EVERETT — Lunch isn’t exactly about food, in middle school.
“Kids, they do more talking than eating,” said Christopher Hughes, 42. “So for the last few minutes, they start stuffing.”
The custodian at Eisenhower Middle School would know. Hughes spends lunchtime watching the crowded tables for spills, accidents or whatever else comes up in the noisy cafeteria.
Last week at the end of the first lunch period, he was getting ready to take out the trash when a sixth-grader, Julie Barnett, ran up to him. Another sixth-grade girl was choking. Hughes, who started working at the school in fall, was the nearest adult.
Hughes happens to know the Heimlich maneuver. He grew up in a small town near Casper, Wyoming, where his dad was a police chief and an EMT, he said. Before Hughes’ career path led him to this job — first in Arlington, then in Everett — he’d gone through a program to be an EMT, too. And like teachers and principals, all head custodians at Everett schools are required to take a first aid and CPR class every two years.
Hughes rushed over to the girl, and she signaled that, yes, she was choking on the chips she’d been eating. Tortilla chips, Hughes said, might be the worst thing to choke on: Each time you push them up in the throat, they come back down stinging.
Quickly he explained what he was going to do. She nodded. He thrust his fists upward to the girl’s sternum four times, until he’d dislodged the food. He hit her on the back four more times, to make sure it was all out. The girl was taken to the nurse. She was OK.
Hughes said he did what he hopes anyone would do for his own daughter, age 3. To him, the girl’s classmate, Julie, is the real hero. A lot of kids might not know what to do, he said, or might not realize they were witnessing an emergency.
After lunch, Hughes went back to work. It had been raining over the past few days. Leaves clogged the gutters. Hughes climbed a ladder to clean them out, and as he worked, the girl and her father walked by. They thanked him.
Hughes told the girl, next time, to slow down a little when she eats.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; email@example.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.