Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hank's Maneuver: a Heimlich history

(788 words)
I wonder if the developer of the live-saving breakthrough ever used what we now know as the Heimlich Maneuver as a pick-up line in the popular discos of the era.

“Hey, baby, I’m Hank Heimlich. How about coming back to my place and I’ll give you a little taste of what I call the Heimlich Maneuver.”

Have you ever been Heimliched? Ever Heimliched anyone else? 

When names become verbs, I feel compelled to investigate. Heimlich has become such a common name for such an uncommonly simple procedure I had to find out more.

Want to know what I learned?

Henry Judah Heimlich is the uncle of “Happy Days!” star Anson Williams.

Who would have guessed an investigation into the history of the Heimlich would lead to a motherlode of “Potsie” trivia?

The Heimlich Maneuver turns 40 next year about the same time Henry Heimlich turns 94.

His maneuver seems as young as its namesake old. It seems like it’s been around forever, but it’s younger than Neil Patrick Harris.

Without the Heimlich Maneuver we would have been deprived of the extended talents of Elizabeth Taylor, Cher, Ed Koch, Carrie Fisher, Dick Vitale, John Chancellor, and Ellen Barkin, all personalities whose lives were saved by timely Heimlichs.

I knew George W. Bush nearly choked on a pretzel in 2002 (no Heimlich was necessary), but I don’t remember hearing Ronald Reagan nearly choked on a peanut in 1980 as he was campaigning to become president. His life was likely saved when aide Michael Deaver Heimliched The Gipper.

Reports say Reagan had taught Deaver the maneuver.

My favorite almost-Heimlich involved actor Pierce Brosnan and the ravishing Halle Berry. The two were filming a racy sex sequence for the 2002 Bond film, “Die Another Day.” The scene was graphic enough that the scene had to be trimmed to avoid being the first R-rated Bond.


Anyway, Brosnan ad-libbed a funny while Berry was eating a fig and the fig lodged in Berry’s throat.

Brosnan said the nearly naked Berry about choked to death as he pondered the propriety of grabbing her from behind and executing a series of aggressive mid-section thrusts, a dainty consideration that betrays a serious mis-reading of the movie-going public’s tastes.

It would have been Brosnan’s most compelling performance since he was filmed trying to carry a tune in “Mamma Mia.” 

It’s a pity, too, to sense the missed opportunity for tabloid headline writers who would have enjoyed a creative challenge to come up with a dandy about a peach of an actress named Berry nearly being felled by a fig.

Speaking of tabloid writers, I was at a table with a bunch of them about 20 years ago when one of them nearly choked to death on an unchewed meatball.

It was at a dinner where some editors for National Enquirer invited me and another correspondent to tag along. There was much laughter, drinking and rapacious eating.

I didn’t even notice Mike was choking. My editor did. He lifted the sizable correspondent out of his chair and with two mighty pumps sent the meatball flying across the table, nearly landing in another editor’s gazpacho.

What I remember most was the thrusting caused the survivor’s bladder to loosen and right there at this swanky restaurant in front of dozens of other shocked diners he peed his pants.

So in one dinner he’d nearly died twice: once from choking, once from mortal embarrassment.

I asked the heroic editor if he’d have given the guy mouth-to-mouth, had it been necessary.

“Not on your life,” was his answer.

I wholeheartedly concur. Another guy would have to owe me a ton of money before I at the crucial moment broke out the Binaca and chose to bestow the breath of life.

So the Heimlich is the perfect lifesaver. I’ll bet my 13-year-old could do it -- and given my sloppy eating habits one day she might have to. Check out the link below to the story about the day I nearly choked to death during a Chinatown dim sum in Manhattan.

More about the man: In 1951 he married Jane Murray, the daughter of wealthy ballroom dancing instructor conglomerate Arthur Murray. The pair had four children, one of whom, Phil Heimlich a Christian conservative radio host in Cincinnati who has waged a nearly 50-year-war against his own father. 

He says his own father has engaged in a “wide-ranging history of fraud.” 

Lousy ingrate.

It’s enough to break a thoracic surgeon’s heart.

Strange isn’t it, that the story of a man who’s namesake technique will save untold millions from untimely asphyxiation would leave empathetic readers sort of all choked up.

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