Under ideal circumstances, dinner should never need to conclude with emergency surgery.
No matter how horrible family meals can be, any potential psychological and physical damage is almost always temporary and rarely irrecoverable. However, for one extremely fortunate New Zealander, tea-time tragedy was avoided through some unexpected, split-second, life saving excisional decision-making.
Crematorium and cemetery manger Izak Bester was busy enjoying a beach side barbecue near Waimarama, Hawke’s Bay on New Zealand’s North Island, when disaster struck. Amidst the merry roasting and munching of meat, Bester suddenly found himself unable to breathe. A large piece of partially-chewed steak had become lodged in his throat, rendering him helpless and gasping for air.
Friends and family noticed Bester desperately choking and clutching at his neck and, panic-stricken, began to perform the tried and tested Heimlich Maneuver. All increasingly frantic attempts ended in failure. Bester, turning blue and eyes bulging, gave a few more guttural gasps before keeling over backwards and collapsing to the floor. Time was running out.
It was clear to everyone that by the time professional assistance could make it to the scene, it would be far too late. It was in this moment, when catastrophe seemed inevitable, that Bester’s girlfriend, Sarah Glass, leapt into action. A professional midwife, Glass had both the expertise and the temperament to cope with the trauma of the situation.
Thinking quickly, she cast around for anything that might prove useful. She caught sight of the glinting blade of a Stanley knife and, without a moment’s hesitation, plunged the tool into her partner’s neck.
To the untrained eye, such a move could seem suicidal. However, Glass knew that an emergency T-bone tracheotomy was the only way to save her steak-stricken spouse. By puncturing the skin just below Bester’s Adam’s Apple, Glass had expertly opened a lifeline. Now, Bester had a hole through which to breathe, circumventing the meat still trapped in his airway.
However, it soon became clear that Bester was not out of the woods yet. Before the tracheotomy had been performed, the 50-year old’s heart had actually stopped beating altogether, leaving him unable to keep oxygen flowing to his brain and other internal organs.
In order to save their flagging friend’s life, the entire group now mobilized, simultaneously performing 30 minutes of CPR whilst the emergency services made their way to the barbecue and using an oxygen tank from an old birthing kit to keep airflow constant.
Despite remaining in a medically-induced coma for three days after the incident, remarkably, Bester emerged unscathed. After he awoke, doctors informed him that, were it not for the lightning reactions of Glass and his friends, Bester would have at best suffered brain damage and multiple organ failure, and at worst perished within minutes.
Speaking outside the hospital, Bester was quick to acknowledge the heroism of his partner. “She’s definitely a hero – it’s pretty amazing but if I died or been brain damaged she would have carried that for the rest of her life. But she said it was a no-brainer because I was dead already,” he relayed to interviewers from Snuff.
It’s clear that Bester is extremely fortunate with the company that he keeps. If the rest of us can learn anything from this cautionary tale it’s that, whenever the steaks are high, it pays to have a midwife handy.