me still felt they were far too big, but she was eating them so well and with ease that I ignored the uneasiness that kept creeping up each time she ate a grape half.
Towards the end of the day both my children and I went home with the intention of watching a movie together and of course, Elissa being the animal that she is wanted more food. I had to choose between dark chocolate covered mango pieces or the grapes again as we had nothing else suitable for her, and with a tiny pointless fridge I am in no position to stock up on snacks and large food shops until we find somewhere to live.
During the movie I was looking down at my phone and I looked up as I noticed Elissa toddling towards me. We sit on the floor or on bean bags as we do not own sofas and so her face as she walked towards me was the same height as my own head.
I looked into Elissa’s face and she was standing there, staring at me, eyes wide open, mouth wide open, in silence. I knew what was happening instantly and grabbed her and pulled her towards me.
I think the first thing I said was “Oh god no Elissa please, bring it up!” I threw her over my left arm and with my right hand smacked her back hard and waited for the intake of breath. Nothing. Silence.
I smacked again even harder, pleading out loud with her to get it out. But nothing. I pulled Elissa upright and her legs buckled, she couldn’t stand up. Her eyes were even wider now, bulging and watering and she looked completely and utterly panic stricken. I could feel myself losing the plot now as I shouted at my 5 year old son to go and get my phone. He jumped up and ran away from me in search of my phone. I knew I needed to call an ambulance.
I reached into Elissa’s mouth and could feel the grape. It was as far back as it could possibly be, obstructing the entire entrance to her wind pipe and oesophagus and I couldn’t pull it out. I threw Elissa forward again and smacked her back, as she was bent over my left arm.
My memory fades slightly here, I know I was shouting, probably still begging for her to get the grape out. I noticed my phone was by my leg and went to reach for it and unlock it, but as soon as I did that I had no choice but to leave Elissa lying on the floor helplessly choking and not breathing.
“What the hell do I do, she’s going to die!!”
There was no way I could make a phone call and help Elissa at the same time so I threw my phone aside, I had to do this myself. I had to save her life. It was me on my own, I wouldn’t be able to get help and even if I did, she would have been dead by the end of the call, let alone by the time they reached us.
As I look back there are so many things I could have done. I could have asked Kason to run to the nearest door in the corridor and scream for help. I could have asked him to call 999 for me. But I couldn’t think, my brain had switched off. I was crying and holding Elissa helplessly smacking her back, hurting her and probably causing her more panic and distress.
Again, I reached into her throat and still the grape couldn’t be budged. The smacking wasn’t working; I couldn’t manually dislodge it. I didn’t know what to do, and in all honesty I thought to myself, “I’m about to lose her. She is not going to survive this. I can’t get it out and there is nothing I can do.” It was these thoughts that lead me to thinking “I have nothing to lose, I need to get my fingers right in there and try to prize it out.”
Now, I know. I know you will tell me what a horrible thing to think, ‘nothing to lose?!’ What the fuck?! But yes, I thought she was going to die if I didn’t at least try that. But I also knew that trying that could well and truly mean the end because there was every chance I would have pushed that grape further down, completely out of reach. But I had no idea whatsoever of what I needed to do.
I would also at this point like to announce I was a police officer for 8 years. I have conducted first aid, done CPR, saved lives and seen dead children. But I have always managed to keep my cool, remain calm and deal sensibly and rationally with the situation. But here I am, full on panicking, having no idea how to do first aid and crying my eyes out, because here is the thing
WHEN IT IS YOUR CHILD, IT IS A WHOOOOOLE DIFFERENT BALL GAME.
She is my baby, my world. My beautiful little angel who makes me smile day in day out and whom I could not continue to live another day without. Both of my children are the one and only reason I continue to breathe each day, because I have nothing else. No home, no money, few friends, few belongings, no partner. My children are my world in every sense of the word. And here I was watching one of them choke to death.
At this point, Elissa was arching her back, thrashing around and gaping open mouthed at me, dribbling, eyes watering and face purpling, her tiny body jolting in my arms. She knew. She knew full well this was bad and she was in trouble.
So I reached into Elissa’s mouth one more time knowing it was now or never, life or death and used my index finger to dig away at one of the edges of the grape and with no warning there was suddenly noise.
A huge wretch, gargling loud choking and coughing and the grape, followed by vomit and phlegm popped out and onto the floor in front of me. I looked at her face and she was gulping huge lung-fulls of air as the colour slowly returned to her face. Her mouth was clear and she was breathing, coughing and crying.
And then I pulled her (probably too forcefully) onto my lap and held her, rocking back and forth shouting. I don’t know what I was shouting. Probably profanities and thanks to the Lord. She was alive. I’m not being dramatic; she was almost dead.
I rocked and rocked, and began to cry. I noticed my whole body was shaking. Elissa didn’t move, she remained curled in a ball on my lap for what felt like hours. She allowed me to squeeze her without pushing me away like she usually would when I try to hug her too tight. I released my grip and looked at her and she saw my tears and said, “awwwww’ concerned and worried for me, and stroked my face, something she always does when someone is hurt or crying. Such a caring little soul.
I held her and held her and eventually she wriggled off my lap. I jumped up, cleared the grapes away, threw the entire punnet in the bin and thanked Kason for being so brave. He was crying, panicking and didn’t know what to do with himself during the whole episode but had instantly gone on a search for my phone when asked, even if it was by my foot the whole time. I’m sure had I had half a brain he would have been excellent if I had asked him to go and find help or call 999, he’s so very excellent at ‘being and adult’ when he needs to be. But it wasn’t long until Elissa was colouring in, Kason was back to watching the movie and I just continued to cry, sporadically.
In fact I cried sporadically for days after, and a tear fell as I typed this.
I can’t lose my kids. I just can’t.
I’ve since booked onto an NCT Children’s First Aid course and watched endless youtube videos in how to deal with a choking child and I hope that in writing this I raise awareness in children’s choking, how easy it can be and the danger of grapes, nature’s lethal weapon.
I’ll still feed them to her however, but I will be cutting them up into eighths instead of halves.