“I had to give her a baby Heimlich maneuver because she’s not old enough for a real Heimlich maneuver.”

Justin, a student at Corliss High School in Chicago, Illinois, made this StoryCorpsU (SCU) recording during the 2012-2013 school year.*

Read Justin’s story below:

Justin_Corliss (1)Hello, this is Justin. Today I will be telling you a story about how I had to save my baby sister’s life. It was, I think, maybe 4 years ago. She was a baby back then, and I had to keep her from eating a cotton ball. A cotton ball—I know. Don’t ask me how she got ahold of cotton balls because I don’t know either. That day I had to babysit her and her big sister, who is my little sister. Everything was going smoothly, we were all all right, and nothing was going wrong. Then, you know, she’s a baby, and the cotton balls caught her attention. You know what a baby does when something catches their attention—she put it in her mouth. She had to see if it was edible I guess.

I’m in the room, playing my game, and all of a sudden, I look over to her and she’s coughing, and she’s coughing, and she’s coughing, and she’s coughing. Then, you know, because she was a baby, I had to give her the baby Heimlich maneuver. I had to give her a baby Heimlich maneuver because she’s not old enough for a real Heimlich maneuver. I had to pick her up, flip her over on her stomach, put her on my knee and rub her back really softly then pat it every few seconds. Then once it got up to her throat, and her throat wasn’t that big back then, I had to actually stick my fingers down and get the cotton out, but I could only get a little bit.

I’m still patting her back when my grandma finally walks into the room and asks, “What happened? What happened? How did this happen? How could you let this happen?” I’m only like 11 years old, 10 years old back then and I didn’t even know how to handle it. I tried my hardest, I was patting her back and I was rubbing and then I was reaching in her mouth trying to get it out of her mouth. It kept on seeming like she was trying to resist me, and she kept on trying to put it back down her throat. I had to pat it and pat it and rub it and rub it and rub it out until I had to hand her over to my grandmother. My grandmother was a nurse, just as my mother is. My mother wasn’t there at the time we were babysitting, so my grandmother knew what to do.

She grabbed her and pulled her. I don’t know how to describe it, but she did the same thing that I did but she rubbed the back of her throat and then she told me to put my hand in her mouth and pulled the cotton out. I almost touched her tonsils. I had to get my hand that deep in her throat. I had my hand pretty deep in her mouth, with slop and blood all over my hands. Eventually it finally happens that the cotton ball decided to cough and fall into my hand with the blood. She started breathing back to normal, but my mother came to the house and she was panicking, and she still had to take her to the emergency room like a mother would. She took her to the emergency room because it was her baby and she had to check and see what was wrong with her baby. She took her there and the doctor had to put my little sister to sleep and get the cotton out of her throat by putting some sort of tube down her throat and sucking all the cotton out of her throat up through her stomach. It’s like a little tube, without pulling her intestines out, and they looked inside with a little flash light type thing to see if there was any cotton left or anything that wasn’t supposed to be in there. They found out that everything was all right with her. She was fine.

*This story was recorded at the conclusion of the “Where We’re From” SCU unit, in response to one or more of the following prompts:
  • Tell a story about someone who has had a significant impact on your life.
  • Tell a story about a place that is important to you. Paint a picture of the place and talk about why it’s important to you.
  • Tell a story about an accomplishment or event from you past that had a significant impact on you.