Choking back the Gag

Someone once told me that the best response to the gag reflex is to smile. Whoever said it was probably deranged since no one in their right mind would be able to smile while they are gagging, but that is what I heard. Since I would never be able to smile while dealing with situations where vomit is involved, I choose to do it after the fact and cover the whole occurrence with a generous dose of humor…and baking soda.


There are few feelings which can overpower a person like the sudden urge to vomit. It is an all consuming notion that something is not quite content to remain in your stomach, and would much rather relocate and explore the fresh air. Once it has begun, it takes a massive strength of will to not follow through. However, I would argue that sympathetic gagging, when in the presence of someone else puking, is not a sign of weakness of will, but rather of deep love and compassion. Allow me to demonstrate.

I, my wife, and our two year old daughter had been driving from northern Minnesota to Colorado in late December in order to attend a wedding of a friend. We had driven, white-knuckled, through the remnants of snowstorm which had closed roads throughout Minnesota and forced us to take alternate routes. These new paths had led us down through farm country somewhere in Nebraska. The exact location is unclear, since we actually had no idea where we were in the middle of the night. There was no cell reception and we had no maps. The only directions we received had been given to us at a lone gas station and promptly forgotten or disregarded, I have no idea. What is clear in my mind is the sound of our two year old starting to vomit in our back seat.

Whether it was the day of driving, the gas station food, or just another little “blessing” to add to our already balmy day, I do not know. But she was puking, and when someone starts puking, something starts happening in my body that I don’t particularly appreciate.

I pulled the car over to the side of the road and jumped out, opening up the door to try to get a bag to her mouth. Thankfully the gas station attendant’s directions had taken us to an abandoned road in the middle of nowhere, so no one else would be affected by this scene.

By the time I had gotten a bag ready, Tanzen had pretty much filled up her sweatshirt, her lap, and her car seat, and had nothing more to give. That is when I started to feel it. Perhaps is was the day of driving, the gas station food, or just the pungent acidic smell bathing our daughter, but I lost it. My wife lovingly and gently yelled at me to leave the car because there was no way she wanted to deal with two messes. I backed out of our small hatchback like a man crawling out of bear den, gagging.

The night sky was clear and full of stars. We had left the clouds and snow hours earlier. Out here, absent of all vestiges of civilization save a bumpy road and a barbed wire fence, we were surrounded by fresh air. In appreciation of the beauty, I leaned against the car and dry heaved.

The rest of the event is hazy in my mind, much like the smell which wafted throughout our car during the extent of our travels. But I do remember throwing something out at the leaning barbed wire fence. It might have been a bag filled with shrapnel from the incident, or a soaked sweatshirt. I only remember that I threw something out there. My apologies to any coyote who came upon that grizzly scene.

Some might argue that only a weak man could be controlled by the sound and smell of a child vomiting, but I would argue that it is the sign of love and sympathy for the sufferer.