StarburstThey say we can learn from anything and everything. So what was there to learn from a brush with death courtesy of Starburst sweets?

That sounds a little dramatic, so let me set the scene. We are going back to October 2014, where I was in New York with Christopher Howard, supporting Chris as he delivered an amazing weekend of powerful transformation for several hundred keen New Yorkers.

So Chris is on stage doing his thing, and I’m at the enrolments table as we get ready. Mike, also at enrolments, offers me a Starburst which I take and start to chew. I hear Chris say something on stage which makes me thing we are about to have a possible rush of people with questions, and so I need to swallow quickly (for it would not do to be chewing candy while speaking with our guests).
So of course, the darned thing resists, getting stuck.
Well and truly stuck.
Not moving and I’m-not-breathing level of stuck!

My first thought is “Hmm, how do I let Mike know I need the Heimlich manoeuvre whilst simultaneously nonchalantly strolling to the door so we can get outside and not disturb anyone?” obviously that doesn’t happen. You know those daft comedies where someone is choking and signals our hapless hero for help, only the hero can’t figure out what’s being asked and comic chaos ensues? Yeah, that happens in real life too, it transpires! So anyone, once it is established that I’m not OK Mike gets down to the Heimlich, although of course by this time much of the audience has noticed something is up, and start coming over too – fortunately there are a few trained medical professionals including one HUGE guy who steps in and delivers the necessary force, for which I am extremely grateful.

Pretty quickly the room goes back to normal, Chris gets the audience back into a good state and on with the show, and I am back to full strength.

In the immediate aftermath I realised a few things –

  • I’ve trained in First Aid, held appropriate certification and did the retests for about 15 years, and know how to do a Heimlich on oneself. However, in the moment my mind went blank and rather than recall the details of the Heimlich (which admittedly I have not given thought to for many year), all I could remember in great detail exactly was what the Starburst looked like after being unwrapped and prior to being eaten!
  • The comedic attempts-to-signal-for-help-discreetly-which-nobody-can-understand really does happen in real life!
  • No life-flashing-before-my-eyes, and no feeling of panic, just a detached calmness, which was interesting and welcome;
  • In case there was ever any doubt, I truly am 100% British – the very first words out of my mouth as soon as the Starburst was successfully dislodged? “Sorry about that…”

However, as I thought about the whole situation again a few weeks later, I realised there was actually some very important things to learn from this.

  • Learning is an ongoing process. It is OK to learn something once, or even several times. But if you don’t revise it or practise it from time to time, you will start to forget it. Of course, we don’t realise we’ve forgotten until we come to need to use it. That’s why airline pilots has to resit their test regularly to make sure they still know all their emergency drills, for example.
  • When we need help, there is nothing wrong with asking for it – indeed, that is the only sensible thing to do for nobody gets far by pretending everything is OK. That may avoid the perceived embarrassment of asking for help in the short term, but it doesn’t make the problem go away and simply allows things to get worse and worse. Of course, when asking for help, we need to cut to the chase and be direct. Just as not asking for help doesn’t serve us, nor does seeking help through vague hints and suggestions. Be direct, be clear, ask for exactly what you need.
    Of course, you must also make sure you ask the right person.
  • No matter what is happening, the person who can remain calm will be the person most guaranteed to be able to work out exactly what they need and to solicit the help they require. Losing one’s head and rushing around in a panic may feel like it is relieving stress, but it just stops us from finding the answers we so desperately seek.
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Each one of these had a direct bearing on my situation. Had I kept up a regular review of my First Aid training, I may well have remembered enough to have helped myself. Had I decided to avoid embarrassment and not ask for help, well, it’s pretty clear what would have happened. Likewise if I had not been direct in indicating my need for assistance, valuable time would have been lost. And had I panicked, that would most definitely have caused me more problems such as using up my remaining oxygen more quickly, leaving people confused as to what was going on thus delaying help, and even getting in the way of the person helping.

So, in short –

  1. Regularly revise things which are important.
  2. Always ask for help when you first need it.
    1. Work out exactly what you need. What is the problem, what do have, and what do you need.
    2. Be clear and direct when asking for help – ask early and ask for exactly what you want.
    3. Ask the right person.
  3. Remain calm and clear-headed – it will make it much easier to work out what you need, and make it easier for others to help.

Oh, and always chew properly before swallowing!

So what do YOU think? Leave a comment and let me know!