It was Saturday night, I was handing over to the babysitter and about to join my wife at a fundraising event. I was just giving our sitter a few final instructions and the taxi was arriving. Darcy had been in her jammies watching YouTube kids on the computer. As I rose to get my coat, she gave an awful strangled cry. I rushed into the kitchen to find her clutching her neck as she choked out the words “I’ve swallowed a penny”.
As she stopped making any sound and visibly started to turn a different colour, it was clear that she couldn’t breathe. In that instant, lessons from a first aid course I had undertaken as part of a scuba diving qualification I did when I was 16 came flooding back.
I inverted her over my knee so her head was beneath her stomach and I gave her five or six open handed slaps to the back between her shoulder blades. This caused her to be sick and whilst I couldn’t see the coin, I heard her gasp, which told me the coin had shifted and she was moving air again.
Whilst Darcy was breathing again she was in real distress and retching and gagging around the coin in her throat. While she was stable, I called the ambulance and we were blue-lighted to the Sick Kids where it was removed under general anaesthetic.
People have asked if I was terrified during those moments but I can only remember a sort of laser focus, absolute commitment to the task of getting her to breathe. The terror has come in the days following – in bucketloads.
We’ve been overwhelmed by the love and goodwill we’ve received since. What’s really struck me about the messages I’ve received are two things. Firstly, just how common choking in infants can be and secondly, how few people have either the training or the confidence to administer first aid.
So I want to use the (surprisingly international) attention my family has had this week for good and raise awareness about how important an understanding of basic first aid is and how easy it is to learn as well. I was taught about choking for 15 minutes in 1994. I haven’t thought about it since, but that knowledge was there when I needed it.
So I’m going to start working with charities and first aid groups to help their national efforts and I’m going to host some pop-up training sessions in the communities I represent, to help equip more people to be that first responder when the worst happens.
Darcy’s safe and happy, bothering her brothers and playing with her unicorns, and I am counting our blessings. I will forever be in the debt of our magnificent ambulance service and staff at our beloved Sick Kids.
So get informed, I hope you’ll never need it, but if crisis hits, you’ll be glad you did.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western.