Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dying of Embarrassment

A few weeks back, while recounting the tale of my spectacular typo in an post on misspelling foreign words, I consoled myself, “No one dies of embarrassment.” Yesterday, an incident at a luncheon reminded me that yes, under certain circumstances you actually can.

I was at a UMW lunch, and our speaker had just finished the bulk of her talk and remarked that since she sells Mary Kay cosmetics, the person who had invited her asked that she also talk for a few minutes about skin care. Suddenly there was a minor stampede to the back of the room. The speaker looked a bit chagrined, until it was announced that one of our members was choking. Another member who was a nurse got up to help, and very shortly we got the news that it was okay, the person was speaking and breathing normally.

Later I spoke for a bit with R, the woman who had been choking. She said that she felt very embarrassed by all the fuss and that she had been trying to head quietly to the restroom so as not to cause a scene.

“People die that way!” I told her, as C, our nurse, stood by and nodded. “There is no reason for you to be embarrassed. We’re just happy that you are all right.”

If you are choking, the last thing that should be on your mind is embarrassment. I mean that in the sense of you shouldn’t even be entertaining the idea that you can be embarrassed by a medical emergency. I don’t mean that the last thought you ever have before you pass out quietly where no one can see you and help should be “It would be so embarrassing to make a fuss.” People aren’t going to care if you create a stir by needing to have the Heimlich maneuver performed on you, but they are going to care if you die. So, yeah, make a fuss. Attract attention. Then put both hands to your throat in the universal signal of choking. Better yet, learn to perform the Heimlich maneuver on yourself (and others).

Don’t die of embarrassment.

(There's a history of the Heimlich maneuver here.)

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