It's a regular occurrence in TV and movies, but a less common scene in real life: A doctor in Bakersfield, Calif., saved a choking woman's life at a restaurant by using a pocket knife and pen to perform an emergency tracheotomy, the Bakersfield Californian reports. If there is such a thing as ideal circumstances for choking, they're probably these: The incident happened during dinner on Monday after a medical symposium, so many top physicians—including CDC chief Dr. Thomas Frieden—were in the room when Pauline Larwood, a former county supervisor, started choking at a table (KBAK-KBFX reports that a piece of steak was the culprit).
The Heimlich maneuver didn't work, so Dr. Royce Johnson—a professor of medicine at UCLA and the chief of infectious diseases at a local hospital—sprang into action. He borrowed a friend's pocket knife, made an incision in the 71-year-old's throat, and inserted a pen casing to use as a breathing tube. Frieden and Dr. Paul Krogstad, another UCLA medical professor, monitored her pulse and breathing. It worked—before the ambulance had even arrived, Larwood was reportedly sitting up and talking. The tracheotomy was "a pretty drastic measure," says Krogstad, but "everyone knew what they were doing." (Read more tracheotomy stories.)