I nearly died yesterday, due to a combination of popcorn, caffeine, and my remarkable skill and poise in professional presentations.
Allow me to back up for a moment. Last year E and I sent our spit to 23andMe so we could receive genetic profiles. Mine revealed many interesting things, including that the fact that my body metabolizes caffeine differently than most people.
Anyone who knows me could have told you that without the benefit of a state-of-the-art genetic test. Where a 12-ounce coffee makes most people perky, it turns me into a jittery, speed-talking demon that cannot operate touch screens or complex machinery.
It was with full knowledge of that potential outcome that I grabbed a 20-ounce soy chai latté on the way into an informal client presentation, figuring that I needed at least a slight edge of insanity to get through my fifth meeting and subsequent all-nighter of writing.
Fast forward to the meeting.
Slightly high on my caffeine buzz, I am at the head of a conference table filled with my clients, one of whom made individual bags of lime-tinted popcorn for each of us.
Things are going well. I have a rhythm down: gesture to slide, explain, solicit feedback, eat two kernels of popcorn, respond, repeat.
On the umpteenth repetition of this ritual, I finish explaining, solicit questions, and place the first of two pieces of popcorn into my mouth. The question is brief, and I inhale sharply to fuel my answer.
My first piece of popcorn skitters back across my tongue and lodges itself firmly in my windpipe.
“Excuse me,” I wheeze, patting my chest gently to expel the rogue kernel.
It does not expel.
I try to gently cough it up without causing a hugely gross scene in the middle of my presentation. and discover that I don’t seem to have any air to do the coughing with.
My entire client group is now staring me down as I slowly asphyxiate in front of them. I hold up one figure in a gesture to them to wait a moment and try again – with slightly less tact – to cough up the kernel, still lodged in my windpipe.
Nothing seems to be happening. I am acutely aware of the inexorable passage of time, both from a biological “I need to breathe” perspective and a business “this is kindof a long pause in a presentation, even an informal one with popcorn” perspective.
The entire client team continues to look on, now in mute horror, as my thumps to my own chest become less and less delicate. Finally, now nearly half a minute having passed, I turn to my left to one of my clients and in the barest of whispers state the following:
“I think I might require your help.”
Said client solemnly rose to his feet, walked around my overstuffed chair, and thumped me solidly three times in the back.
The kernel popped out of my windpipe, and I promptly swallowed it before it could wreak any further havoc. I re-took the inhaled breath that got me into trouble to begin with, and plunged forward.
“Now, as I was saying…”