The Cantwell volunteer ambulance crew,

The Cantwell volunteer ambulance crew, led by Marge and Dale, both 78. (Photo by Martha Amore)

There are many ways to die in Alaska, and I recently discovered one of the more absurd means. Driving alone from Anchorage to Fairbanks on a Thursday afternoon, I was almost to Cantwell, robustly singing to Rickie Lee Jones while eating an apple. Not a good idea. I choked. I kept thinking it would dislodge. This is ridiculous. Come on! Seconds ticked past, and still no luck. I wasn’t getting air. I leaned forward toward the steering wheel. Come on! Come on! My eyes began to bulge. I thought of my friend’s father, who choked to death at Thanksgiving dinner. It’ll be fine in a sec! It has to be! I took my foot off the gas. No way! No way is this happening! Soon a frenzy took hold of me. I began to punch the space just under my ribcage. All at once, I understood that I really was choking and that it was too late for help. There was just no time. I thought of my husband, my three daughters, how my youngest hadn’t even started high school yet. A sadness rose parallel with the panic. This is it! 

I was lucky, though. A painful shift, a choking swallow, and I gasped a breath, then another. Relief filled me, but something was still wrong. The apple felt lodged in my throat. Breathing seemed temporary and fragile. Were things getting tighter in there? Was my throat swelling? I made it to a trooper station in Cantwell, and though it was deserted, there was a phone box outside. Within ten minutes, an ambulance pulled into the lot. Is there any better feeling in this world than seeing emergency help arrive? Thank God! Thank God! A woman quickly assessed me, checking my oxygen, and asking questions. Could I breathe? What did I choke on? When did it happen? What was the problem? Talking hurt, but I rasped out the answers. It was only when we were moving down the road that I took a closer look of the crew. They weren’t the twenty-something-year-olds one might expect. They were older people. Like, much older.

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