Friday, February 27, 2009

When Comfort Food Doesn't

Tonight, I hosted a crew of EMT's who responded to my 9-1-1 call so fast that I am able to write this. It didn't look good for awhile.

They were amazing, a special class of magnificent people who exuded such kindness that they must surely all be saints.

At dinner, I choked on a piece of baked potato skin, which went into my windpipe. I couldn't breathe. It was terrifying. When I was unable to dislodge it after more than a minute of wheezing, I dialed 9-1-1 and handed Flip the phone. He couldn't remember our address or my age, so I tried to squeak at the dispatcher while strangling.

Caller ID is wonderful. She had eight people here within a minute, which in itself is quite miraculous.

My chest flamed crimson while my face turned pale. I know this because I tried to cough up the potato skin in the bathroom. It crossed my mind that I might be watching myself die in the mirror.

I decided not to go to the hospital as the offending object finally managed to resume its journey, although the paramedics told me I would be quite uncomfortable all night. So far, that prediction is accurate.

After things calmed down, one of them explained how peristalsis works while visions of Fisher Price toys danced in my head. I now understand how circular smooth muscles contract to propel food through the digestive tract. When something gets stuck, stretch receptors in the esophageal lining are stimulated to try to force it down the esophagus.

My chest turned red because my heart was starved for oxygen, so my body pumped it all where it was needed. We marveled together at how incredibly intelligent the human body is.

He remarked that he would like to live long enough to see more of its abilities harnessed. I said that I was very grateful I would live through this night.

They assured me they would come back if I needed them, even at four o'clock in the morning, because they are always around. Like guardian angels. While I have never entertained more wonderful people in my home, I hope it won't be necessary.

I feel as if my lease on life has been renewed, and I'd better make something of it because we never know how long we'll have, both as individuals and as a culture.

The world is now changing faster than ever before as systems break down and new ones come into being. Truths we have always relied upon disintegrate and can no longer be trusted. The very ground we stand upon seems unable to hold our weight and we find ourselves treading air. Trying to make sense of the unfamiliar offers a terrifying awareness that all things and all beings are, indeed, transitory.

But change also brings hope. Belief systems break down because they are no longer working. Nothing ends without something better replacing it.

We need to turn our fears into action, to ground ourselves in the present even though is seems impossible to gain a purchase, because right now is truly all we have. There will never be a better time to do what we burn to do with our lives.

I was eating that baked potato because I really needed comfort food tonight. I don't know when I'll get over my new fear of all food and start eating again, but just think -- I may have discovered the perfect diet.


the walking man said...

Glad you got it down Hearts, Glad you weren't watching yourself kick the bucket, you're one of the few people I believe in.

One of the others is my EMT daughter. I hesitate to move to the county she works in because of my proclivity for getting hit by drivers not paying attention, I wouldn't want her to strain herself trying to load me in the back of her rig.

The above is a blog of another I have come to have high regard for. His posts are occasional but powerfully written. He is pretty spot on as to what his job is like for him. He too is an EMT.

Again happy you made it through, you do know Ice Cream is comfort food too, don't you?

Random Stranger said...

I just happened across this post whilst wandering through the internet on random zigzags, but it served to make me stop and think, to feel panic for your panic, and relief for your survival, and admiration for emergency personnel.

I recall a green suited paramedic holding my hand, and saying "Don't try to talk, you'll be okay, we've got you now..." I recall flashing lights and ceilings spinning past, moving fast but always under control, being handed over to the e.r. team, I remember nurses crouching to speak to me, eyes level with mine, reassuring, the feeling through the long night that I could drift, but someone was watching, and would stop me from drifting too far.
They are wonderful people. They do a difficult job, yet whilst they are saving us they take the time to speak to us, reduce our panic, help us to let it go.
And today, you start to doubt if it ever was so serious, so close.
Yet it could have been, today people might be grieving. And you are here. Every day a fresh gift. Every flower, every smile a fresh delight.
Those EMTs, if you bump into them in the street, in their off-duty clothes, you probably won't recognise them. My advice is to be kind to random strangers. Your EMTs do it.

nick said...

Some things in the world may be changing at colossal speed but thankfully some things stay the same, like the dedication of paramedics and health workers to people with a medical emergency. At least they still understand what looking after people means, unlike those in some businesses who couldn't care less about their customers.

Very glad you recovered and didn't meet a premature end at the hands of a rogue potato skin.

daysgoby said...

My husband is a paramedic and I love how calm and centered all the guys are on his team when they're in a crisis.

I'm really glad you're okay.

Warty Mammal said...

Oh dear, oh dear. It's a dumb human reaction, but I read this entry super fast, wanting to see if you were okay. At the same time I was thinking "Of COURSE she's okay, dumb***, she wrote this entry."

So glad you're still here to smell the flowers and the less hygienic of the homeless folks.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you for all your kind words. I'm very happy to still be here.

Your daughter is doing God's work for sure.

