The Day I Nearly Died

At the end of August, 2008 I went with Kat to Ukraine for the first time. It was a bit stressful because I’d be meeting her friends and family for the first time, and also because I’d be in a country where English wasn’t spoken very often. It was a great trip, but my strongest memory of the trip was a little event that happened on a train… I almost died.

We were taking a train from Kat’s hometown of Donetsk, in the East, to the Crimea area in the South. We left in the early evening and wouldn’t arrive until early the next morning, so that meant sleeping on the train. A private sleeper was too much money, so we opted for a shared sleeper – 4 beds in one cabin.

After an hour I started to get hungry, as we hadn’t had a chance to eat before getting on the train. Kat’s mom had packed us some chicken and bread, so I decided to make myself a nice chicken sandwich. Ukrainian bread is absolutely delicious; it’s just ever so slightly sweet, and freshly baked bread can be found nearly everywhere on the streets. I finished making my sandwich, and started eating it, as I was extremely hungry at that point. A few bites in, and I realized I had a problem. The nice moist, fresh Ukrainian bread had gotten lodged in my throat. Not a huge problem, as I could just wash it down with a bit of water and clear it out of my throat.

The problem, it turns out, was bigger than I thought. When I attempted to drink a bit of water to help the food down, it actually plugged my windpipe completely. I couldn’t breathe.

If you’ve ever seen a movie where someone chokes they usually get up, make a bunch of noise and someone rushes to their help. The reality is that you can’t make ANY sound at all because there’s no air that can come out of your mouth. Kat was busy talking to an old lady sitting across from us, so I grabbed her arm to get her attention, make the international “I’m choking” sign (hands around my throat), and turned around so she could give me the Heimlich Maneuver.


Apparently the Heimlich Maneuver didn’t make it’s way to Ukraine. Instead they employ the “smack the back” method of dislodging food that’s stuck in someone’s throat. It didn’t work, and I quickly realized I’d have to teach Kat the procedure. The old lady that Kat had been chatting to went back to reading her book.

I turned to face her, put my hands together and made the motion that you make while giving the Heimlich Maneuver, then I turned around so she could give it to me, and placed her hands in the proper position.


I love to get hugs in any normal situation, but in this case the food couldn’t be hugged out of me. I looked around the small cabin to see if there was something I could use to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on myself, but the only thing I saw was a hook on the wall, and that wouldn’t work at all. I quickly turned around and made the same motion as before, only more aggressively, so she knew she had to do it harder, then I turned around.


This time it wasn’t a hug; she did it properly, but the food was still stuck. My mind began racing, not like my life flashing through my mind, just thoughts about the situation.


Her second attempt didn’t work either. My mind returned to my thoughts:

Kat brought me to visit her country and meet her friends and family, and I die. She’s going to have to call my mom and explain to her that I’m dead. Wow, that’s a shitty call to make. Is now the time to pull the emergency break that stops the train, or will people just be mad at me because I made them late. Nothing like a dead guy that made an entire train full of people late. Will they move my body somewhere else, or just leave it in the room? Would the other two people in the room like to sleep with a dead body in there? I hope they move me so those people can sleep. Maybe I should leave the room and run up to the front of the car where the lady in charge is… but she may just smack me on the back…


She tried a third time. Still didn’t work.

My mind floated to the conversation I had about travel insurance.

“…and if you die, this policy covers shipping your body home.”

“Well, that won’t matter much to me because I’ll be dead!”

Wow, that’s ironic now… “…isn’t it ironic… don’t you think” Oh man, Alanis… not a good time… Maybe I should go and die out in the hallway where the guy is smoking. Then at least I’d be out of the room and less of a bother, and they’d have to move me somewhere. Yup, that’s it, I’ll go out and die in the hallway.

I went to stand up…


The combination of me getting up, and Kat trying for the fourth time worked, and the food came up and out of my mouth and onto the floor. The old lady continued to read her book.

Kat and I sat there quietly for a few minutes before I said, “Yeah… sooo… thanks for saving my life.” She got this shocked look on her face, and I realized that she didn’t know how screwed I was. The whole thing lasted a minute or so, and I was without air the entire time. I may have had another 30 seconds before I’d pass out and likely die on the floor of the train. Yeah, I was pretty screwed, and luckily she didn’t realize it because I was completely calm the entire time. I’m thankful that Kat is a quicker learner.

Another minute passed and she said, “CHEW YOUR FOOD MORE!” She was right.

If you don’t know the Heimlich Maneuver, please take a moment and read this. You never know when you may have to use it, or quickly teach someone else.



  1. Oh, Gord! I shouldn’t have laughed while reading your account of the Ukrainian Bread Disaster of 2008 but laugh I did. This is funny shit, dude. (:

    So glad you picked such a smart lady!

  2. Haha, I felt bad for laughing too! “apparently the heimlich maneuver didn’t make it’s way to the Ukraine”. Too bad you can’t save someone’s life with a hug 😉

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