Duncan Garner: I saw my son start to die in front of me

Duncan Garner thought he was going to lose his son last weekend.

Duncan Garner thought he was going to lose his son last weekend.

OPINION: There's nothing like watching your son choking to death to shake you out of a life-long complacency. My precious little man, 6-year-old Buster, had just finished his rugby league game last Saturday when he came out with his usual line: "Dad, I'm hungry."

We were in the mood to celebrate his great game (six big spot tackles, three tries), so we crossed the road and found a cafe. He likes a feed does this young growing bloke, so we ordered the big breakfast at $19.50.

Two eggs, sausages, bacon and mushrooms. It came with two bits of toast. The food seemed to take forever and he just got more impatient and hungrier.

Duncan Garner managed to dislodge the bacon from his son's throat.

Duncan Garner managed to dislodge the bacon from his son's throat.

My wife left us to it, she had something else to go to, and Buster was becoming increasingly frustrated at the delay. When the food finally arrived I cut up his toast and the egg as I usually do. He cut up the rest. Buster fair tore into his kai and I was sipping on my coffee and checking Twitter on my phone.

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This is how quickly a terrible thing can happen: Buster had fallen silent and I looked up to ask if he was OK. His eyes told the story. He was choking on a piece of bacon rind, desperately trying to clear it by swallowing.

I could see the fear and desperation in his eyes and his body movements. He was scared and fighting. I started to freak out - and I admit I froze. I'm sure I started to lose him at that moment. I had little time. This rips at my emotions and my heart even writing about this a week later. I had no idea what to do next and I think I panicked.

I stood up and whacked him on the back three times, nothing. I tried to remember the Heimlich manoeuvre - but given I'd never done it how could I remember it? And is it still the thing to do? Subsequently I have been told it's not.

But in a surge of panic I grabbed his lips, pulled his mouth open - and stuck my fingers down his throat. Nowhere does any official first aid course or person recommend this that I have seen since.

I could feel the end of the bacon rind and I gently pulled it and it all came loose, slowly. He spat the rest up. His eyes welled up and I gave him a drink, a huge hug and kisses. I then realised I'd saved him. But this was my fault. I hadn't cut up his bacon, I hadn't been watching him close enough and I had embarrassingly been on my phone. Like many parents I suspect.

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I've told the story a couple of times this week and been inundated with emails from people who have had similar experiences - and tragically one person who lost a loved one to choking. I choked really badly once on a piece of fatty pork, when I was home alone, so I know how frightening it can be.

So many people told me to go and do a first aid course and get up to speed. I will do that. They're less than $200. My little guy is so precious to me. But in all honesty I've been totally complacent about learning even basic first aid.

For the record, the St John advice I have subsequently read this week talks about whacking the back and thumping the chest, depending on whether the person choking is partially breathing or not breathing at all.

To be honest I found it all a bit wordy and confusing. I need a half-day course. 

My teacher-aide wife has recently done a course and taken me through it all this week. It includes smacking them hard on the back three times, slowly, checking them, and encouraging and coaxing the person choking to cough it up. CPR might be necessary too.

The advice doesn't mention the Heimlich manoeuvre and it certainly doesn't mention or recommend the fingers down the throat. I'm told fingers down the throat can either actually work or push the food deeper into the throat worsening the problem. 

All I know is on this I occasion my desperate makeshift response worked and for that I'm grateful. And still shaking.

All this can happen so quickly. You could be driving, on the sidelines at the rugby, at work – anywhere. Life is so precious. Stay vigilant. Do a first aid course and be prepared.

From now on, I'll cut up the bacon and cut off the rind. And to all those who have sent messages and advice, thank you so much for your kind thoughts.

And I'll leave you with one last question: Do you know how to respond in an emergency situation where it's life or death? If the answer is no, I'll see you at the first aid course. It might save the wee person you love and treasure more than anything else in the world.

 - The Dominion Post


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