By Liz Calato, Mother
I was aware of the choking game. I saw it featured on Dr. Phil when I was pregnant with my son and his twin sister. I was properly horrified and made a mental note to have this discussion with my kids when the time came. At the end of their 5th grade year while going through the dare program, it was brought up. They came home horrified. Mom, did you know kids play this game? This was my opening. I told them yes, I’d heard about it, it’s dangerous, never do it, tell someone if you see someone else doing it. Don’t worry they assured me…we won’t.
Fast forward to the summer after grade 6. A week before it happened, Ian came into the kitchen with marks on his neck. I asked him about it. He said it was from the chlorine at the pool. He said it was particularly bad that day. I straight up said…Ian, those look like ligature marks, are you playing the choking game? He said no way, that’s dumb. At night the marks were still there. He told me it was itchy. I put cortisone cream on his rope marks. I was so naive. If I had only checked his camera….I always monitored their texts and social media…I never thought to look at his pictures. Big mistake. The videos were there.
A week later it was a wonderful Friday night. We had neighbors over for a BBQ and to watch the opening ceremonies of the Rio Olympics. He and his sister invited their 2 best friends over for a sleepover. They wore flag shirts, painted their faces and jumped around with glow sticks. The ceremony dragged on and the adults left before it was over. I wanted to see the end. I went up to bed and put it on my TV up there. The 4 kids were in the basement, and my other son Charles was on the main level watching a movie. It was getting late and I was having trouble staying up. I called both Ian and Charles on their phones and said come to bed by 11, I’m falling asleep.
Ian came in about 10 to 10 and said good night he’s going to bed. The girls decided to sleep in the basement, he wanted his bed. I said good night as I struggled to stay awake for the Olympic flame lighting. I must have dozed off….and then there was a crash. Charles barging into our room with such force the door broke from the hinge. He was white as a ghost, and was hysterical…all he could say was “Ian!!! What the f***!!!!” I knew it was bad if he used the F word. I knew they weren’t just fighting. My husband and I jumped up and went running towards his room. Charles stayed back in our room and as we raced towards the bedroom, he yelled “He hung himself”. I couldn’t go in. Because I knew I had been right. He was playing the choking game.
My husband got there first and started screaming. I forced myself to go in and there he was. Hanging by the neck from the foot board of his bunk bed his feet dangling. He was purple and had foam coming out of his mouth. He wasn’t breathing. I lifted up his dead weight as my husband undid the tie. He crumpled to the floor, unresponsive. I dialed 911 and they asked if he was breathing. No. Then they asked us to start CPR. We were so frozen. We couldn’t remember what to do. She started to walk my husband through it, and seconds later the first policeman was on the scene. He jumped in and took over. Seconds after that paramedics arrived. He was taken to the local hospital and then flown downtown via helicopter.
He was in a coma for 5 days. We never left his side. We watched the Olympics to make our minds focus on something else. We played music, we talked to him. On the 5th day, he just woke up. We don’t know how long he was without oxygen that night. Charlie said he came up right at 11 like we asked and the 911 call went in at 11:09. So 15 minutes would have been the max. He had a few days of physical,occupational and speech therapy and they dismissed him almost immediately. He was amazingly OK. He missed the first week of school, but other than that resumed right where he left off. We got him back. We became one of the luckiest of statistics for kids who play this game.
I knew about this game, I talked about the dangers of it to my kids, I did everything right. I checked their phones, for social media, and text dangers. They are good kids. But I didn’t think to check the pictures. Like I said, the videos were there. I got complacent.
I screwed up.
We learned a hard lesson and didn’t even have to pay the ultimate price like most do. We are beyond grateful and make every day count.