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That's One Sly Maneuver

Were you aware that the Heimlich Maneuver hasn’t been called the Heimlich Maneuver since 2006?

How come I’m just hearing about his now? Or maybe the question should be, where have I been for the past 14 years? This came up in conversation over the weekend, when Will (our 20-year-old son) and I were watching a baseball game. (Don’t get me started on how ecstatic I am that baseball is back.)

I’m not sure the exact context in which the subject arose, but at one point, Will said, “Did you know the Heimlich family didn’t want their name associated with the maneuver?”

“Really?” I replied, immediately realizing “Really?” comes across insincere and disinterested, similar to saying “Wow” when someone gives you information that you think isn’t that interesting, but you don’t want them to know you think it’s not interesting. Another example of such a response is saying, “That’s funny” but not laughing when someone says or does something they think is funny, but you don’t … but you don’t want them to know you think it’s not funny. (I digress.)

Thing is, I did think it was interesting, which made my response (“Really?”) seem that much more out of place. I mean, if I had – like Dr. Henry Heimlich – invented (did he really invent something? I don’t know if that’s the correct word) a way to help choking victims, you bet your life I’d want my name attached to it.

Our “Heimlich” conversation died a quick and dull death, as I mused weakly under my breath, “I wonder why,” with Will matching my lack of energy with an uninspired, “I dunno.” And with that, we went on watching the game.

Over the next 20 minutes or so, we sat and watched, offering commentary about “this pitcher” or “that hitter,” discussing the merits of the defensive shift and our shared disdain for the new designated hitter rule in the National League.

Then, around the fourth inning, it hit me. “Maybe they didn’t like the fact that it was called a maneuver, “I said. Momentarily puzzled, but as a veteran of long, disjointed conversations with his father that often ebb and flow over a period of hours or even days (in rare instances), Will quickly put the pieces back together and realized I was back on the “Heimlich train.”

I continued. “Think about it. When you hear the word ‘maneuver,’ it sounds shady, doesn’t it? Like you’re trying to escape from something or someone.”

Suddenly, Will had jumped back on the train with me, (or he’s just a good son who realizes the value of humoring his father). “Could be,” he said, using his words as a setup to allow me to elaborate (because he knew that’s exactly what I wanted; the kid’s not stupid).

“Maneuver is a terrible word for something like this,” I said. “They (and when I said “they,” I was referring to the folks who actually named this thing) might as well have called it a ‘scheme,’ a ‘plot’ or even a ‘heist.’

Yes, folks the Heimlich Heist is out to steal the food right out of your throat!

“No wonder they wanted no part of this circus.”

Then, it was Will’s turn. “So, what you’re saying is if this thing had a better name, maybe they’d have been more willing to be part of it all?”

“Right,” I chimed in. “Maybe they could have called it the Heimlich Protocol, the Heimlich Rule …”

“How about the Heimlich Procedure ... or Method?” he offered.

“Yes! Perfect!” I responded, a little too enthusiastically for such a benign conversation yet appreciating the clinical and professional ring the word “procedure” brought to the table.

With that, our attention turned back to the game, and I’m guessing we will never have an animated discussion on the topic again.


However, I did continue to think about it, and this morning, I searched to find out the real reason (if it’s true) Dr. Heimlich or his family wanted their surname removed from this activity. Within minutes, boredom set it, and I didn’t get the information I was in search of. But I did find out that the term Heimlich Maneuver hasn’t officially been used since 2006.

With that in mind, if someone is ever choking and needs “Abdominal Thrusts” (the accepted name for the HM these days), you can bet your sweet Bing cherries that someone in the room (probably yours truly) will yell, “Give him the Heimlich Maneuver!” because that’s what it was called back in 1974 when Dr. Heimlich discovered it (not sure “discovered” is the right word either, but I think it fits better than “invented”).

Interesting, isn’t it? So many people these days, including a bunch of the players we watched in Saturday’s baseball game, are trying to become household names, and here comes a guy who developed a life-saving “maneuver” (seriously, sounds like he’s doing street magic or trying a new move on a balance beam), and he doesn’t want his name associated with it.

And, it still makes me wonder if changing one key word – maneuver – would have tipped the scales. I guess I’ll never know. But one thing I do know: the act of applying massive amounts of pressure to someone’s abdomen or throwing them over a chair to create enough force to stop them from choking will always be the “Heimlich Maneuver” to me.

Abdominal thrusts. It’s a terrible name. Sounds like something from a 1980s Jane Fonda workout video.

© 2020 David R. Haznaw

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