So you're choking to death and you're on your own? What do you do?

Last week a fatty piece of steak got stuck halfway down my throat. I had no system in place to deal with it. Do you throw water down there? Perform a self-Heimlich manoeuvre? Get a fork in there? Chopsticks? A BBQ mate?

I had no plan. As a result I maybe, possibly, nearly, could've died.


After about 10 seconds, choking gets scary. You start worrying about your life insurance. Are the kids sorted? Will you see them again? What will people say at the funeral?

"Matt was a disgusting fat pig who shoved too much food in his mouth, didn't chew, didn't know what to do and got what he deserved."

After running around getting nowhere for a while, the piece of unchewed meat launched itself out of my gob and flew across the room.

Geez, it felt good. Not choking is so much better than choking.

However, while successful in my case, the "freaking out till it comes out" method won't work for everyone.

You have four or so minutes before brain damage starts kicking in.

Six to 10 minutes and it's all over.

You might as well have a solo choking plan in place ahead of time.


So I asked my good mate, Dr Sien-Gieland Ralph, for advice on what people should do under these circumstances.

Now, I didn't want to get anything wrong medically so I have written out the exact transcript of our call.

Here's, word for word, a phone call that might save your life at some stage.

Matt Heath: "Yo. Shawn."

Shawn Gielen-Relph: "Matty!"

Matt Heath: "How the %$#& are you mate?"

Shawn Gielen-Relph: "So good bro. It's been a while. Ohakune right?"

Matt Heath: "Yeah. I'm a bit vague on that night."

Shawn Gielen-Relph: "I am not surprised. You are a disgrace."

Matt Heath: "Yeah ... um ... yeah ... so solo choking, what do you do?"

Shawn Gielen-Relph: "Yeah. If you're able to maintain an airway (get air in slightly) keep breathing and coughing, keep coughing as much as you can that's your best hope."

Matt Heath: "Cool, cool, cool. What else?"

Shawn Gielen-Relph: "Get help if you can. Run on to the road or to your neighbours, ideally if you do collapse or become unconscious they'll be able to help or at least call an ambulance. Then there's the self-performed Heimlich."

Matt Heath: "Smash your sternum?"

Shawn Gielen-Relph: Yeah, you're trying to create a positive intrathoracic pressure (pressure in your chest below the blockage) to dislodge the blockage. You can do that by body slamming the corner of a table or bench just below the sternum.

Matt Heath: "Hardcore."

Shawn Gielen-Relph: "Yeah, I tried to find an obstacle to perform the self-Heimlich on today, before your call. The corner of the bench, a table, or the back of a chair all worked fine with a towel over them otherwise it hurt too much to generate the force you need. The best thing I found was the back corner of the couch - soft enough to really slam my sternum into and generate a good pressure."

Matt Heath: "Intense."

Shawn Gielen-Relph: "Yeah much better to not choke in the first place. Ideally, chew your food more, put less in there, go slower, be super careful if you've been drinking."

Matt Heath: "Good stuff. Will do. Thanks mate."

Shawn Gielen-Relph: "Anytime. Beer soon?"

Matt Heath: " Hell, yeah. How's your lovely Moose? (Moose is the name of his girlfriend)."

Shawn Gielen-Relph: "She's great."

Matt Heath: "She's lovely."

Shawn Gielen-Relph: "Yes ... as you kept saying in Ohakune."

Matt Heath: "Anyway, you seem busy, mate, I'll let you go."

Shawn Gielen-Relph: "See ya."

A solo choking experience really gets you thinking about the fragility of life.

As the good doctor says, chew more and put less in, particularly whilst steamed. But the best way to deal with choking is not allowing it to happen in the first place. If you should fail, remember to cough and breathe really hard, run for help or smash your sternum even harder.

As a choking survivor, I just want to say - it's great to be alive.