This will not ease my mind much, but it may help a little.

Some time ago, a diner in a local reastaurant choked to death on something he was eating. Having lost a valued friend and colleague in a similar accident, I wrote a few paragraphs about choking accidents. I suggested that more needs to be done to educate and train restaurant personnel in remedial procedures.

In the days the followed, I received a steady flow of mail on the subject. Readers began to send me clippings of expert opinion on the best thing to do when somebody begins to choke on food. Those expert opinions would have been published here with alacrity except for one small difficuty. The didn't agree.

Every since, the subject has weighed on my conscience. I felt I really ought to do something. I ought to do enough research to be able to write something that might save lives.

But the more research I did, the more obvious it became to me that when there is disagreement among medical experts, the best thing a layman can do is shut up. That course at least avoids the danger of getting mis information into circulation.

A few days ago, I noticed a story about choking on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. I have grat respect for the Journal and the thoroughness with which it researches its stories. Here, at last, I thought, I would learn something useful.

I will quote the first few paragraphs of reporter Mark N. Dodosh's Journal story:

"When television newsman John Chancellor began choking at an NBC luncheon the other day, his colleague Tom Brokaw promptly administered a type of bear hug to dislodge the piece of cheese causing the problem.

"Although the procedure did the job, and Mr. Chancellor is around to talk about it, the American National Red Cross would fault Mr. Brokaw's technique. The reason: He didn't deliver four sharp blows to Mr. Chancellor's back before starting the bear hugs. Therein lies a boiling controversy among authorities on first aid for choking: to slap or not to slap.

"The proponents of the two-step procedure say that if the initial slaps succeed, this negates the risks, however minimal, of injury to the spleen or other internal organs in applying the special bear hugs. The anti-slapping forces say the back slaps at best waste valuable time and at worst exacerbate the choking.

"The controversy has progressed beyond the scientific realm into a clash of personalities.

"No one denies the value of the bear hug procedure in saving lives of cho choking victims. The Heimlich maneuver, as it is known, is performed by getting behind the victim and wrapping both arms around his waist.

"With elbows winged out and one hand in a fist against the victim's abdomen just above the naval, the rescuer applies repeated hard thrusts inward and upward."

The article went to say that Dr. Henry J. Heimlich, a professor of advanced clinical sciences at Cincinnati's Xavier University, had undertaken an extensive educational campaign on TV and in the print media to teach people how to use his maneuver. It said Heimlich has documented reports that more than 1,200 people (ranging in age from four months to 93 years) had been saved by it.

Heimlich's public crusade has "incensed" some doctors, the journal story said. "You can't establish scientific truth with a popular vote," said Dr. Don M. Benson, chairman of the anesthesiology department of Aultman Hospital in Canton. Dr. Benson was chairman of a National Academy of Science conference on choking that recommended the two-step pocedure and urged the red Cross to teach it. The American Heart Association has also adopted it. But Dr. Heimlich calls the back slaps "death blows."

So the general public is left wondering which is the better course of action, and the headline on the Journal story reflected this dilemma accurately with the words, "Is Someone Chokes, Should You Hit Him On Back? Yes & No."

It is obvious that only those who have medical and scientific training can properly make recommendations for dealing with incidents that involve life and death. So there is nothing for a layman to say except this: The controversy continues. Until it is resolved, you must make up your own mind what to do in an emergency. Meanwhile, limit the amount of food you put into your mouth, chew it thoughly before swallowing, and hope for the best.


Speaking of The Wall Street Journal it occurs to me that the Journal might like Bob Orben's definition of a brokerage office: "A place that people drive to in a Mercedes to get financial advice from people who came to work on a bus."