How To Make Friends and Choke on Toothpaste


So, I was cleaning my teeth – pretty standard morning stuff. When I inhaled. And somehow sucked a glob of toothpaste into my windpipe. As I stood gasping by the flung-open window, my toddler ran into the bathroom. I looked at his worried little eyes. Could he perform a Heimlich? I wondered.

Enemy at the Pastes

I’ve always thought “glob” was a pretty distasteful word, and my goodness was I forming a strong dislike to it now. The beastly little goo-bullet was firmly stuck in my air hole and my increasingly desperate coughs were not dislodging it. As if to add insult to injury, the gloopy missile started emitting fumes into my nose so I could barely breathe through that either.

I did not want to be minty fresh. I just wanted to be able to breathe.

“Mummy, water?” said my toddler.

I nodded vigorously, with what I hope was both a praise-conveying and reassuring expression, but fear was more of a grimace of chemical poisoning.

For now, the glob was burning my throat with its “advanced formula” and the water I was sipping was not helping any.

“Mummy, cough?” said my poor baby.

Looking at his beautiful little face, I decided I had to take action. I was still only able to breathe thinly through my nose – which my family will testify has never been my forte, despite its size. My adenoidectomy as a child didn’t seem to have touched the sides.

I felt like I was going to suffocate alone in the house with my child.

So I scooped him up and legged it up the road. By bad luck, I knew that my two closest neighbours were both abroad. I couldn’t talk, so how could I call an ambulance?

I needed direct action.

At the top of the road, I came to a door. I banged on it. A lady holding a baby answered the door and I signed for her to hit me on the back.


She did.

Again, I signalled.


I shook my head.

She ushered me in and I started coughing even more ferociously while she showed my toddler into the sitting room where hers was sitting and went to boil the kettle in case some warm water would help.

My eyes were streaming and I was hypnobirthing myself into calmness as I methodically tried to force out the enemy at the oesophagus.

Meanwhile, being English, I was shrugging exaggeratedly and smiling wryly, as if to say: “Toothpaste! Who’d have thought it? Perhaps I have an inadequate swallow? An irregular gullet? A prankster of an epiglottis? ‘Hey, I’m here to stop stuff going down your windpipe! Or am I?‘ Do excuse me while I die quietly here in your kitchen. I’m terribly sorry about the mess.”

As you’ll have surmised from the fact I am writing this, a combination of near-death determination in my coughing technique and sipping warm water eventually eased the blockage.

I could finally say to this lovely woman, who I hope will now become my friend:

“Thank you.”

Since writing this, my friend and paediatric nurse Amy at 2boys1mum has informed me that you should “Whack yourself against a wall or Heimlich yourself on the back of a chair”. So there you go!

Or, you could just not inhale toothpaste…


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