I choked on salad dressing and almost died

Can you choke to death on balsamic and olive oil salad dressing? Here’s the story of how I almost found out.

Last Sunday I did the single-guy thing of eating dinner while watching television. Someday I will have a wife and children and I will eat with them. I look forward to it. Until that day, I dine with the DVR versions of Mad Men, The Office and Friday Night Lights. It beats eating alone in the kitchen, fending off thoughts like, “This is probably how serial killers eat” and “If this dinner was a movie scene it would be scored with the sad Rocky-alone-in-his-dingy-apartment theme from Rocky I.”

So I was watching DIRECTV’s season finale of Friday Night Lights while enjoying baked chicken and a small salad with a balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing when the unthinkable happened. I later Googled it and could not find a similar occurrence. As far as I know, I am the only person who has experienced this.

I took one last bite of salad, a bite laden with the soupy remnants of vinegar and oil at the bottom of the bowl, walked to the kitchen, swallowed and could not breathe. The oil and vinegar formed a hot, liquid obstruction in my windpipe. It was like a vapor-lock. As hard as I tried, I could not breathe in or out. I was choking on salad dressing.

Quickly, I ran through my options.

1. I could give myself the Heimlich against a kitchen chair

2. I could go to my roommate Mike for help

I do not remember running from the kitchen to Mike’s recording studio, which is 50 feet away. I just remember making the decision to run and appearing there.

Poor, unsuspecting Mike, with his back to the door, mixing the podcast we had just recorded, was jolted from his work by the desperate gasps of a grown man being physically overpowered by less than a quarter of an ounce of salad dressing.


(Above: My dance partner in the tango of death. Photo by Lamees.(L.Y.S)/Flickr)

Mike said, “What is it?” I pointed at my throat. He asked, “Are you chocking?” I nodded and turned around, presenting myself, as it were, for the Heimlich maneuver.

I often mock Mike in the podcast and in real life about his hypochondria and his general philosophy that most things on earth, from bacteria to spiders to airplanes, exist for the sole purpose of killing him. Never had I been so thankful to be in the presence of someone so obsessed with health.

After four or five pumps, Mike found the sweet spot, and I threw up vinegar and oil into my mouth.

I vividly remember, as I was receiving the Heimlich and still could not breathe, having the following thought. And I swear to God this is true. “I hope I don’t throw up and mess up Mike’s rug.” Only God knows the last time that rug was cleaned – any soap that has ever touched it probably fell there by mistake – but I could not stand the thought of sullying the floor, provided that I was given the opportunity to live.

This is how I know I truly am descended from a people who wrap their furniture in plastic.

My legs shaking, I thanked Mike. We spent about 15 minutes describing what the experience was like from our perspectives. (For a hilarious version of this, listen to this week’s podcast.) Then and there I swore off balsamic vinegar forever, walked to the kitchen, threw the bottle in the recycling bag and began wondering how I would ever repay my roommate.

I am not sure you ever can pay someone back for something like that. So until the day comes when I can afford to install a Grey Goose drinking fountain in the house, the following will have to suffice.

Thank you, Mike, for saving my life.

@joedonatelli

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