I'll check out the blog you've recommended. I like him already. And yes, I do know that about ice cream. I see lots of it in my future.


I'm sorry you don't seem to have a blog because I would love to read it. You write so well, so poetically about your experience with the green-suited heroes.

Every day is indeed a fresh gift which should not be wasted in pettiness or discontent, but lived to the fullest and shared with loved ones.

Thank you for coming by. I hope you'll be back.


Those rogue potato skins are the worst.

It does seem that while the world is in upheaval, the basic goodness of people remains. And you can take that to the bank.


Please thank your husband for me for the work he does. It's sad that too often it takes a near-death experience to make us realize that the good guys are still winning in terms of what is really important.


I'm so touched by your concern, and your rapid reading skills.

We are on our way to a memorial mass now, and while I'm in a church I will also send up a prayer of thanksgiving for my own rebirth, and all the flowers and nasty smells I'm still here to enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Good gracious! Glad to read this post - because you are here to write it!

thailandchani said...

Wow.. that is a horrifying experience! Glad you came out of it okay... and that you were able to react as you did.


heartinsanfrancisco said...


ME, TOO!!!


Well, it was a toss-up between getting help and dying. Tough choice, you know? I'm pretty sure I made the right one.

meno said...

You about caused me to have to call 911 when i read the first sentence.

What a dreadful feeling that must have been. Now you need a "Kiss An EMT" t-shirt.

jameil1922 said...

wow! glad they helped keep you around!!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Wow! Glad you are okay, Hearts. Perhaps you should stick to mashed potatos.

The CEO said...

It is so good to read that you are well after your ordeal. I had a similar one last June that I wrote about, not nearly as well, and two nurses were sitting in the next booth.

One does take life more preciously after such an experience. I can't say it enough, it's really good to still have you.


heartinsanfrancisco said...


Yes, I surely do need one. A live-in paramedic would be even better, though. They were absolutely wonderful!!

Sorry I scared you.


It's what they do. Can you imagine? And they're very, very good at it.


I intended to put myself on an all-liquid diet, but I got hungry. Mashed is definitely the way to go. Nothing with parts that can break off and lodge in my throat.


Thank you! It's really good to still be here.

Anonymous said...

Whoa! How terrifying. I am so glad they were there for you. I don't even like thining about this.

Bob said...

I thought this was going to be about

Having occasionally had something go down the wrong way, my throat being sore for hours afterwards, you have my sympathies for what you had to endure.

I'm glad you are both still around.

Ian Lidster said...

How terrifying. I actually have a primal fear of such a thing happening to me or to Wendy. Your praises for EMTs are warranted. I think they are among our most underrated local heroes.
Altogether a powerful post and I am so glad you're OK.

Voyager said...

Ohmigod, I am so glad you made it through this scary incident. You are dealing with so much already. But you have turned a horrible time into an opportunity for growth and reflection. I am in awe.

Jocelyn said...

I am covered with goosebumps (of fear and ultimately exhilaration) as I read. I am so glad you here and well enough to type. I imagine it was horrifying for Flip--and extremely frustrating for him not to have the info easily accessible.


At the college where I teach, we have a firefighter program, and many of the students also train to be paramedics, as it makes them more employable. In a certain way, the "type" of person who is i this program is not always the strongest academically. But as I get to know these future aid workers, I am always astounded by their mettle and innate sense of service.

This, from one who doesn't easily believe in heroes.

I am not Star Jones said...

I'm glad you are okay! And thank goodness for the 911 operator and the EMT crew.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Suddenly it's making me tired, thinking about this.


Yes, I would really hate to lose me. I was very lucky.


These people are truly heroic. I really can't say enough good things about them, which is saying a lot because I don't often feel limited in my ability to express my thoughts.

I hope your primal fear is never realized.


Thank you so much. There is nothing like a horrible time to make us contemplate the bigger issues.


In my opinion, these selfless people are our real heroes, not movie stars and athletes.

It was very hard on Flip, but of course it wasn't his fault. His illness is stealing so much from him and from me but his heart is still working, even if his mind is taking frequent breaks.


It's incredible and humbling to realize that there are people who dedicate their lives to helping strangers.

Maria said...

I've seen someone choke before and it was very scary. Maybe your husband should take a class to learn the h maneuver (it is ridiculously easy) and they usually include CPR with it. Couldn't hurt....

Glad you are okay.

seventh sister said...

Did you cut that piece of potato with your infamous knife, the one that has aleady tried to kill you a time or two?

Glad you are OK.


heartinsanfrancisco said...


I wish that were possible, but Flip has Alzheimer's, which is why he forgot key information.

I've been thinking that I should take such a course, though. It never hurts to be able to help someone.


Your memory is impressive! No, different knife. Do you sense a conspiracy?

besos y abrazos

Paul said...

