There is nothing that will make you feel quite as tiny and insignificant in the universe as when you are completely alone in a room, choking.
Nothing drives home the very smallness and randomness of your purpose here on Earth, than almost being taken out by some chicken noodle soup.
Yup. You heard me. You read that correctly. On Monday, October 21st, this week, I almost died. For real. I was very, very close to choking so badly, that I could no longer speak, breathe, or function. Very, very close.
It all began innocently enough. I was sitting here in my home office, where I am right this minute, where I do all of my many writing assignments and projects. I’m writing this book about my husband, and our love story, and the brutal and often hilarious truths about grief. In addition to that, I also write a monthly humor article for Modern Widows Club Magazine, and I write weekly funny TV reviews of shows like Dancing With the Stars for an entertainment and pop culture site called poptimal. I also write weekly Friday blog pieces for the Soaring Spirits site Widows Voice, and I write in my own personal blog too, this very one, which is what I was doing on Monday when I almost died.
So there I was. A widow, writing one of her many widow-related assignments in the middle of the day, just an hour before leaving for the city for my weekly grief-counseling session. I was just getting over the flu or a really terrible cold, so I had picked up this really yummy chicken noodle soup they have at a nearby deli on my block. Their soup is very good, as Ive had it before, and I wanted something to soothe my throat as my appetite hadn’t fully returned yet. So there I sat – sipping my soup and writing my widow words – when suddenly, instantly, shockingly – something extremely sharp and painful got stuck in the exact middle of my throat.
I felt my face flush red as I pushed back from my chair at lightning speed. Somehow, I thought the object may be far enough back that I could finish swallowing it, so I grabbed a water bottle from the fridge and drank fast, trying like hell to get it down. It remained in the worst part of my throat possible, and it was soooo sharp. It felt like there was a needle or a thin piece of wood splint inside my throat. My insides made scary noises and I gasped for air as I leaned forward over my kitchen counter, trying to recall the lessons that my paramedic husband had given me on how to give myself the Heimlich Maneuver if I ever needed to.
Why didnt I listen??? What did he say??? How do I save myself??? Somehow, I panicked and took action at the exact same time, not having a clue what I was doing or why. My eyes watered and I coughed and coughed and coughed, and then continued to try and push the foreign object out of me, hoping and begging and praying that it would shoot out of my person like some animated alien, emerging out of the dark.
You know, it is absolutely stunning how many billions of unrelated, disconnected, anxious thoughts can go through one’s brain, while simultaneously choking and gasping for air. As I struggled to stay alive over my kitchen sink, this was my ridiculous inner-monologue:
This is it. Im dying today. This is how it all ends. Just like my poor husband. Collapsing. Alone. This is what I have been panicking about since his death. Dying randomly and by myself, nobody finding me for hours or days. And now here it is – it is happening. Where are my kitties? When did I feed them? Oh shit, they need water in their bowl. Where is my phone? I have to call 911. But I cant speak. There is a glass window inside my throat. That is what it feels like. It feels like an ice-pick. WHAT THE HELL IS IN MY THROAT??? This is like that time at mom and dads house on Easter, when I choked on a potato cube in my potato salad, Except Don was there on that day, and he stood right next to me, ready to go into action should he need to save my life. I wasn’t scared because he was right there. Always. Oh my god, where is my phone? Is it even charged? I don’t think its charged. I really should keep it charged. I’m going to die right here on this hard kitchen floor. Its dirty. I cant die on a dirty floor. It will be hours before my roommate returns and finds me. Hours. I wonder how she will get my share of the rent next month if I’m dead. This is so embarrassing. I was eating soup. What the hell did they put in my soup? WHO CHOKES ON SOUP??? I can just see the headline in tomorrows local newspapers: “Widow Chokes and Dies While Writing Widow Blog.” Ironic, isnt it? Alannis Morissette would have a field day with this one. Oh who am I kidding? This wont make the NEWSPAPER. Who am I? Im nobody. Im not famous. Wow this is a really long time to be choking. I really think Im dying. This is the end. Shit! I havent even finished my book! I really wanted to see this week’s episode of NASHVILLE on my DVR. Dammit! This is really what it was all about? Soup? What is the point of all this? You try and live a life and have goals and dreams, and in the end, you can just disappear in a nano-second, because of soup. What the hell is in this…….
And just like that, it was over. My gasping and choking and coughing and watery eyes had started to calm down. The last big cough had catapulted the enemy right into the sink, and the enemy was a goddamn bay leaf. Not a big juicy chewy steak or some rubbery calamari, or even some grains of rice. Nope. Not me. This widow almost gets taken out by a friggin’ bay leaf. A BAY LEAF! What the hell was this ginormous bay leaf doing in my soup? Im a pretty good cook myself, and have often used whole bay leaves to flavor a soup or stew or sauce. While it simmers. While it cooks. You are supposed to REMOVE IT when it is done cooking, so that widows like me don’t swallow them whole and choke on them while alone in their apartments with pointless cats.
I gathered my things and headed into the city to see my counselor, and when I got to her, I asked her to please make me some tea to help soothe my throat, because the chicken noodle soup obviously didnt accomplish anything other than almost murdering me – and then I told her my story. After that, I proceeded to sob for almost the entire session while talking to her. Sobbing about being a few days away from my “would have been” 7 year wedding anniversary. Sobbing about leftover feelings of guilt and regret at the last weeks and months of my husband’s life. Sobbing because life is so goddamn fragile, and because I still cannot comprehend that my husband left for work one morning, and never came home. Just like my family wouldn’t have been able to comprehend me being taken out by a bay leaf.
I did learn something though. Something very big. While I was choking on that bay leaf – inside all of those other disconnected thoughts that were going on inside my brain – one thought repeated itself over and over and over, like a chorus: I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die …..
A lot of times, after we lose the person we thought we would spend our life with, there are many days and nights and hours, that we just dont feel like living. There have been so many times when I thought to myself: “Wouldnt it just be easier if I could just sleep and not feel this horrible pain?” I didnt want to actively end my life. I would never have done that. But I didnt feel like being alive either.
However, when you are choking on a bay leaf, and you cant speak words and your face is bright red and you’re scared you will lose consciousness, one thing goes through your heart and then travels to your mind and your soul:
I dont want to die. I want to live.
There is no way that my life ends at the prickly hands of a bay leaf.
It ain’t happening. I am not going down that way. Try again.
Actually, please don’t.
Please leave me alone. Please remove yourself from my soup and go pick on some other fool. I don’t want to die. I want to attempt life. Heartbreaking, painful, beautiful, wonderful, breathtaking, miraculous, unfair life.
I choose Life.