Saturday, January 10, 2009

Still Choked Up Over Christmas

What a week. Everybody in the house is or was sick, including me. My wife had a virus, her youngest daughter Natalie has tonsillitis, Natalie's visiting cousin Kyle is under the weather from a tough semester at K-State and I caught my current illness from my wife. We are so far behind, we took the Christmas tree down yesterday. That's right. Our house still had Christmas decorations up on January 9. If it wasn't for the kids taking the initiative (they pink up sooner than the old folks), the tree would still be up. Thanks to Natalie's boyfriend James for pitching in. Unfortunately, James may be next to go down because of it.

My wife Robin's blog, Pomegranate Vintage Modern, reflects her beautiful yet frugal aesthetic sense but does not reflect the somewhat crispy Christmas tree drooping forlornly in the corner of the living room. You heard it here first: A penetrating behind-the-scenes look at how tastemakers really live. Next: Secret hidden photos of Martha Stewart buying velour loungewear at Wal-Mart.

This Christmas was a memorable one in many ways. Previously, I alluded to cutting back on gifts this year so everybody got more creative. Robin gave me one night at the fabulous old Biltmore Hotel in downtown LA. Now I have to decide who I'm taking (That's a joke, honey. No, it's humor.... OWW!). In an effort to encourage and inspire the girls' interest in all things design, I prepaid for tours of three LA architectural landmarks (Schindler House, Gamble House and Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House).

Gift opening lasts two hours, even with
a third less booty overall. Each newly sprung present creates endless rounds of discussion about how to use the item to the fullest extent. One blouse elucidates countless combinations with various and sundry apparel either pre-owned or newly received by the recipient. Women discuss clothes like guys talk about variations in the New York Football Giants' blitz package. I'm still new to this world.

The best part was having the kids hanging out at the house all day, lounging around and watching movies. We rarely get to see them in repose anymore as they always jump up and head out on one expedition or another. Of course, this is when all the exotic bugs and diseases carried from their various far-flung habitats like Manhattan, Kansas, San Francisco and Silver Lake commingle and plot to take out the old people.

While the kids are relaxing, Robin and I make preparations for our prime rib Christmas dinner. My mom made a lovely donation so part of the proceeds went to a very nice hunk of beef, on sale of course. We're short a green vegetable so Robin asks me to sautè some broccoli. So I drop some into a skillet with hot olive oil and garlic. Robin tastes a piece of broccoli and I turn back to the pan. A second later I receive a sharp poke in the back. I whirl around and Robin mouths the word "choking!"

My first instinct is hitting her sharply between the shoulder blades. That doesn't work. Robin is caught between breaths with a fearful look on her face. Suddenly I realize we have a full-blown situation. I spin Robin around and perform the Heimlich Maneuver but nothing happens. Robin is still choking. I pull her so hard she leaves the floor with my arms gripped around her sternum. Finally, the piece of garlic or whatever moves enough for her to draw a breath. She starts coughing and finally clears her breathing passages completely. The kids are still watching a movie, unaware of the drama in the kitchen.

Funny thing about Real Life; there's no musical prelude to let us know something dramatic will happen in the next moment. One minute we go about our business. The next minute brings heart failure or an accident or choking. I lose about ten seconds before realizing my wife is checking out. When I perform the Heimlich Maneuver, I forget to ball one fist, cover it with the other hand and stick it under her sternum to concentrate the force. In wrapping my arms around her, I need way too much force to accomplish the job. If the lodged piece is any bigger, this story has a different ending.

I learned my First Aid as a Boy Scout in the late Sixties / early Seventies. In the past, I used my skills to help others. At college, I clamped my hand over a pumping arterial bleed stemming from a one-car collision with a bridge abutment I witnessed on Storrow Drive in Boston. My father and I administered mouth-to-mouth and chest compressions on a man at the Golden Lantern Restaurant in Warwick, RI. I've immobilized broken limbs, treated for shock and helped keep a fellow runner from dying of heat stroke. The upshot is I do not panic. Instead, my instinct is to move forward, not away.

However, those were all strangers. When my wife can't breathe, I take too long to recognize the danger and forget key details in administering aid. For one second, I allow myself to think about what happens if Robin dies and how I explain it to her daughters. Thinking inhibits reflexive action reinforced by repetition and sows the seeds of panic.

Therefore, my New Year's resolution is to find the funds for and take a First Responder course so I can be certified in First Aid. The most likely use for such knowledge is our backcountry wanderings and mountain climbing. Chances are, I know and love the person receiving the medical attention in that situation. Christmas is a warning. I hear it loud and clear.

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