mom holding sick sonThe Day I Didn’t Know CPR – and Should Have

Learning CPR and First Aid is something on the checklist for many expecting mothers. I was no different. It makes sense to have the knowledge and skills to save someone’s life and this becomes such a prominent need when we think about the fragility of our newborn babies

I’m not sure why I didn’t get certified ahead of time. My pregnancy was a whirlwind of a new marriage, new home, adjusting to a whole new world transitioning from a career life to expecting mom.

In all of that- the check in that box on my list of mommy-to-be-to-dos just didn’t get checked.

Then my son was born: healthy, beautiful, perfect. The next whirlwind began as a mom to an infant and before I knew it a rumbling toddler.

That box never got checked!

child crying

Signs of Getting Sick

So it was a day of errands, then a birthday lunch with my boy. As we stood in line at the print shop, he was fussy and impatient. While you expect a certain level of resistance from a near-two-year-old in line, this was more.

My mommy senses assumed he was coming down with something though he had no symptoms. I figured we would end the errands, have my birthday lunch and head home.

The Signs Before A Child Gets Sick

Every mom develops a 6th sense about their children. They can tell when something isn’t right: coming down with a cold, something bothering them at school, or worried about their dog. Even with a 6th sense, we can sometimes overlook signs that precede a cold or flu.

Pay attention to these signs if you think your child is coming down with something:

  • Unusually cranky and can’t seem to get comfortable
  • Temperamental and overly emotional
  • Decreased appetite
  • Clinging to you more than normal
  • Flush and sweaty but not a noticeable change in temperature

These might merely be symptoms of a bad or unusual day but the often reflect that your child is fighting something like a cold or the flu.

Order’s Up, Time to Eat

That’s when all hell broke loose.

It was at the deli we frequented near our home. I sat in the booth with my son in the high chair next to me. It was lunch hour – the place was bustling with the lunch chatter making it hard to hear even the waitress taking our order.

Chicken strips and steak fries.

It was an easy order that we would share. Matthew fussed. I hoped our lunch would arrive quickly to get him home for a nap. Still, nothing seemed out of the ordinary other than having a tired, cranky kid who might be coming down with something.

Our food arrived and his eyes lit up. I handed him a fry as I started to cut a chicken strip into smaller pieces.

Matthew put the fry in his Mouth. I glanced overseeing a blank look take overwhelm his pudgy face. His mouth opened, the fry fell to the ground and he became stiff, sliding down the seat – almost rigid and completely unaware.

choking toddler

Assessing a First Aid Emergency Situation

The moment that an emergency arises is usually filled with confusion. People don’t want to overreact or interfere in someone else’s business but can’t help but look, wonder and offer help (if you’re lucky). The first thing you need to do in any first aid emergency is to assess the situation. This means confirming you are not in any personal danger by remaining in the area and then considering all possible causes to what is happening to the victim.

Moments of Chaos

The first moments of what happened with Matthew went by as if hours passed with nothing happening. I had no idea what was going on. Pure panic. Fear welled up inside of me as I knew I was absolutely helpless in this situation. There wasn’t even a brainstorm idea that came to mind for me to start with.

The box that never got checked for my prenatal CPR class suddenly became the most important class I never took.

Normally calm under pressure and crisis situations… I lost it! Shrill screams and cries for help launched from my lungs across the restaurant. “Someone help my baby!” I cried.

Silence. Suddenly the entire busy restaurant was silent with a room full of blank stares dissecting my interruption of their lunch.

Wait staff stopped in their tracks, trays of food and drinks still balanced in their hands. A woman emerged from the blank stares, approaching me as I was cradling my son, lifeless in my arms.

example of Heimlich maneuver

Doing Something is Always Better than Nothing

When you don’t know what to do, doing something is always better than standing there praying. If the only thing I could do was to scream, then that was what I would do. Most people are afraid to jump in and help because they fear they will not do it right. Perhaps they never had a class like myself and have no idea what to do or maybe they worry that they forgot it. While the rule of first aid and CPR is to never do more harm while helping, in most cases, just standing around is doing more harm than anything else.

