In God's Hands...Not Mine

From this day forward, I plan to periodically practice the Heimlich Manuever so that I become comfortable doing it correctly and am prepared for the unexpected. Maybe if I rehearse the unexpected, I will be better prepared in an emergency.

Last night may have been the scariest moment of my life. It was the second time I thought that I might be losing my husband.

The first time was in 2008 when John had a severe reaction to Rituxan after his first infusion. On that occasion, he sailed through the long day of treatment with no apparent reactions. But after we left and got in the elevator to leave the clinic, he became faint. And before we could get back to the doctor's office, he passed out cold and hit the floor. With help from kind bystanders, I got him back into the office and he was attended to by medical staff. But after reviving, he lost consciousness a second time, eyes rolled back, and he started to struggle for air. I knew he was in crisis (had read about tumor lysis syndrome and knew there was a slight risk of fatality).

As Dr. Flinn and nurses rushed to his aid, all I could do was silently watch and pray as tears ran down my face. I was so scared. But I knew his life was not in my hands and no one was depending on me to save him. When he came to, he immediately started cracking jokes and we knew he was okay. There had been concern of a seizure, but Dr. Flinn said John's cognition was so sharp and instant upon reviving that he could not have had a seizure. He was rushed to the ER for a complete check to make sure he was stable. As expected, it was tumor lysis syndrome. They gave him an IV and watched him for several hours before allowing him to go home, fully recovered.

Last night John choked on a piece of chicken. He has a hiatal hernia and he has had things get stuck before. But he doesn't have flare ups often and when he does, he usually gets an uncomfortable feeling and just has to stop eating. This time a bite of chicken lodged and would not go down. We were in the middle of conversation when he stopped and the look on his face told me something was wrong. He tried to drink some water and that seemed to make the situation worse. He was choking and unable to breathe. I tried to do the Heimlich on him unsuccessfully. I cannot begin to describe the horrible feeling of thinking his life was in my hands and I could do nothing to fix the situation.

He then walked into the garage and bent all the way forward as he prayed silently (he later told me) that God would not let him die for my sake. He said he felt calm even though he did realize he could die. And his thoughts were for what it would do to me to see him die that way, unable to save him. As soon as he prayed that prayer, something opened and he started to get a little air. He stayed in that bent over position for several minutes and I could tell that the situation was at least slightly improving. Once I knew he was okay, all I could think of for the rest of the night was a) how thankful I was that God spared him and b) how badly I had failed my husband in that moment.

I cried off and on for the rest of the night. Every time I thanked God for John's life, I cried. And every time I thought about how helpless I was in that moment, I cried. The scene played over and over in my mind. And every time I woke up in the middle of the night, it was the first thing I thought of. I still feel the trauma of the experience this morning. Of course, John assured me I did not fail him. Because it was his hiatal hernia, it's possible that even a perfectly performed Heimlich Manuever might have been ineffective. It was obvious to him that I was trying my absolute best to save him. And it was obvious to him how scared I was, which is why he prayed that prayer.

I was so beside myself with fear that I did not even have the presence of mind to pray. Those moments felt like forever, yet it all happened so fast. John's ability to remain calm and collected in that kind of crisis amazes me. I'm not put together that way. I remember the time Danny choked and John very calmly did the Heimlich and Danny got instant relief. I wasn't panicked on that occasion because I had confidence in John's ability to respond. But it was much scarier being the only person John could depend on to know what to do last night. And I don't know how I would have coped with that overwhelming sense of failing my husband if the outcome had been different. I am so thankful it was not John's time to go.

I don't like that saying, God will never give us more than we can handle. Yes, He does. What happened to John last night WAS more than I could handle. I didn't handle it at all. I was powerless to save my husband's life. But God was here with us. It wasn't just John and me. His life was not truly in MY hands. His life was in God's hands. Just as it is every day. We are dependent upon God for our next breath. Even if we are in perfect health, we still don't know what the next moment holds.

After the crisis was past, I felt like God kept impressing on my mind that none of us can go anywhere until it's His time for us to go. Last night was not John's time. And 2008 was not his time. But when it is our time, it won't matter how many competent people we are surrounded by. Because we are ultimately in God's hands. I believe in His sovereignty over our lives and that He has already appointed the day of our departure from this world. It's unknown to us, but not to Him. I will always remember last night and how God (not I) opened John's airway. I don't know who will leave this earth first; John or me. But if I ever have to be here without him, I know I will reflect on last night and be thankful for every day that might not have been. Just the way I am thankful for every day of the last nine years that I have had only because God gave John to me in the first place.

