I don't know if you've ever done this, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one. Sometimes, I get a tickle on the back of my throat, induced by a little post nasal drip (sorry for the grossness), or a bit of vinegar on the tonsils, and I start to gag. This is one of those gags that makes you run for the ladies room to hide. Otherwise, well meaning people think you're choking on a meatball and want to Heimlich you.
At the very least, they stare with worried expressions and ask, "Are you OK?" Had they ever experienced this condition, they would realize the last thing a victim can do is talk. And the answer would be confusing anyway. Because you are NOT OK, and there is NOTHING anyone can do to help, except perhaps provide a glass of water. If I'm lucky, I can bark out, "Wa-ter" before starting to gag again.
It takes a monumental amount of concentration to make it to the bathroom while suppressing your gag reflex. (I don't know how sword swallowers do it.) To make matters worse, my body has a nifty added attraction. If I fail to cough away the cause of my choking, my body shifts into its only other "get rid of foreign invaders" mode and I embark on a series of gut wrenching, explosive sneezes that toss my head back and down, literally doubling me over. These can go on for a minute. My goal is always to make it to a hiding place, before this phase two kicks in.
Here's the scene
Picture me now, at dinner, enjoying a lovely raspberry vinaigrette when suddenly I realize my throat is beginning to pinch up. Talk about panic.
Last week, I attended my second cousin's wedding at the lovely ballroom on the second floor of the Wyndham Hotel in downtown Cleveland. (Yeah, this is going to be a horribly embarrassing story.) I walked through the receiving line, gave hugs and kisses to the bride and groom and made for the refreshments.
My husband went to get drinks while my daughter and I went to the lovely fountain surrounded by platters of various cheeses and crackers. I took a small piece of toast and a bit of smoked cheese onto a small plate and found a cousin.
"Did Donnie perform the service?" I asked Laura of her son. Donnie is a priest. I hadn't seen any of them since the bride's sister's wedding last year.
"Yes, he's over there. Come on."
Somewhere between that innocuous invitation and the place were Father Donnie, his friend, his sister -- my cousin Mary Beth, and her companion stood, I took a bite of that toast. My second cousins both started to smile as I approached. I cleared my throat. A crumb nestled against an adenoid.
"Diane, it is so good to see you."
The folds of my throat began to tighten.
"How are you?"
Boom! That was it. Like a sea anemone closing in on its prey, my throat squeezed shut. I grunted.
"Are you OK?"
I grunted again.
"You're choking on something?"
I grunted, smiled and looked helplessly at Hannah, who had seen me do this many a time before. She stared helplessly back.
By now my face was beet red (I'm sure), and I was grunting to force the frog from my throat. The restroom was miles away and I knew I wouldn't make it before the sneezes came. What I wanted was water, but John was still in the bar line.
"Are you all right? Are you choking?" Mary Beth asked.
Praying for water
My eyes searched in panic going from hand to hand looking for water. Everyone was holding a glass. I nearly grabbed the glass from Donnie the priest's hand (it seemed like a good bet) and took a huge guzzle. Vodka and tonic, it turned out. Ah well.
I believe I have thus perfected the memorable introduction. If another cousin gets married next year, I am considering falling down a flight of stairs and ending with my skirt over my head …