date of my wedding. 10 years ago, I nearly choked
to death. At work. On a grapefruit. In my office. It could've been
one of the worst ways of saying good-bye to life on this planet.
I sometimes wondered what the headline would've been the
following day. "Sports Anchor dies after choking on a Ruby Red"
might've worked. "Anchor gets all choked up, News at 11" is
kind of catchy. But catastrophe and all the announcements were
avoided thanks to the quick actions of my co-anchor.
I had been working at Fox Sports Net in Atlanta where we
not only produced shows for the South, but also for Arizona,
as well. Yes, it's crazy and I don't have enough space in this
blog to accurately explain it. The duel regions meant the anchors
would have to do four shows a day at 6:30, 8:30, 11:00, and 1 AM.
Yes, it was slave labor, but I loved it. The challenge of doing
four shows alternating between Atlanta and Arizona was an
adrenaline-fueled rush that I became addicted to despite working
15 hour days. It wasn't for everybody.
In between shows, we really didn't have much time to eat, so
I went to the break room to get my grapefruit from the refrigerator.
This was a super-sized Ruby Red sucker, that was a meal in
itself. I was peeling it like an Orange and eating it like one. Now,
those who have seen me chow down, know that I don't just
eat food, I inhale it. It's a bad habit that I picked up while
working in smaller markets where sports anchors had to do
everything themselves and eating on run was standard if
you wanted to make deadlines.
On this evening, I was eating on the run because I had
to write and anchor four, 30-minute shows. We did have
a few producers, but they could never break away from
their fantasy drafts long enough to be of much help
crafting the show.
As I walked from the break room to the studio at a quick
pace, I was peeling and eating, peeling and eating. Man, that
Ruby Red grapefruit was pure, a perfect blend of sweet and
sour that produced a natural high. However, as I got halfway
through the studio, I noticed something wasn't right. That
gi-normous slice of grapefruit wasn't making it down the
Panic started to set in as I went through a door back to
my office. An intern, whom I had never seen before, raised
his hand and said, "Hi". The guy wanted to exchange pleasantries
as my face was turning purple while gurgling sounds were
emitting from my throat? Really? I later found out the intern
was asking, "Heimlich". My memory might be good, but my
I was wondering if this was really the way I was going
to die. Choking on a grapefruit? At my job? Why couldn't I be at
Ruth's Chris steakhouse tearing into a big side of beef and
choking on that instead? A grapefruit? That's not a good ending.
As I turned into my office, I pointed to my stomach and
made some kind of primal grunting sound, kind of like
the noise a Gorilla in the mist makes after discovering
someone swiped his bananas. Matt Morrison, who was
writing his show, promptly got up, went behind me and
did the Heimlich maneuver.
Morrison, who is a salt-of-the earth kind of guy, reacted as if
he had done this many times before. Calm, cool, and on a
mission to get that thing out of my throat.
the wind out of me, and out came the slice of grapefruit.
Pam Oliver, the sideline anchor for Fox Sports, was working
on a report at her desk with her back to us, oblivious to
what was going on.
Needless to say, Oliver was quite stunned when the projectile
went over her shoulder and onto her desk. Oliver is a smart, sweet,
beautiful woman, but if you cross her, she'll kick your ass up and
down Main Street. I don't think she was happy with what was
now a slime-like amoeba resting on her desk. She rolled back
from her desk and blurted out, "what the.....?"
After disaster was avoided and I got my breath back, which was
followed by an apology to Oliver, Morrison and I high-fived and
quickly got back to writing our show. With a new show at the top
of the hour, we acted as if nothing happened. However, my heart
rate told me that I had almost checked out at the age of 37. Choking
on a grapefruit. At work. In my office.
As we we're sitting on the set as the show opened, I deviated from
the script by saying, "I'm Paul Devlin, and this is Matt Morrison, the
man who saved my life." The viewers had no clue what was going
on but everyone in that studio certainly did.