The wrong side of Self Aid Buddy Care

  • Published
  • By Ed O'neill
  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs
Last week I made my annual sojourn to two of my favorite places, Big Bend National Park and Terlingua, Texas.

Big Bend is the largest park in the federal system with 800,000 acres of desert, rivers, hot springs, canyons and pine forest. It boasts miles of hiking trails, a diverse wildlife, rock formations that constantly change, and weather that just can't be beat this time of year.

To say it's a beautiful place is an understatement. I highly recommend at least one trip for everyone.

I travel six and a half hours every year to attend the annual Original Terlingua International Championship Chili Cook-off; this year marking the 45th year. Although I haven't competed in a while, I still volunteer to work the gates, provide security assistance and perform a myriad of other tasks when asked. Oh yes, I also kibitz with friends and cooks alike.

This year was looking like any other when near disaster struck.

A good friend of mine was dining with her husband and another couple when a piece of food lodged in her throat. While signaling she was choking, her face started to turn blue. Her husband immediately tried the Heimlich maneuver, but it didn't work. Another patron, who stood a good 6 foot, 4 inches, stepped in to help and literally wore himself out trying the procedure, but my friend continued to turn a darker shade of blue.

Someone else then forced my friend's jaw apart and cleared the obstruction from her throat. Other than foaming at the mouth and turning a darker shade of blue, she was still unresponsive. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of trying, her airway was cleared and she became responsive.

The next day, she had problems breathing and we transported her to the emergency corps in town. They gave her a check up, administered oxygen and advised her to get checked at a hospital and X-rayed.

With Terlingua being 100 miles from anywhere and without the medical facilities found in larger communities, she would have had to travel to the closest town, Alpine, which is a good two-hour drive. So, she opted to wait until they returned home to Austin before going to the hospital.

On the return trip to Austin, about 10 hours away, they had to stop several times so she could stand up and walk around to catch her breath.

After arriving in Austin she went to the doctor for an X-ray, and the doctor discovered two broken ribs. He said it may have been the result of poorly administered Heimlich maneuver. He suggested that instead of pushing up, the person trying the Heimlich on her was actually pushing in; no faults here, at least they tried. However, this not only caused the broken ribs, but it may have contributed to the obstruction actually going further down her throat making it extremely difficult to remove.

At any rate, she's home and doing fine, except for the soreness. The ribs will heal and I'm very thankful that she's going to be alright.

So what's the moral of the story? Pay attention to your Self Aid and Buddy Care classes. Learn the Heimlich maneuver so if the time arrives to use it, you can perform it properly and lessen the chances of breaking ribs, and possibly cause irreparable harm. Who knows, you could even save a life.

By the way, did I mention the wind and sand storm we had encountered during our trip? It blew in at 45 mph while we were trying to enjoy a catfish fry. Talk about true grit. Those of you who have been to the AOR know exactly what I mean.