I am still feeling quite emotional after that close call. But so much of the emotion is a thankful heart.
So thankful that John's life was definitely NOT in MY hands.


Cil said…
So many people have told me over the last little while that God would never give me more than I can handle. Honestly, the thought used to depress me so horribly, becuase then I felt like I wasn't even living up to what God expected me to. After a while, I changed that saying in my head, to one that made sense to me. When someone tells me that now, I gently correct them, and let them know He does give me more than I can handle on my own, but never gives me more than he is going to bring me out of. :)

So thankful God's hand was over both of you last night. I cannot imagine how I would have dealt with that situation. And, heimlich on someone bigger than you is really hard to do. Remember that, but practice it! ;)
Shari said…
I couldn't agree with you more about that saying. It's become a cliche' that really offers NO comfort and I don't know why anybody thinks it does. It's God's strength we are to rely upon and not our own. In our weakness, He is strong. He gives us more than we can handle so we will rely on Him. And so often we do that only when we feel powerless. Another one I dislike is "God helps those who help themselves." It makes it seem like God helps those who are deserving of His help. That isn't true either. God helps those who TURN TO HIM. And His help often comes in a way we don't expect (and sometimes not the way we would prefer). But it is always His strength that lifts us. We do not lift ourselves.
Anonymous said…
Shari...doing the Heimlich maneuver on a person with food lodged in the esophagus is actually dangerous and can lead to rupture of the esophagus. I am glad that nothing untoward happened.

The Heimlich maneuver is designed to dislodge food (or other material) obstructing the airway and interfering with breathing.

Esophageal obsrtuction by impacted food boluses is far more common than many realize...related often to simply hurried eating/swallowing wherein a food bolus too large to easily pass through the esophagus is swallowed. Other factors such as poor dentition, alchol use, impaired salivary secretion , eosinophilic esophagitis, esophageal stricture, schatzki ring of the esophagus or hiatus hernia may also play a role, but this occurs frequently in otherwise healthy people who are just in a hurry while eating.

As uncomfortable as this scenario is it can usually be treated either with patience (and the help of several pharmacologic agents) or endoscopic therapy by a trianed endoscopist. I have treated this condition hundreds of times.

Have your husband eat slowly, chew well, cut food into reasonable pieces and avoid wolfing down his meals.

Only employ the heimlich maneuver when breathing is clearly impaired while a person is eating...I diagnosed esophageal rupture twice in patients who attempted this maneuver when food was in their esophagus...both required emergency surgery, but did well.

Good luck...Rick
Shari said…
Thanks, Rick. My husband was choking and not breathing, so I tried the only thing I could think of to help him. I am so thankful I did not cause a rupture! Perhaps it's a good thing that I wasn't doing it perfectly.
Anonymous said…
Hello Shari...Perhaps I misinterpreted the scenario. If food is in the airway the patient will cough, be unable to inhale or exhale properly and may be unable to speak. Often they will cough and will quickly show evidence of respiratory distress...turning blue with bulging eyes, prominent neck muscles, etc.

If your husband felt that he couldn't breathe then the Heimlich maneuver was the appropriate thing to do. When food is impacted in the esophagus it is very uncomfortable and patients may cough, but they can clearly breathe and speak normally. They may become agitated because of the discomfort, and initially may feel as if breathing is impaired, but this quickly sorts itself out as not being an airway problem.

In any case, I am glad that the episode had a happy ending.

Shari said…
I appreciate your input, Rick. Perhaps he had both. He said the discomfort was low, in the esophogus and not in his throat. But he was not able to breathe and that was the distress part. He has had the discomfort that you are describing (w/o the breathing problem) before and he knows that feeling as well!
Anonymous said…
Shari...if your husband has experienced dysphagia (sensation of food sticking in the esophagus when swallowing) &/or transient esophageal obstuction in the past, evaluation by a gastroenterologist may be appropriate to exclude an esophageal ring or stricture (which could easily be dilated) or conditions such as silent erosive esophagitis or eosinophilic esophagitis which may be amenable to medical therapy.

Shari said…
He has been evaluated in the past and that is how he knows about the hiatal hernia. But it might be a good idea for him to be evaluated again.

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