Family Home Heimlich

by Louise Larson Tolman

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    Good thing I squeezed in some time for home evening. My best friend needed saving—twice.

    The living room lights were making patterns on the front lawn when I pulled in the driveway. I gathered my books and practice uniform and staggered toward the door, hoping I would find my family about to say the closing prayer for family home evening. Instead the strains of a Primary song greeted me. Home evening was just getting started.

    I dropped my armload on the kitchen table and tried to ignore the number of books I’d brought home. Of all nights to have so much homework. Of all nights for Carrie Willard to ask for a ride home and then insist we stop to look at the sweater in the window of Robertson’s Department Store. We’d probably still be there if Paula hadn’t finally said, “Hey, it’s Monday night. Don’t you guys have family home evening or something?”

    I hope she caught the grateful look I threw her. Paula, the only nonmember in the group, knows the conditions of the pact I signed with my dad after getting my driver’s license. It states that I agree to drive carefully, treat the car with respect, keep it clean, keep the tank filled, and attend to my family and Church responsibilities. Specifically, that means keep my room clean, do my assigned household chores, and attend Church meetings, seminary, and family home evening.

    All this for the privilege of driving the old clunker so I don’t have to beg rides wherever I need to go. I am allowed infractions, but only rarely, or I lose my driving privileges.

    “Kathy,” Dad called, “we’re waiting for you.”

    I dropped into the nearest chair. “Sorry,” I said. “Practice ran awfully late tonight and I’ve got a ton of homework.”

    Dad just smiled and stood up to begin the lesson. “A thought came to me today. It just wouldn’t go away, so I decided it must be inspiration and that I would go with it for tonight’s lesson.”

    I swallowed a groan. My sister Gayle rolled her eyes heavenward. Dad’s inspirations usually meant we were in for something unexpected.

    “On the way to work this morning,” Dad continued, “I heard a radio program about first aid. It seems too few people know what to do in an emergency.” He paused for effect.

    “It just so happens there’s a section on first aid in the Family Home Evening Resource Book. Now who knows what to do in the case of shock?”

    For the next half hour we acted out various scenarios. Dad treated Darrell for shock as the result of a traffic accident. My little sister Linda cut her arm on a broken bottle and Mom controlled the bleeding. Then Darrell saved Dad from drowning in the ocean between the bookcase and the couch and revived him. Gayle and I went out to dinner where we each managed to save the other from choking by using the Heimlich maneuver.

    It was all rather silly and fun, and as usual we learned something. When we’d finished, Dad announced he’d signed us all up for a CPR class the first Saturday of next month. Gayle and I sighed. One more thing to fit into our busy schedules.

    We had strawberry shortcake for refreshments. I took mine to my room to eat while I studied. Mom came in later and found me with my nose resting in the margin of my vocabulary book. I’d finished my math problems and written an essay, and I knew most of my vocabulary words. I’d have to study biology in the morning while I curled my hair.

    My hair refused to cooperate in the morning and it got more attention than my biology, but I still had the noon hour. I gathered at a corner table with the usual lunch group and tried to memorize all the bones in the body while everyone else criticized the food and exchanged lunches. I was barely listening to the conversation, so I missed whatever it was Kenny Jamison said that made everyone else shout with laughter, especially Paula. I’ve noticed lately that Paula pays particular attention to anything Kenny says.

    Suddenly, through the lunch room sounds, I heard something else—a sound so soft that I shouldn’t have been able to hear it above the noise and laughter, but I did. I glanced up to see Paula with her hand at her throat. There was perspiration on her forehead and she seemed to be turning a bluish color, just as Gayle had pretended to last night. Except this was for real.

    Almost without thinking I jumped up and pulled Paula to her feet. I circled my arms around her from behind and tried to find the place to fit my fist. It had all seemed so easy last night with Gayle. But Gayle had been laughing all the while, not actually choking.

    I pulled my fist back with my other hand in four sharp thrusts. Nothing. All the noise and laughter at our table stopped, but around us it continued. I closed my eyes and prayed, “Please, Heavenly Father, help me.”

    I pulled again, four quick movements a little harder than the last. A bite of Paula’s peanut butter sandwich flew from her mouth like the cork from a bottle, just as the resource book had said it would. I felt her lungs fill with air. Then I began to cry.

    Pandemonium broke out at our table. As soon as Paula had enough air to breath she was crying too. Several students patted me on the back. Someone had called the principal and the school nurse, and they took Paula off to the nurse’s office. The bell rang, but I didn’t follow everyone back to class. I dropped my head down on the table and tried to stop crying.

    “Aw c’mon now, is that any way for someone who just aced a biology test to act?”

    I lifted my head to see Mr. Spencer, my biology teacher, sit down next to me. He patted my hand and smiled. “It’s standing policy in all my classes. Anyone who can successfully demonstrate the Heimlich maneuver can skip their next test. Of course finding a volunteer for the victim is usually the hard part.”

    I started to cry again.

    He handed me a tissue. “Hey, hey, I’m only teasing. Mr. Williams said you could go home, Kathy. You’ve had enough excitement for the day. Do you need someone to drive you?”

    I dabbed at my eyes and shook my head. “I’m okay. Thanks for letting me skip the test.”

    The smile slipped from his face, leaving it serious. “Thank you, Kathy. You know you may have saved Paula’s life. How is it you were so quick on the Heimlich maneuver?”

    “My Dad … last night … it was inspiration …” I was crying again.

    “Go home, Kathy,” Mr. Spencer said. “Tell me about it some other time.”

    I stopped by my locker and got the rest of my books. I thought about Dad and home evening as I walked home. And then I thought about Paula. She had moved to our school last year, and from the beginning we’d been good friends. We liked so many of the same things—volleyball, hot Mexican food, track. Neither one of us cared about being up on the very latest styles and fashions. Paula was comfortable just being who she wanted to be.

    When she first moved, several of the kids tried to get her interested in the Church, but Paula politely informed them she had her own church. She and I kind of agreed not to talk about religion. She came to an occasional activity with me, and I went places with her family. Once just after I met Paula, Mom had challenged us in a home evening lesson to write our testimony in a Book of Mormon and give it away. The testimony I wrote was for Paula, but I had never given the book to her. That copy of the Book of Mormon still lay in a drawer I rarely opened. It seemed to accuse me every time I saw it. I wanted to give it to her, but I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize our friendship. I loved Paula as much as a sister.


    I’d been so intent in my thoughts I hadn’t seen my mother’s car pull up.

    “Are you all right, honey? The school called and Paula’s mother called. I’m so proud of you.” She gave me a big hug and I started to cry again.

    “Mom,” I said when my voice was under control. “Can we go over to Paula’s house later this evening? I didn’t get a chance to tell her that I learned the Heimlich maneuver in home evening last night. And besides, there’s something else I need to give her.”

    Illustrated by Paul Mann