A Bystander in My Own Life

The moment you are rendered helpless in an emergency first aid scenario you become nothing more than an observer in your own life. While you may be there physically and emotionally, you have no ability to alter the outcome. Prayer is your only friend as you watch others take charge of the situation. There is no arguing with them; if you knew what to do you would have done it. All you can do is hope they have the answers.

“I’m an ER nurse,” the woman calmly stated, reaching for my son.

In a smooth swift motion, my toddler was balanced over her knee as she patted his back, trying to dislodge anything lodged in his throat. Nothing came out. His condition didn’t change.

She started to smack his back harder. Still nothing.

From behind, I could hear someone making their way through the crowd. He was an ER doctor who had been having coffee at the Starbucks next door. With a quick exchange between the nurse and him, my son was in his arms. He began to do the Heimlich maneuver on my son’s still rigid but lifeless body. Several attempts later, my toddler went limp on the doctor’s arms, blood trickling down from his lips.

He was gone. I stood there, total and complete confusion. Overwhelm.

How could my son just die, right there? On the floor of a deli in a stranger’s arms?

My heart sank. My head spun, catching glimpses of blank stares in the room.

“He’s not blue.” A soft calm voice stated from somewhere near me.


The doctor, still holding my son, “He’s not blue.” I had no idea what that meant.

He carried him over, placing my son in my arms. “He’s not blue. He’s breathing.”

My son hadn’t choked though under the circumstances it was easily assumed that he had. Instead, he suffered a febrile seizure as the result of a spike in fever. He had indeed been getting sick.

Right or Wrong: Grateful for Those Willing to Help

In this day and age, most strangers don’t step in to help in first aid and emergency situations out of fear. The first fear is for their own safety with many different diseases that can be contracted in the moments of rendering aid without first aid protective gear such as gloves and breathing masks. The other is the fear of being sued by someone who claims they harmed them in the process.

The ER nurse who stepped in to help assumed my son was choking. She missed the step of assessment of looking in his airway. Maybe some people would hold that against her. All I know is she came to my son’s aid like an angel appearing out of nowhere. To this day she is a stranger as I never got her name or the doctor’s.

checking choking child's airway

The Calm After Chaos

I’m told that even those who are trained in emergency care feel completely overwhelmed when it comes to a family member. I suppose I can relate to that. Even as a practicing auto insurance agent, I couldn’t quite remember what to do after being involved in my own accident. My son was safely cradled in my arms again with his chest going up and down, breathing slowly but still not awake.

I was still confused but so eternally grateful for those who helped. I sat there as the paramedics arrived and we were loaded into the ambulance. My son laid on my chest, in such a deep sleep. I was exhausted but couldn’t close my eyes to take them off of him.

When I see videos like the one below. I am reminded of the day I wish I knew what to do. I am overcome with emotions just like that Mom who couldn’t bear to watch and the father pacing in unconscionable panic.

And I am reminded of the willingness of a stranger to step in and do what he could. We didn’t really need CPR that day though it may have been necessary under slightly different circumstances. I wish I had taken the class to have the knowledge to know how to assess a first aid emergency and administer the proper treatment.

Paying it Forward

I am now a CPR/First Aid Instructor. And while there are those who look at these videos and criticize people for incorrect technique, I will remind all of us: stepping in to do what you can, though imperfect can still save a life.

It is when we are too afraid to make a mistake that we stand there, bystanders to crisis forever wondering why we didn’t help. Check out our guides on choking and CPR to brush up on the current techniques. Make the time to take a class and get certified. Maybe it won’t be your child, but it could be his best friend that you end up saving.

Do you know CPR and First Aid? Have you ever had to use it? Please share your stories to help raise awareness and courage for the need.

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