Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Choking on a hot dog

Kids are choking on hot dogs!  It must be a slow news day when they haul this one out of the files. Today's news was full of warnings because it seems there is a risk of choking - after all,  a piece of hot dog just fits into a child-size trachea (is this news?). Well, any food can be dangerous if we start using this as a criterion. Orange sections, pieces of macaroni, cut up hamburgers are all "dangerous" shapes. And not just for kids - adults choke on anything and everything - particularly after a couple of martinis. Steak pieces, aspirated because you're talking and eating and laughing and having fun, can kill you just as surely as a piece of wienie can no matter your age. Will every food have to bear some kind of lawyer-approved safety warning?

Here's info from the AP article: Pediatricians Urge Choking Warning Labels on Food

Doctors say high-risk foods, including hot dogs, raw carrots, grapes and apples — should be cut into pea-sized pieces for small children to reduce chances of choking. Some say other risky foods, including hard candies, popcorn, peanuts and marshmallows, shouldn't be given to young children at all.

Federal law requires choking warning labels on certain toys including small balls, balloons and games with small parts. Unless food makers voluntarily put more warning labels on high-risk foods, there should be a similar mandate for food, the pediatrics academy says.

Spare us a regulation dictating the texture of our food. The only really safe food is pureed or at least ground finely like they give to patients in nursing homes whose swallowing mechanism is comprimised. Will we be buying everything in flavored pouches you squeeze into your maw and that slide down easily? Baby food forever.

Choking is a tragic way to die - a bizarre accident. However, there have been far fewer deaths by choking since the advent of the Heimlich maneuver. I worked for Denny's in the 70's when the maneuver was first "discovered" and we trained everyone in the restaurants to do it. We were all overly sensitive to the risk and often too quick to jump on someone and start pounding on them. I can remember having a cold and really coughing hard while about 5 of my colleagues were circling me like sharks, waiting to pounce.  I had to fend them off, managing to say "I've got a cold" between bouts of paroxysmal coughing. Some time later at a meeting I attended in New Orleans, a big tasting session, one of our architects had a serious choking incident and was saved by the district manager who had studied and practiced the maneuver. 
I was shocked to read that the name of the maneuver has been change to "Abdominal Thrusts" because Dr. Heimlich has been discredited recently. Call me dirty minded but the new name calls to mind another manoeuver not of the Heimlich kind. 

The story gets more and more strange:

"One of Heimlich's most outspoken critics is his son, Peter Heimlich, who maintains that his father did not invent the Heimlich Maneuver, but instead stole the idea from another doctor, Edward A. Patrick. The younger Heimlich also claims that another Heimlich innovation, a surgical procedure for esophagus replacement, was actually developed by a Romanian physician, Dr. Dan Gavriliu. "Other than the maneuver for choking," Peter Heimlich says, "virtually all of my father's work has been discredited by every mainstream medical authority."

This is a list of famous people who have died by choking, none on a hot dog. Tennesse Williams choked on a bottle cap (apparently alcohol was involved).

Maybe hot dog packages should bear instructions for the Heimlich er....Abdominal Thrusting procedure.
Now that might stir up a whole new set of problems. 


  1. Anonymous5:03 AM

    However, there have been far fewer deaths by choking since the advent of the Heimlich maneuver.

    Not according to National Safety Council choking death statistics which show no significant variation in choking deaths per capita since before the Heimlich maneuver was introduced to the present.

  2. You forgot Mama Cass, although I think that was also disproved. Why do you suppose Tennessee Williams was eating a bottle cap?
    You had me laughing out loud, again- when you were almost Heimlich maneuvered. What do you think Heimlich had against his father?

  3. Tennessee Williams, as the story goes, would lie on his back, remove the cap from his eye drops and hold it in his teeth while putting eye drops in. One drink too many I guess and a errant lip twitch; zap and the cap is in the craw.

    I don't know what caused the rift in the Heimlich family. Have to read some more about them.

  4. Anonymous6:39 PM

    Here's the website of Heimlich's son. It includes a link to a 2007 ABC 20/20 report by Brian Ross about the father's oddball medical theories including his claim that AIDS is curable by infecting patients with malaria.