‘I thought I had killed my son’ – father on how he changed as a parent after son nearly choked to death

An Irish father has opened up about how his manner of parenting changing forever when his son nearly choked to death on a grape he had given him.

Conall Ó Máirtín’s young son Naoise almost choked to death on a grape a few weeks ago while the whole family was at home during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Conall, who lives in Aglish, Co Tyrone with his wife and four children said that the frightening experience gave him a clarity he had not before experienced on the importance of being in the moment with his children.

The BBC Ulster broadcaster and his wife, who is a chartered accountant, were in the home with their children – all under the age of six – when Naoise began to choke.

“Parents all over the country are under huge pressure, and I suppose we felt that too,” Conall said in an interview with Bladhaire ar RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta.

“It’s hard not to be sucked in by the stuff going around on social media. You think you have to have everything for the kids just as they do in school. I wanted them to have a structure, to have a break at 11am and all that. It’s very hard to do it all, though, it can’t be done really, truth be told.

Conall Ó Máirtín’s four children~Irish Independent

“The penny dropped one day when I was giving them a break, and I gave them bowls of fruit, grapes and strawberries. I was on the phone at the same time, trying to do everything, when I heard this strange sound behind me. I turned around and Naoise, who’s one, was choking. His eyes were rolling, and his face was turning red and purple.”

Conall said that he tried to get the grape out of the child’s throat, that he slapped him on the back, turned him upside down, but nothing worked. Then he and his wife decided the best thing to do was to go to the home of a local nurse to seek help, as the hospital in Dungannon was too far away.

“In the end, I jumped in the car. 

“I kept Naoise on my lap as I drove and I was slapping him on the back. I drove about 100 mph for the 1 mile to the house. I jumped out of the car, and I thought the little boy was dead, that I had killed him with the food I had given him,” he said.

Initially, it appeared that there was nobody home, but eventually there was an answer, and the nurse, Ethel, managed to free the grape.

“But for Ethel, Naoise wouldn’t be here today. (When we got there) she was upstairs getting ready to go out for a walk. A few more minutes and she wouldn’t have been there.”

Conall said that what happened has given him a new perspective on what’s important.

“You think these other things are important, that they must get three or four hours of education a day, that you have to be working during the day too, but after that, after a few days of thinking about it, I realised that no, the important thing is that everyone is safe and well.

“You can’t have homeschool, and do a day’s work at the same time, and this is an emergency so people shouldn’t put themselves under pressure thinking they can do everything.

“This is an exceptional time, and maybe we should try to enjoy this time at home with the family to do the things we don’t have time to do normally.”

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