Friday, May 27, 2016

The Heimlich Maneuver

(I edited this to add this picture at the top in case someone was actually trying to figure out how to do the Heimlich maneuver and not just here for my palaver.)

This post isn't as unrelated to my last post on Sadiq Khan as it might appear. I happened to click on my Google alert for him, and after reading an article about how he is ordering a review of London's capacity to respond to terrorism, particularly in how well the city is able to respond to multiple simultaneous attacks, I happened to see an interesting sidebar in the Guardian on how Dr. Henry Heimlich, the man whose name is attached to a technique to save people from choking, actually had to use the technique for the first time at the ripe old age of 96 on one of his table companions at dinner.

Principle of the Heimlich Maneuver-CDang

I'm sure we've all heard of the Heimlich Maneuver, but if you're like me, you never really stopped to think about the man behind the name, or even less to wonder if he was still around. Apparently he is, and a very healthy 96, too. Although he can't exactly be said to have "invented it", he certainly can be credited with promulgating it. It came as quite a surprise to me that he only first described it in 1974.

Wikipedia thinks fit to call this technique "abdominal thrusts", apparently not willing to give him absolute credit for it. The practice has even come under some scrutiny. Wikipedia says that from 1985-2005, the Heimlich Maneuver was the only recommended treatment for choking, but has since been downgraded. For a person who is conscious, we're instructed to first try back pats, and only if that doesn't work go on to the abdominal thrusts that Heimlich advocated. It's also better to try less aggressive techniques with children.

Heimlich himself has fallen a bit into disrepute with some. Roger White, MD, who apparently has been connected with the Mayo Clinic and the American Heart Association, is quoted in the Wikipedia piece as saying "There was never any science here. Heimlich overpowered science all along the way with his slick tactics and intimidation, and everyone, including us at the AHA, caved in."

Be that as it may, the technique undoubtedly saved a life at his hands this week, and no doubt countless others. I found this image on that same Wikipedia page of a U.S. Medic teaching the Heimlich Maneuver to Afghans:

                                                                                                             John T. Stamm

I have even practiced the Heimlich Maneuver once myself, or at least some variation of it. I was at a Thanksgiving dinner with my family, and my mother, who was sitting next to me, started acting as though she was choking. Fools rush in, as they say, and from my vague conception of it, I did what I think was fairly creditable imitation of the procedure. Unfortunately--well, fortunately--she wasn't really choking, but couldn't get the words out to tell me. All ended well. The upside is, I got some practice. Whether this anecdote makes you feel like you'd like to sit close to me at a meal or as far away from me as possible is your call. Safe to say, you would be better off sitting next to Dr. Heimlich.

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