Biting off more than I can chew … or swallow

The international sign for choking! And stubborn Germans refusing to ask for help.

“Well, the good news is that Work Wife is trained in first aid,” I thought last week at my desk. “The bad news is when you pass out, you won’t be able to tell her it’s because you’re choking on food.”

Over the past month or so I’ve made an effort to eat slower at meals: Steering away from “hand food” (like sandwiches), which I tend to wolf down. Setting the silverware back on the table between bites. Actually paying attention to eating, instead of trying to work/read/drive at the same time.

I’d like to say it’s because I’m practicing “mindful eating,” but (a) I hate the word “mindfulness,” fraught as it is with New Age intention-without-activity, and (b) it’s really because I was getting self-conscious about how much faster I eat than most people. As in, twice as fast.

There was another, more embarrassing, reason, too: I had choked on a sandwich awhile previously, when I was eating and driving. At first I tried to blame it on the sponge dough of the sandwich bun, which had … somehow expanded?, but the truth was, I paying more attention to driving than how much I had (or hadn’t) chewed.

I considered whether I would be able to give myself the Heimlich on my steering wheel, and envisioned it somehow setting off the airbag. So I decided the next-best course of action would be to try to force the food down with big gulps of the soda I had in the car. If it really was the bun, then the extra liquid would make it squishier, et voila, I’d be saved. The carbonation burned like crazy and I thought it wasn’t going to work, but after a moment things were back to normal. (More or less, anyway—my throat was mad at me for a week.)

“Grown-ups do not choke on their food,” I told myself. “Pay attention to how you’re eating.” But I was still looking for something to blame besides, well, my inability to feed myself: Maybe I was like those people in an article one of my clients ran last winter, whose esophagus had narrowed! Alas, that could not be my scapegoat; I would have experienced the stricture all the time, not just random moments.

So I started pacing myself. When we went out to eat, other people at the table would finish before I did and note how rare that was. It was all going so well!  Then last week I tried to squeeze in lunch before a series of meetings, so I ate at my desk, reading emails, and …

Holy [dirty word], not again. That’s actually what I thought first, then the bit about Work Wife being trained in first aid. (She’s an actual instructor for American Red Cross.) Then I got embarrassed, and mad at myself, and sat bolt upright (but still facing away from everyone), looking up, just in case the new  posture would clear a previously unavailable pathway. Nope.

Do not panic, that will only make things worse. Just go up and tap her on the back and … holy crap, I really can’t talk. Maybe make the international sign for choking. If I can breathe through my nose, am I really choking? Let’s put off making a scene for as long as possible. I don’t want to be Heimliched here. Could I ask her to go to a conference room?”

Back when I was dating Trainer Brian, he choked on a piece of steak one night at home. I had to give him the Heimlich and it was almost comical to watch the chunk of food go flying airborne out of his mouth and onto the carpet several feet away. (Me, aloud: “That really does work!”) And then while we were still having our “whew!” recovery from that OMG moment, we realized that his cocker spaniel had gone over and scarfed up the offending piece of steak, like any other food scrap that might have fallen on the floor.

I would not be having a moment like that in front of my co-workers. I would not bother Work Wife until I was ready to drop! I got up and poured a healthy slug’s worth of water from the cooler into a glass, then inobtrusively went into a conference room to try to replicate what had worked successfully before. Several wince-worthy gulps later, I was back at my desk, kicking myself.

So: I’m not only paying attention to what I’m eating, but how. This is a concept that most people master around — what, age 2? — but apparently I need a refresher.

WHAT SAM WORE: 7-21-12
The shirt: Slim-fit V-neck T-shirt by BDG,
from Urban Outfitters, Scottsdale Waterfront.
The shorts: Cotton cargos, from Uniqlo, New York.
The shoes: Custom All-Stars from Converse, which I made on

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