CHARLES TOWN – The past month has left me feeling more grateful than ever for this life and for every moment I have with the people I love.
In mid-May, my husband Rob Snyder – young-at-heart and young looking at 48 – suffered a severe heart attack as we walked home from a dinner party. I watched as a HealthNet helicopter rushed him from Jefferson Medical Center to Winchester, Va., for a late-night emergency angioplasty.
On Monday, I marked the five-year anniversary of my own brush with death – when Rick Foster, a co-worker at the Winchester newspaper where I was working nights, saved me from choking.
On Thursday, we will celebrate the first birthday of Laura-Elyse Caroline Snyder, the beautiful little girl who has added incredible joy not only to Rob and me but also to her grandparents and other family, especially big brother Isaac Snyder and big sisters Tori Ford, Claire Ford and Gwen Ford, our children from our first marriages.
If Rick hadn’t acted as he did, there would not have been a friendship between Rob and me, no marriage for us a few years later, and no little Laura Snyder. As thankful as I was to Rick right after he rescued me, I feel even more in his debt today.
Here’s what happened to me:
As usual, I was trying to do at least two things at once. At a little after 7 p.m., I was at work in the newsroom, reading through a reporter’s story on my computer and eating a baked potato I’d just picked up at Wendy’s.
When the phone on my desk rang, I added a third task: Catching up with the Star’s life section editor Frances Lowe, who was driving back after a long weekend. “You haven’t missed anything interesting,” I assured her. “It’s been perfectly quiet, no drama, nothing.”
She asked if I had any thoughts on possible feature articles to pursue for Father’s Day. I love to talk about story ideas so I excitedly launched into a tale of a dad I’d met at the park who was taking care of several youngsters as well as a feisty border collie. By this time, I’d nearly finished my potato and was chewing a piece of the peel when something went wrong.
Suddenly, I felt my air supply cut off completely – the picture that shot into my mind at the time was of a hand covering the nozzle of a vacuum hose. I dropped the phone. It seemed like my range of vision narrowed and I knew automatically that I had only moments to get the help I needed or I’d be dead on the floor of the newsroom.
The newsroom was mostly empty – all the day-shift people had gone, several on the night shift were at dinner, and reporters working late were out at meetings. From my seat, I could see that the paper’s city editor was at his desk and I moved toward him.
I couldn’t make a sound, but I waved my hands and pointed to my throat. I couldn’t believe it, but my colleague didn’t understand what was wrong. I saw panic on his face, but he didn’t lift the phone or move toward me to help.
Luckily for me, his increasingly frantic questions – “Are you OK? Do you need help?” – did attract the attention of others in the room. Soon, I heard one of the staff photographers behind me and I felt a sense of relief wash over me.
Rick put his hands on my abdomen and I heard him say he wasn’t sure how exactly to position his fists. I remember feeling so grateful that someone was at least trying to save my life. I remember thinking that if this incident did kill me, at least I would have gone out with someone making an effort to keep me around.
His second jab around my middle managed to free the piece of potato and I took in the biggest breath I could. I felt a huge wave of relief that my life in an instant had been restored.
I thanked Rick and sat back down at my desk, shaking a bit but fine. I couldn’t believe how quickly the situation had changed from calm to chaos and then back again. Then I remembered the phone. Frances was still on the line, not sure what to make from the sounds she’d heard and my abrupt departure from the conservation. I got to tell her there had been a bit of drama in the newsroom after all.
Even though he had never performed the Heimlich maneuver before, Rick had been assigned to take photos at a Red Cross training class and so had seen the procedure demonstrated.
I also think his background as a photographer may have made a difference. Good photographers’ instincts drive them to move toward action – even when what’s happening is scary or unfamiliar.
Rick’s good deed earned him some razzing from our co-workers. For a few days, anytime he entered the newsroom, someone would invariably start to hum the Mighty Mouse theme, “Here He Comes to Save the Day.”
Poor Rick, but lucky me.
Want to help?
Dr. Henry Heimlich is credited with inventing the Heimlich maneuver in 1974. It’s estimated that the procedure’s abdominal thrusts have saved the lives of 100,000 potential choking victims.
According to the National Safety Council, choking is the nation’s No. 4 cause of accidental death. Each year, only poisonings, motor vehicle crashes and falls kill more people in the United States.
A how-to from the HeimlichInstitute:
A choking victim can’t speak or breathe and needs help immediately. Follow these steps to help:
Grab the choking person from behind. Push your fist against the victim’s upper abdomen – below the ribcage and above the navel.
Grasp your fist with your other hand and press into their upper abdomen with a quick upward thrust.
Do not squeeze the ribcage; confine the force of the thrust to your hands.
Repeat until object is expelled.
For an unconscious victim or when the rescuer can’t reach around the victim:
Place the victim on their back.
Facing the victim, kneel astride the victim’s hips. With one of your hands on top of the other, place the heel of your bottom hand on the upper abdomen below the rib cage and above the navel.
Use your body weight to press into the victim’s upper abdomen with a quick upward thrust. Repeat until object is expelled.
If the victim has not recovered, proceed with CPR. The victim should then see a physician immediately.