A choking tale of heart break, popcorn and first-aid.


She watched his lips as he rolled out the words that would break her heart. The ongoing total lockdown due to Corona virus was going to be extended by two weeks the president said.

“Oh no!” Mia moaned. “Another two weeks of being shut in?” She was already trying not to be depressed, now this? Her sister’s children were oblivious to her internal struggle, playing without a care in the world. “Growing up is a scam.” she said to herself.

Mia was babysitting for sister who had gone to work as a front liner in the battle against COVID-19. Since the kids were engrossed in their play, she sauntered to the kitchen for some comfort food. Her reasonable side told her that was a wrong move for her weight loss plans but the food cabinet won against her better judgement. “Popcorn it is!” she said opening a packet. Munching away, she thought of how to cope in the continued lockdown.

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

“What are you doing Mia?” Daniel asked, bringing her back to the present.

“Eating popcorn.”

“So why are you hiding?”

“I’m not. I just forgot to come out.”

He narrowed his eyes to a slit and peered at her as though he could somehow read her mind. “Can I have some?” he said, stretching out his hand.

“Yes you can.” she said, handing him a pack of popcorn.

Daniel went to show his siblings and they trooped in for theirs. When everyone was settled with their packets of popcorn, Mia stole away for an additional popcorn pack. “If we are going to cheat, we might as well do it well.” she said to reduce her guilt.

“Mia! Mia. Come quick.” Susan shouted.

She rushed out to meet the children and saw her two year old nephew Dumebi coughing vigorously.”

“What happened?” she asked.

“He was running and just started coughing and has refused to stop coughing.”

Mia ran to the kitchen, got some water and sprinkled it on his face. Mia tried to give him water to drink, but he refused. She then proceeded to rub his back.

Dumebi stopped coughing and began to gasp for air. He was choking on popcorn! Nobody needed to tell her that this was trouble. Her brain started chugging out thoughts on overdrive: ‘Who do I call? There’s no 911. Should I take him to the hospital? There’s no cab. Should I call his mum?…’

But Susan beat her to it. “C’mon pickup mum.” Susan said with her phone pressed against her ear.


Desire was exhausted from taking back to back calls but still had to rush back to work. Half of her colleagues were in self isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She was already running late so she stepped on the accelerator. Her phone was ringing persistently but she didn’t want to stop. ‘I’ll check it when I get to work’ she said to herself. The road was deserted! It all looked like ghost town.

“Kpaooooo.” A sound from the bonnet of her car told her she wasn’t getting to work anytime soon. The car slowed to a halt and wouldn’t move again. “Awesome!” she said slamming the door. “It doesn’t gets better than this!” she said with cynicism.

Her phone rang again. It was her daughter, Susan.

“Hello Susan?”

“Finally!!!” Susan shrieked. Mum please come home! Dumebi isn’t breathing well.”

“Dumebi? Where’s Mia? What happened?”

“I’m here.” Mia said. “I was in the kitchen… he was running around, eating popcorn and…”

Desire heard her son wheeze in the background. “Did you say popcorn?”

Another wheeze! That meant his airway was blocked! She had to do something fast because brain damage occurs after four minutes of blocked airways. Her car was broken. It would take at least ten minutes for her to get home if she was lucky to get a cab now and another twenty minutes to get to the hospital. There was no way she would make it in time.

“You know what? Switch to video call Mia. I need you to be calm and do exactly what I tell you. Okay?”

“Okay.” Mia said trembling.

Desire placed the phone on the car bonnet so her hands could be free. There was no one around so she picked her bag from the car to demonstrate.

“First of all give him five back blows between his shoulder blades, with the heel of your hand.” Desire said touching the corresponding point on her own back.

Photo by James Opas on Unsplash

Mia patted his back lightly.

“Hit him firmly Mia! It’s a back blow not a back rub. You need enough force to dislodge the popcorn but not to break his back.

At the fifth back blow, the popcorn shot out of his mouth. Dumebi began to cry and so did Mia. She couldn’t imagine what could have happened to Dumebi if his mother didn’t pick up.

At the same time, relief washed over Desire.

“Stop crying Mia. Thank God he’s out of the emergency now. He still needs to go to the hospital to be sure there is no additional popcorn in his lungs but at least he can breathe now.”

“But what if the popcorn didn’t come out after five back blows?”

“Then you would have needed to do five abdominal thrusts. I’ll send you a video showing that. But please never give popcorn or any other food that needs technical chewing (like groundnut, whole grapes or large chunks of sausage) to a child less than four years! Their teeth are not fully developed and so those foods are choking hazards.

“I will never try it again! The lockdown extension broke my heart but the remnant would have been shattered if anything happened to Dumebi.” Mia pledged with her right hand up and left hand on her chest.

Further reading on choking

  1. Understanding choking in children and how to prevent it.
  2. How to help a choking child less than one year
  3. How to help an adult who is choking
  4. Common choking mistakes

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26 thoughts on “A choking tale of heart break, popcorn and first-aid.”

  1. Brilliant. Always captivating as usual. Well done ma.
    I’ve seen quite a few cases in the emergency, some made it, others we couldn’t save. Groundnut was the culprit in ALL the cases.

    1. Thank you!
      It’s so sad when they don’t make it.
      I’ll add groundnut to the story so that more people will be aware. Thanks


    I jusy like the way you weave sense into a story. No foods that require ‘technical eating’ to children from henceforth.


    An interesting and educative story. I only know about rubbing the back of a little baby that is choking.

  4. Opeyemi Babalola

    I just forgot to come out…… How na😅
    People out there need to read this. Thanks Ayobami. Xoxo

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