Horse pills, my Vitamin C. Two back to back down the gullet. A mere two of some 20 vitamins and supplements. I do this every day.
“Water will help.” The two horse pills are lodged in my throat. “Drink water.” I quickly down an entire cup.
“They’re not moving. Is this really happening?”
I gulp a second cup of water.
Will the pills go down? Am I really not able to breathe? Or is it my imagination?
I reach for a breath, gasping. No air is flowing. It’s really happening. There’s no air passing through my throat. INHALE. INHALE. I try. The airway is obstructed.
It’s really happening. This is real. I can’t breathe. I walk into my bedroom, for what I don’t remember, lightheaded and woozy. Facing squarely: no breathing. “Am I dying? Is this how I’m going to die? Fallen into sleep from choking? Found dead and alone in a studio apartment?”
Fear. INHALE. INHALE. Still no air. Still no breath. Gasping.
Don’t panic. Do what’s necessary.
Fear. I can’t breathe. This is REAL. Elemental. What do I do? I live alone. The world around me recedes and compresses. Compresses into a singular need: for breath.
This is serious.
I go into the kitchen. Not for more water. Didn’t help. I’m trying to fix the problem myself. Involve no one else. Burden no one else. Childhood haunting even now. The disadvantage of living alone. Everything I have to do on my own. If I can’t get breathing, if I drop into terror and crisis, I’ll go next door. She’s always been nice to me. The only tenant here who has been. She’ll help. The others, I wouldn’t trust them to help or care
I know she’s home. I’ll indicate I’m choking. Have her wrap her arms around from behind and thrust. Hurry hurry hurry.
I read that if you’re ever alone and choking, lean the stomach against an edge of a counter or chair and push. The self-induced Heimlich move.
I press my body against the edge of the kitchen sink. Still not breathing. Still no air. The world outside fading. Control the panic. The fear is REAL. The situation REAL. I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!
I lean hard over the sink. Coughing coughing coughing. Hard coughing. Like retching. All-consuming coughing. Unconscious coughing. The body giving its all to dislodge an obstruction.
They’re still stuck. The pills aren’t moving. How much time have I got let until I have to involve the neighbor? How many moments? Each moment not breathing is a moment of greater urgency.
I remain angled over the stainless-steel kitchen sink, belly pressing hard. Body in full-on all-out effort to move the blockage.
COUGHing COUGHing COUGHing RAW VIOLENT COUGHING.
I don’t panic. I’m QUITE aware I’ve got a problem. A serious one. A part of me stays clear-headed and problem-solving.
But this fear is real. The REALITY of not breathing: real. COUGH COUGH COUGHing.
Suddenly: POP! Two horse pills fly out. Like miniature balls shot from a cannon. They land unceremoniously on the counter. Attached to each other along their oblong sides. Like Siamese twins. They’re not dissolved at all. They’re hard, firm, thick and somehow got joined at the hip in the journey down the throat.
I pry them apart. Cough and cough more. The body clearing out the mucus and saliva trapped around the obstruction. The body restoring itself with no instruction or thought on my part.
Cough coughing coughing and breathing in air, gulping in air, swallowing in air, restoring air back down the throat and into the lungs.
All outside my control or directives. All at the command of Mother Nature and the life force. Deep breaths, drawn in, the throat clearing out the mucus.
The crisis calms. Now, my consciousness returning, I feel it, an acute rawness and pain in the throat. I feel it, the adrenalin and fear. Or perhaps it’s simply registering in a way it couldn’t when the obstruction happened.
My body trembles. Shivers. Shakes. Like immediate scars of terror when the breath is taken and the primal fight to restore it begun. The beautiful fight for life.