Glad you lived to tell about it, Susan. As thought provoking as your story is, I was impressed by your reflections. Particularly:

"Truths we have always relied upon disintegrate and can no longer be trusted. The very ground we stand upon seems unable to hold our weight and we find ourselves treading air. Trying to make sense of the unfamiliar offers a terrifying awareness that all things and all beings are, indeed, transitory..."

Well said, indeed.

Shila Shila and Cult Jam said...

OMG. Sooooo scary.

I'm really glad you're ok.

Gayle's Joy In Life said...

Whoa, what a scary few minutes! As for something better always replacing broken down beliefs and systems, I wish it were so. If we pay attention to understanding our actions and take responsibility for what are our mistakes, then we'll be fine. If not, well, these are the kind of times that can create a downward spiral.


The Fool said...

That sounds like it was a very terrifying ordeal. I'm glad you're big heart is still among us. Best to you. Carpe diem! You've been granted a reprieve. :)

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Isn't it interesting how we know intellectually that everything is impermanent, but somehow it still shocks us a bit to realize that we, ourselves, are too?

All the same, I am quite relieved that I will not have to begin my next incarnation just yet, when there's still some wear in the old one.


Thank you so much for your kind thoughts, and your visit.


Well, there's entropy in which things left alone just go to hell, and there is conscious intention which is necessary to stem the natural tide. Ultimately the choice is ours, but I do believe that the universe gives us every chance to get it right if we let it.

So great to see you. I love your blog but don't comment as often as I would like because the type color is hard for me to read.

No Fool,

Reprieves are good. In fact, they could be my very favorite thing right now. I really, really like being here and am not ready to leave yet.

Molly said...

Merrily, merrily we skip along through life. People die but it doesn't touch us,it'll never happen to US, until it does, or almost does, to us or someone we love. And that gives us a whole new appreciation for the ability to merrily, merrily skip along......

So glad you're OK, and thankful for those wonderful people who make a career out of helping others!

LittlePea said...

Oh my. How scary. I'm glad you're ok. I once heard someone say that she likes EMTs a hell of a lot better than Doctors and Nurses. When I asked why, she said because they won't stop to ask you if you have insurance/if not, who's paying before they save your life.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

My goodness!

I'm so glad that you're alright!
That's terrifying! I've been there. I'm grateful that you're still here!

So, stick with soft stuff for now (soup, yogurt, et al), and then work your way back to solid food again.

Chocolate is considered soft, in case you were wondering.

Might be a good idea to tape your name, address, info etc. onto the wall/desk by the phone for Flip, in case he needs it.

HUGE HUGS to you.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Pam said...

So glad everything turned out O.K, thanks to the EMT's. Such a scarey experience...and Flip doing his best, feeling frustrated, terrified and panicky with lack of recall!Can only imagine how utterly horrible it would have been. One appreciates the EMT's efficiency when your world slips into blind panic.Phew. What an experience.

Bruce said...

Jesus, Hearts, thank god you got it down! Hope things have improved and peristalsis is fully functioning!


heartinsanfrancisco said...


It's truly humbling to meet these career Good Samaritans, and makes me question whether I am living my own life as well as I should.

I am grateful to them and for them.

Sweet Pea,

After it was all over, it did occur to me that they never asked who would pay for their services. It made me wonder if I had dreamed the whole thing.


We are on the same wave length -- I already figured out that chocolate is soft food.

Flip also suggested that I tape that info to the wall where he might see it. ("Might" is the operative word.)


"When your world slips into blind panic" says it all. The EMT's were not only efficient, but caring, kind and just plain wonderful.


Yeah, you can't keep a good digestive system down, or so one hopes.

The next time I have an impromptu party, I'll be sure to have refreshments for those who can eat without killing themselves.

Angela said...

Lady, I am *so* glad you are okay and that the EMTs were are quick and wonderful as they were and that you were able to dial the number and that you're okay. (I said that already.) Life *is* truly so fragile -- each and every moment -- and I know that you have such a marvelous handle on just how beautiful and incredible and unique this life is. Many, many blessings to you and Flip and all you are going through.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I so appreciate your very sweet thoughts. Thank you.

Jay said...

That's scary as hell, hun. I'm super glad you're okay and that people rushed to your aid when you needed them. Do take care of yourself.

Eastcoastdweller said...

Susan, what a close call! Thank God that You are all right!

Life is so precious and fragile.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It was amazing how fast they got here, like rubbing a lamp and producing a genie.

We could all use genies to protect us.


It is most precious and fragile, for sure.

J at said...

What a harrowing story! Glad you survived to tell the tale. WHEW.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you kindly. I'm glad you came by.

Odat said...

Hello my friend....I've been catching up on your blog here and i'm sorry you're going thru so much....Glad you're ok....and just wanted to say "Hey" and let you know I'm keeping you and Flip in my prayers....

heartinsanfrancisco said...


How wonderful to see you again! I hope to catch up on your life soon.

Thank you so much for paying me a surprise visit. You are always in my prayers, too.