I’ve often wondered what really happens when a medical emergency occurs in a restaurant. How do the staff respond? What reaction do the other diners have? How does the object of the medical emergency cope?
In the movies the incident invariably plays out smoothly. Someone starts choking or has a heart attack. A gallant passer by, be it a waiter or fellow diner, steps in and administers the requisite treatment, the distressed patient recovers their composure and all is well. But as we all know movies are the stuff of make believe.
I was recently experienced such an emergency myself. I’d arranged to meet some friends at a new Greek restaurant and deli in London called Ergon. I’d been suffering from a stinking cold and irritating tickly cough all week but I hadn’t seen the friends in question for ages and I thought it would be a good place to review for the blog.
The restaurant was alive with the cicada like chattering of young professionals unwinding from their week at work. You can see why Ergon appeals to them. With it’s minimalist decor it’s smart enough to come to with your clients whilst easily being able to morph into a convivial dining experience to be enjoyed among friends. The menu created by Greece’s most renowned chef Dimitris Skarmoutsos has been crafted to offer diners authentic Greek recipes with a twist.
Ergon’s tag line is “food tastes better when shared” so we opted for a number of dishes to begin with, like bread with feta cheese spread spiked with smoked paprika. There were also stuffed vine leaves with mint yoghurt (very good) and a large cheese croquette of gruyere from Naxos rolled in carob flour, oat flakes, poppy seeds served and with rose petals in syrup (not unpleasant but more of an acquired tasted than the other dishes we shared).
The wine was flowing and we were having a good time – until the chicken souvlaki made an appearance. I should stress at this point that there was nothing wrong with this dish. From the small amount I tasted it appeared to have been well cooked and was still succulent and spicy. The Cretan rice pilaff served with it was more like a risotto (for which I would be grateful later in the evening) but was full of flavour and perfectly seasoned. No, there was no problem with the food. The issue lay with the witty company. Someone said something funny; I went to stifle a laugh so as not to spray my friends with macerated chicken; the laugh was rapidly converted into a cough and I ended up choking on the fowl instead.
It’s a surreal feeling when you realise you’re choking. Initially, your brain tells you not to panic. ‘Just breathe and you’ll be fine’ it says. Except you can’t breathe because there’s piece of chicken lodged in your throat like an unwelcome squatter. Then the realisation dawns that you are actually CHOKING and this in when the PANIC sets in. Meanwhile, your friends think you are having a coughing fit because you sound like a sea lion with a squeaky toy stuck in it’s throat. What follows is then like a bizarre game of charades:
Friends: Do you need an inhaler? (I’m not asthmatic so I don’t have one of these in any case)
Me: Furious shaking of head. Turning scarlet.
Friends: Here have some water!
Me: More violent head shaking. Turning purple.
Friends: Do you need air?
Me: Wide eyed and frantic nodding.
Friends: Oh my god, you’re choking!
Me: YES YES (in my mind at any rate). Eyes virtually popping out of my beetroot coloured head.
At this point I was naturally desperate for air. My reaction was to lurch away from the table towards the nearest exit making a peculiar barking rasping noise as I went. I’m not sure what I thought I was going to achieve by leaving the restaurant. It was like I was trying to run away from an axe wielding maniac. But clearly there is no escaping the situation when your assailant is stuck in your throat. It seemed like eons had passed before one of the waiters stepped in and gingerly offered to perform the Heimlick manoeuvre. In fairness to him I hadn’t been breathlessly flailing around for long before he interjected and I completely understand his slight reticence to perform a manoeuvre that I was later informed can break your ribs (mine were thankfully left intact).
Whether it was the violent coughing and retching or the abdominal thrust, the intruder was finally ejected. The brief moment of excitement (or noisy intrusion depending on how you look at it) for the other diners had passed and everyone nonchalantly continued with their meals. Sadly I was left mute for much of the remainder of the evening with a very sore throat and not much of an appetite (unsurprisingly). I did manage a few small mouthfuls of the risotto like pilaff and tried the Greek yoghurt mousse which was light, smooth and, most importantly, did not induce choking.