I had a visit from an old high school teacher earlier this week. She (Mrs. R) just dropped by to say hello. She was in the building anyway. Luckily I wasn't busy at the time, so we sat and chatted. Mostly she chatted and I listened. Retirement has not turned out the way she had hoped it would. She is in good health, but her dear husband of 50 years is not. He has severe Parkinson's Disease. She is such a sweet woman, no bitterness to her at all, as she lovingly takes care of him.
She needed to tell me that she had almost lost him yesterday. He was sitting at the kitchen counter while she cleaned. It had been a frustrating morning, as she had not been able to get him to eat or drink much. So she had changed gears and was just talking and singing to him while she cleaned. Then she noticed that his mouth "looked funny". When she checked, he was missing his upper partial plate. The bottom one was still in place. He looked okay otherwise. She looked around and couldn't find it on the counter, in his lap, or on the floor. (photo credit)
Then he began to make a funny noise, so she checked his mouth again and saw it lodged at the back of his mouth in his throat. She had never thought about him swallowing it, "The denture it is so big". But there it was and she couldn't get him to cough it out. She couldn't get a good hold on it with her fingers. She took me through all the ways she had tried--"I even got my kitchen tongs, but they were too large." He was breathing okay, so she tried to call for help. First, her son-in-law, but he wasn't home. Then her sister, she was and came. So while her sister helps keep Mr R's hands down, Mrs R tries again. This time she took the lower plate out which gave her more room. Then she noticed that she hit his gag reflex with her finger and that made him cough and gag. So she did it again and finally got hold of the partial plate.
Mrs R and her sister then sat back, limp. The fear hit them. The fear of what could have happened.
I looked through the instruments in my office and sent her home with the only one I had that could be of help--a 6 inch Allis Forcep (photo credit)
I think maybe the most important thing to remember when something like this happens is:
- Is your loved one still moving air well? If yes, then take a big breath of your own.
- Call 911
- IF you can easily reach the object, remove it.
- IF you can't easily reach the object or your loved one begins to have difficulty breathing (obstructed airway), then try the Heimlich Maneuver while waiting for help.
Mrs R was lucky the gag reflex helped her by making Mr R cough and "pushed" the denture forward. She could have accidentally pushed it farther back into the throat with no help on the way.