One mum’s shocking experience with her choking newborn showed her that CPR can mean the difference between life and death- and not learning the basics can be a fatal mistake.
The strangest thing was what an ordinary day it was. Early afternoon, the sun coming through our high windows warm and clear, and me, just slouching around on the couch in leggings and a singlet top that had seen better days. I was tired; of course I was tired. I had just become a mum to another baby, and he was just two weeks old. He’d been snuffling and congested for a couple of days, in fact he’d been a snuffly baby since birth. I didn’t think much of it. I mean, I was barely thinking about anything beyond the next breastfeed or whether there were any Tim Tams left. But even had I been thinking clearly, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. My daughter had been a noisy breather too, and when she’d been congested like this I’d always solved her sinus problems with a couple of drops of saline dripped into her nose to break up the blockage.
So, like I’d done a thousand times with her, I rolled up a towel and propped my new bub up on the ridge so his snot would drain forward. I didn’t have a small syringe, so I shrugged and loaded up an old Panadol syringe with a dose of salt dissolved in warmish water. Like I said, I’ve done it dozens of times before; but this time it went horribly, nighmarishly wrong, in a matter of heartstopping seconds.
When I bent over Louis and squirted a shot of the saline into his tiny nose I was pretty much on autopilot. Which is why it took me those extra, precious seconds to realise that his tiny face was shockingly red. Alarmed, I squeezed his little body and felt around his ribs. His squishy body was stiff through his black-and-white-striped onesie, his soft tummy a hard little lump. He had stopped breathing.
All time stopped. Somehow, I’d squirted enough salt water into his nasal passage to plug his nose completely; Horrified, I watched him struggle to expel whatever lump of mucous was blocking his breathing; he could not. He was going purple now, and his neck muscles strained as he thrashed around to try and get some air into his body. His brand-new blue eyes, barely even able to focus yet, found mine and they were bulging with a fright I will see forever. Absurdly, his mouth was open; he just didn’t know how to breathe through his mouth yet, as babies don’t. I couldn’t believe my baby, the baby I had known for just two weeks, was choking to death right in front of me, with his mouth wide open. I had only just met him, and now I was about to lose him.
Two months before I had Louis, I had done a course at CPR Kids. I had done it to prepare for this moment, this exact terror, and now it was being tested. As I squeezed Louis’ sticklike ribs, it came back to me; prop the child forward over your knee, adminster back blows. I did it, but it wasn’t working. It wasn’t working. Now I was screaming at him ‘Breathe! Breathe, Louis, breathe!’ But he wasn’t breathing. His funeral started flashing through my mind; I saw a tiny coffin, the size of a loaf of bread; I saw his dad sobbing at a gravesite, saw myself giving a speech about how I had tried, tried, tried so hard to save him.
He still had taken no breath. I had my phone, charged, by my knee. I flipped it up as I closed my mouth over Louis’ nose, vaguely remembering advice about sucking the snot out with your own inhalation, like a bird would with its delicate babies. I sucked, but confusedly and not hard enough; at the same time I dialled 000. I couldn’t understand how the afternoon had so suddenly come to this, me in my old leggings trying to save my baby. The sun was still high and clear, the house still empty, but my baby was dying in my arms. In the back of my mind I wondered if he has started to sustain brain damage yet, the lack of oxygen, how long had it been?
I had the operator on the line now; as she talked me through my address and found the closest ambulance, I tried again to follow the lessons I learned at CPR Kids. This time, when I threw him forward, a huge clump of hardened snot flew forward too. I clocked it landing on the carpet next to his sister’s abandoned hair elastics and wondered ‘is it enough?’ I yelled at my phone that I thought the baby might be breathing again; I was too scared to stop the back blows in case it wasn’t over. I thought it might never be over.
I felt the tiny body draw one shuddering breath. It was a long time before a second one came; but it did. I could hear the ambulance now, the cry of the siren rising above the afternoon sounds of the suburb. The 000 operator timed the breaths with me; somewhere now there lives a recording of me screaming, screaming down the phone line that my baby was choking, then the sound of me begging Louis to breathe. ‘Breathe! Come on, buddy! Breathe!’ I was screaming. How grateful I am to her for her calmness that day, how often I think of her and wonder how harrowing calls like mine must be.
If I had not done a CPR course, my baby would not have stood a chance that warm summer afternoon in Wahroonga. I would have lost him; as it was, it was a combination of luck and lessons that saved him. If you can do a course, you must; if you cannot, watch YouTube videos or online tutorials until you have some idea of what to do. When it’s late at night or when Louis has a cold and snuffles now, I still see his tiny face, his eyes popping out from his purple face and blazing with fear. I’ll see it for a long time yet.
Would you know what to do in an emergency? If you’ve been meaning to do a First Aid Course, make it a priority, as it just might mean the difference between life and death. Click here to view First Aid courses in the NSM Directory.