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Zucchini ... it was a piece of zucchini, about the size of your thumbnail, in a delicious bite of pasta with spicy shrimp. Once it lodged in my throat, I jumped up from the table and staggered to the hostess stand to ask where the restroom was. However, I couldn't speak. I couldn't speak, cough or get much air. I was choking.
As you have probably guessed, my outcome was a good one, which I credit to both my companions as well as strangers in the restaurant who came to my aid. My friend John leapt up and followed me, knowing I wanted to be alone to hide my embarrassment. Another patron recognized my gasping sounds and urged a young man dining with her to help me.
What happened next is somewhat of a blur. I heard someone ask if I wanted the Heimlich. I nodded, because I could not talk.
I was forcefully yanked off the floor and squeezed by a very powerful person behind me.
Again, and then again.
And then I could breathe.
Everything was suddenly unusually normal. I watched the others finish their meals. We didn't talk about it much. I found out who had helped me and thanked him: "When you think about the good you have done in your life, you can think of me."
In the days since, I have nursed bruised ribs and apologized profusely that this played out in public. What I found out, though, was that in the public eye is the right place to be.
Here's what I learned from the Heimlich maneuver, and what I urge for the Senate as it proceeds with its questionable tactics for drafting health care legislation:
Seek help from every available resource.
Just as both women and men - those known to me and complete strangers - came to my personal aid, so too must legislation that's one-sixth of our national budget include input from all sources. Yet, for example, until faced with sharp criticism, the Senate working group did not contain one single woman, even though female health care is one of the most hotly debated topics.
In public is the right place to be.
If I had made it to the restroom alone, well, you probably wouldn't be reading this column. And if work on health care continues shrouded in secrecy, the outcome will be just as bad. Legislation that affects every single person in the United States needs to see the light of day. Not only have the public and health care-related agencies been shut out of the input process, senators from both sides of the aisle are angry that they are not privy to the bill's contents. And the head of Health and Human Services said recently that even he hasn't seen it.
Say yes to the Heimlich.
Extreme measures can hurt. It's been more than a week and I'm still moving gingerly. However, bruised ribs are small price to pay for the breath of life. So too are bruised egos a small price for improving the lives of millions of Americans. Senators, when you think about the good you have done in your lives, think of us.
Much in the Affordable Care Act needs to change - but secret bill-making that excludes the very populations it purports to serve needs the Heimlich maneuver, now, no matter painful it may be.
Andrea Doray is a writer who encourages everyone to chew a little more slowly. Contact her at email@example.com.
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