Life, Sardines and I


Today, I came closer to death than I have ever been in my life. And, as you can imagine, it frightened the shit out of me…not because it brought home how fragile life is, or how little I value the life that I live…No. It frightened the shit out of me because I realised a) how very mental I actually am and b) after all this, I was going to die choking on a bit of sardine.

I’d passed the morning organising and wrapping Christmas presents, (which sounds pleasant but if you’ve seen how I wrap things, you’ll understand that wrapping paper and sticky tape are collaborating against me) and I literally thought “I’ve missed brekky, I’ll choke down some tinned sardines on toast before folding the 72 baskets of washing”. Fun. Instead, as I sat down with my tinned fish and hot sauce on toast, I continued my life-long experiment of trying to breath as I swallow, and a chunk of fish flew down my windpipe. My family are well used to me choking on my food; at the tender age of 46, it seems I haven’t quite got the technique of breathing and eating co-ordinated yet. However, this time was different: I was alone in the room, and there was no sound. I silently coughed and coughed until all the air was gone, but then I couldn’t get any air back in. Still, I staggered from where I sat, to the kitchen with my plate and remaining toast perfectly balanced – didn’t drop a crumb! My throat felt physically shut down –ย  the muscles had squeezed themselves tight and then interlocked to ensure nothing more could go down – sadly, breathing was a collateral damage thing. No breath going out, no breath coming in. And in that time, conversations – with myself – flashed through my head: “Shit, you better breathe! Don’t drop the plate – you haven’t got time to clean it up right now… Can you remember how to breathe? No? Be calm…I actually think you need to call the Ambulance! How embarrassing! Actually, you’ve left the phone in the other room and you can’t talk anyway…It’s alright because if you’re coughing you’re breathing, right? Or is that talking? Anyway, you’re not coughing any more…Try breathing again…isn’t it weird how you open your mouth and nothing happens? I bet you look like a fish on land. Is this what they feel like when they’re not in the water?ย  Who’s home? Typical SH is away! He’ll just think you were overreacting, ha! Both the boys are here…bang something to get their attention…well that was a bit pathetic. I wonder who’ll find you first. Oh gagging now…that could be good. Ew. Move those things out of the sink, no-one will ever use those glasses again if you vomit on them. Careful! Maybe if you smashed the plate on the ground..? But that’s almost the only one without a chip in it…we’ll leave that as a last resort, shall we? Bang the bottom of the sink….that’s surprisingly quiet, isn’t it? Are you trying hard enough? Your hands aren’t working very well, really are they? Are you panicking yet? Do you think you should now? Everything’s hurting quite a bit, why are you gagging? I wouldn’t have thought there was anything in your stomach yet; it’s stuck in your lungs, isn’t it? Oh, look something came up. Can you breath now? Still no…Nothing at all. You’ve already forgotten how to make this happen haven’t you? You realise they’ll be at your funeral wondering how the fuck you died eating sardines on toast, don’t you? Dickhead! No-one eats sardines on toast, what were you thinking? Well, yes, ironically you were eating it because you know it’s good for you. That’s quite funny, actually. Poor SH, it’ll take ages to get flights back; poor kids, they’re going to have to deal with this – you’ll have traumatised them for life!”

And then, Middle Kid was there bending me over the kitchen sink, banging my back which made me shake my head because it wasn’t helping, telling me I was OK and to try breathing small breaths. And in between reflexive gagging, I took a tiny painful breath…and another…and more vomiting frothy pink chewed up sardines, but then another breath and Middle Kid gave me a glass of water that I didn’t want, but I took a sip and I could swallow again. My breathing eventually regulated into ragged shallow breaths, and Middle Kid took me firmly by the arm and led me from the kitchen. I reached for the remaining piece of toast as we walked past the plate, and he looked at me with wide eyes “Are you kidding me?!” and walked me to the lounge, where he very sternly told me to sit and do nothing but SLOWLY sip my water and watch my shows. I really felt very stupid. And shocked that instead of my life flashing before my eyes, I’d wasted time instead having a halfhearted argument with the voices inside my head, and they were pretty useless. If I was getting a message repeatedly this year it is to slow down and pay attention. I wonder if the sardine is going to succeed where panic attacks and shingles have not? Nevertheless, I’m fine now – my guts hurt and my throat feels like it went out partying hard without me, but it’s all a bit anti-climactic now. I am really glad I didn’t die from sardines, though; I’d have never lived that one down. HarHar!

But I’m bloody starving now. I fancy some cherries…..

About Alyson

I am a 45+ chick. I live in the country with 3 almost (apparently) adult children teenagers, 1 husband and many animals. Here's the thing: The black dog also hangs with me occasionally and, thank the baby cheeses, life is not perfect. That's OK, because I work hard to be a glass half-full person and I can't lie! I write to help my head, heart and humor...and I tell myself 'I've got this!'


  1. amazing – in so many ways Al, so glad that brekkie didn’t do you in xx

  2. oh Al, I’m so glad you didn’t die! I remember that feeling from breathing in popcorn while playing Dungeons and Dragons after a few too many bongs. Not last week, in case you wondered; a fair while ago now. But it’s so weird to be doing all the things you do to breathe and yet no breathing happens. I’m really glad you’re breathing again now x

  3. OMG you are too funny ๐Ÿ™‚ Obviously the fact that you were choking is so not funny, but your re-telling of it is hilarious! What a talent you have xxx

    • Thanks Petra! I was telling my mum the story on the phone and she said ‘ooh you better write this down; it might happen to a character in a book one day!” I’m nothing if not obedient! X

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