The odd term “café coronary” refers to the act of choking on a mouthful of food, often taken from a bountiful plate at a restaurant. To many people witnessing such an event, the victim looks like he is suffering from a heart attack.

In 1972, the New York Times reported that more than 3,000 people in the U.S. choked to death that year, making it the sixth most common cause of accidental death. Up until that time, the usual response upon discovering a choking person was to slap him or her on the back. But many doctors insisted that a blow on the back tends to drive the object downward, lodging that obstruction even more tightly in the airway.

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