Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

When the Missouri State Games were just be...

When the Missouri State Games were just beginning to roll, I ran a few errands for Walt, the bicycling commissioner. Things were quiet at the park after the racers set off, so I spread out a newspaper and began making things with the white clay that I dig east of Columbia.

On that hot July day, I was working on a small clay figure, one of a series of people doing artificial respiration. This series started in the 1970s as a way to enliven my first-aid and lifesaving lessons about asphyxiation, especially drowning.

A mother of one of the bike racers came to the table where I was working. “What are you making?” she asked. I began to talk about the many ways people had tried to revive victims of asphyxiation. Excitedly, she interrupted, “Oh, you must make the one that saved my husband’s father’s life 70 years ago.”

She told of the boy falling into a canal, and rescuers were unable to revive him. A man threw his body over his shoulder and ran to his home. That bouncing ride started his breathing!”

Actually, the man’s shoulder in the boy’s middle was giving a sort of crude Heimlich maneuver, all the way. That happened in Ireland and the “drowned boy” was in his 90s when she told this story.

Historically, well-meaning bystanders have tried rolling a not-breathing person over a barrel, tossing him belly-down on a trotting horse, thrashing the victim with a handful of briars, hanging him by his feet and other techniques of doubtful value. None of those are recommended today!

Fascinated by these historical revival techniques, I began to represent them in clay. There are now about forty of these little figures which, incidentally, spent six months on display at a Wisconsin Historical Medical Museum. Color photos of five of these “little people” were published with an article in the American Medical News.

Among the correspondence that article generated was a letter from Henry Heimlich. He sent background material on the development of the Heimlich maneuver, charts to be posted in public eating places, school lunchrooms, swimming pools, etc.

He also sent me information and drawings of other Heimlich maneuvers. One is done with two fingers on an infant. There was special information for using the technique on near-drowned victims, people who are too heavy to lift, and self-help when no rescuer is around.

I replied, suggesting that we give names to the maneuvers: Heimlich I, Heimlich II, Heimlich II, etc. He said he’d give it some thought.

Now here is this famous, retired surgeon, and I’m writing to him as if he were my uncle. But he’s calling me Sue, and we’re both interested in the welfare of people who have stopped breathing -- from whatever the cause.

“My daughter is enrolling in the University of Missouri,” Heimlich said, “and I shall contact you when we are in your area.” He came to see the little figures and to talk artificial respiration for almost two hours -- on Elizabeth Heimlich’s graduation day.

I greeted him at his car and, as we started to the house, he stopped in the drizzling rain. He looked all around and said, “What a wonderful place to live. I didn’t know there was place like this left in the whole country.”

Introducing him to Chub, I said, “Mr. Heimlich.” He grinned widely and said to us both, “Just call me Hank.” We didn’t stop talking long enough to have the chilled grape juice I’d prepared -- or to even have a chair!

We shared lots of ideas on artificial respiration, and I learned more about the serious threat of Lyme disease, another of his concerns. Need I say that Chub never got a word in edgewise! You’ll hear more about this.

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