It was time for lunch, and Nicolette M. fixed herself and her preschool son a hot lunch, and settled down with him to watch cartoons on television, their daily ritual. Suddenly Nicolette started to choke. A piece of meat had apparently gotten caught in her throat. She tried to dislodge it, but nothing would work. Gasping, Nicolette realized that she was in a dangerous situation.
"Honey, call 911 right now!" she cried, thankful that she had trained her little boy in emergency procedures. Both of them tried to tell the operator what was wrong, but Nicolette kept choking. She was having trouble catching her breath now, and starting to feel panicky and disoriented. What if she collapsed--or even choked to death--right here in front of her son? He was becoming agitated too, especially since the operator couldn't make out what he was saying. "My mommy, my mommy!" he kept crying.
Suddenly Nicolette heard a knock at the front door. Half-crawling now, she flung it open, expecting to see a rescue squad. Instead, an elderly man was standing on her porch, holding a notebook. "Good afternoon," he began. "I work for the city."
Her Iowa town was small, but she had never seen this gentleman before. Yet, vulnerable as she was, Nicolette felt no fear when the stranger, sizing up the situation, strode into her living room. "I think I can help you," he said. Quickly, he gave Nicolette's address to the telephone operator, hung up the phone, then dragged Nicolette to her feet, went behind her and grasped her in the Heimlich maneuver. Immediately she felt the piece of meat move. It was still stuck in her throat, but although she continued to cough, she could breathe freely once again. She took deep gasps of air. "Thank God," she whispered to the stranger. "Thank God you came when you did." Suddenly sirens heralded the town ambulance drawing up in front of the house. Two attendants raced through the open front door. One saw the man, still standing near Nicolette. "You a relative?" he asked, while the other quickly assessed Nicolette's condition.
"No," the man answered calmly. "I work for the city."
"We're going to take you to the hospital," the paramedic told Nicolette. "That piece of meat needs to be removed by a doctor."
It was all happening so fast... Everyone piled out the front door, but as Nicolette turned around, her rescuer seemed to have disappeared. As the ambulance pulled away, she again tried to see out the window, but there was no figure standing in front of her house, no one watching her as she sped toward help.
Later, after things calmed down and Nicolette left the hospital, she talked to the ambulance squad. Did they know where she could find the man? But they were puzzled too. "Funny thing," one mused. "He said he worked for the city... well, we do too, but we've never seen him on any job or at any meeting." Nicolette kept asking, but in her little town--where everyone knows everyone else--not one person could identify a man of that description working for the city, or for anyone else. Nor did Nicolette discover what a city worker would have been doing in her neighborhood that day.
"He came unexpectedly,and went the same way," Nicolette says today. "But he left a comforting glow that I still have difficulty describing." She doesn't try. She just gives thanks to God for the angel that watches over her--and her neighbors.