The Heimlich maneuver

August 17, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

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Resource post for August

forkIt began as a nice, relaxing evening during our family holidays in Namibia during the last 3 weeks. There I was, enjoying a tender, well-done kudu (a type of antelope) steak in the middle of the Erongo mountains, and chatting with my kids when suddenly I started to choke. I started coughing but somehow the piece of meat wouldn’t dislodge. I couldn’t breathe. My husband looked around the restaurant with embarrassment and whispered to me “go to the toilet.” There restrooms are at the other end of the big dining room and I am sure I couldn’t make it that far.

With all my strength, I stood up and tried to perform abdominal thrusts on myself but couldn’t do it properly. “Help me,” I said to my husband. “I can’t breathe.”

Let’s go to the toilet” he said. “No!

Luckily, we are close to an open exit so I staggered out gasping with my husband following. He started clapping me on the back, but I continued coughing and choking.

No, here! Here!“, I cried hoarsely pointing to my abdomen. “OK, I will turn you upside.” “No,” I cried weakly, “push here“, pointing again to my tummy. Finally, he decided to give it a try and placed his hands around my middle from behind, giving me one strong abdominal thrust. Something came out of my throat and suddenly I could breathe!

They say you never miss the air until it has been cut off. I tell you, it is the absolute truth. And I am so grateful that somewhere in the back of my mind was a memory of something I read once a certain maneuver to prevent choking.

So what was that all about?“, asked my bewildered husband. “You just did a Heimlich maneuver and saved my life”, I told him.

The Heimlich maneuver is named after the controversial American doctor Henry Heimlich who supposedly was the first to report and describe such kind of maneuver. Previously, the recommended first aid for choking was giving several strong claps on the back. This practice was replaced by the Heimlich maneuver. Lately, the use of the maneuver has been questioned.

abdominal_thrusts3So how does the maneuver work? According to the American Heart Association

Abdominal thrusts (also known as the “Heimlich maneuver”) are a series of under-the-diaphragm abdominal thrusts. They’re recommended for helping a person who’s choking on a foreign object (foreign-body airway obstruction).

To simplify training of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, abdominal thrusts are recommended for rescuers to use in clearing a blocked airway in conscious adults and children over the age of 1. It’s not recommended for choking in infants under age 1.

Abdominal thrusts lift the diaphragm and force enough air from the lungs to create an artificial cough. The cough is intended to move and expel an obstructing foreign body in an airway. Each thrust should be given with the intent of removing the obstruction.

As mentioned before, the Heimlich maneuver has been a subject of controversy lately. However, all I know is that the maneuver saved my life 9 days ago and am very thankful to have the presence of mind to give my husband the instruction on how to do it.

CDC figures indicate that more than 2,800 people die of accidental choking each year. It’s not only food that gets stuck in the mouth. Little children tend to stuff things in their mouth as well. The large majority of choking victims are under the age of 4.  It is therefore important to be able to act accordingly when somebody is choking, especially those with families.

Here are some tips on the Heimlich maneuver:

Warning: Take note that the Heimlich maneuver or abdominal thrust can be dangerous and cause damage to the diaphragm, and the ribs when applied too strongly.

Photo credit: wikipedia, stock.xchng, youtube

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One Response to “The Heimlich maneuver”
  1. Thanks for reminding us how important it is to know what to do in the event we find one of our loved ones (or me) choking ..

    .. and glad you are okay!

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