The Whistle-Blower

By Kristine Meldrum Denholm

With apologies to readers, it was a dark and stormy night.

But it was, I noticed, as my five-year-old loomed over me, waking me up.

“What is it, honey?”

She started to cry.

“Bad dream?”

“No.” Then the fateful four words: I swallowed a whistle.

For some reason, I felt it crucial to look at the clock (as if 3:23 am was a time that people commonly swallow whistles.)

“What do you mean, you swallowed a whistle?” This is where a mother’s mind races: What? Why? Which part of the digestive system would it get stuck in? What happens when you swallow a whistle? Is there lead in whistles? I think I’ve read an article about a child dying from magnets! Dear God, I think there was an ER episode on this!

Sounded like a good reason to put the elbow to the hub’s rib. “She’s swallowed a whistle!”

And hubby, who I married because he is the most brilliant person I’ve ever known, says one syllable. “Huh?”

So I’m left with my little whistle-blower, a husband in denial, two other kids sleeping peacefully, with visions of dancing snow-calamities-causing-massive-school-cancellations in their heads, and icy roads.

“Honey, are you sure? Did you choke?”

“It went down.”

“Why did you swallow it?”

“I don’t know, Mommy.”

Must’ve been a tiny whistle on a stuffed animal she went to sleep with, I deducted. (In times of stress, apparently my mind curses immobile fluffy creatures. Dang you, Build a Bear!)

I called the pediatrician’s on-call nurse.

“A whistle?” she said.

“Yes. Are those dangerous?”

“Is she breathing?”


“No trouble?”

“No. Are those dangerous?”

“Is she turning blue or anything?”

“No. She says she felt it go down.”

They suggested Children’s Hospital. It was a hike from where I lived, but I trusted Children’s. They had once removed tonsils from my son that were the size of North Dakota. “Don’t go,” my husband said. “She’s fine.”

“What if she isn’t? What if she needs surgery? What if it never passes?”

“It’s an ice storm out. It’s dangerous.”

“I gotta go” – and I was out the door, firing up a frozen van, and trekking down the interstate. As I prayed, I thought of my friends at my church. Does “swallowed whistle” qualify for a prayer chain?

She cried. I gripped the steering wheel as the Dodge Minivan was sliding on the highway tundra. Please God, let my girl be ok.

I literally slid into Children’s ER and leapt from the van (doing a Kristi Yamaguchi-impression where you land on the ice doing splits without even trying!) The security guard said something about my car keys, trying to be helpful. Who has time for keys! I thought. Don’t you see here MY DAUGHTER COULD BE DYING! (I imagine it was hard for him to tell because she was conscious.) This was going to be like an ER episode!

We raced in, breathless (me) and fully breathing (her). “My daughter swallowed a whistle!” I cried out.

“Are you Mrs. Denholm?”

“Oh good, the nurse called ahead!” They’ve had time to assemble the finest surgical team in town to get the whistle out of my daughter!

“No, she didn’t call. Your husband did.”

And then the next fateful four words: “He found the whistle.”

“WHAT?”(This never happened on ER.)

“He said he and her brothers got up and looked for the whistle she plays with. They found it.”

I looked at my daughter. “Sweetie?”

“I guess it could’ve been a dream, Mommy.”

My mouth dropped open. I hugged her but turned red. As we turned around, I cursed myself for risking our lives driving an icy highway out of fear. I thought of how I blamed poor Build a Bear, who would give me the silent treatment. And, I chided myself for looking like a scared mom wearing scarier sweats, should George Clooney have appeared in this episode of ER. And then I determined, somewhere on the way back, that I would do it again…for any of my kids.

I looked at my fully awake daughter and we made a pact: No. More. ER. Visits. Please? I thought of the nerve-racking treks we’d made for our three kids: infant earaches, tonsil abscesses, a broken wrist, an unending vomiting session at Beauty and the Beast (my deepest apologies to the janitorial staff at the theatre, my appreciation for the clean stalls and to the cast: I’m sure it was an extraordinary performance!)

“Do you know how scary these things are for Mommy?” I asked (because we all know a dose of parental guilt is in the best interest of the parents).

She nodded. “Mommy, I love you.”

As ticked as I was, I wanted to reach back to that Caravan middle row and hug my girl.

I love you too, baby. I love you too.

About this writer

  • Kristine Meldrum Denholm Kristine Meldrum Denholm is a mom/chauffeur of three and an award-winning freelance writer and columnist specializing in parenting and psychology. She’s been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Dog’s Life and a variety of magazines, newspapers and online media. Visit her at

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2 Responses to “The Whistle-Blower”

  1. I LOLed, showed this to my husband who also LOLED, then sent it to my mother, who laughed until she was in tears. Thank you for a reading we somehow all “get”.

  2. Kristine says:

    Liz, thanks for the kind words! Guess when you’re a mom you get a good sense of “panic,” huh? :-) Thanks for reading the story!

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