Life Lessons From the Ham House | When Our Four-Year-Old Son Swallowed a Quarter

When God blessed us with three sons, I sometimes wonder if He failed to equip us with the nerves and patience to be their parents. But in His own timing, He has gently reminded us that His strength is perfected in weakness. We find God in the waiting. This week, that reminder was uncomfortably real.


I was sitting in my upstairs office listening to the normal noise of our house before dinner. The kids’ feet echoed on the hardwood floor as the smell of dinner made its way up the stairs. But in an instance, those sounds changed dramatically. An otherwise fun-filled evening quickly turned to panic.

I heard a brief commotion followed by my wife’s cry, “MATT!!!”

I ran down the stairs and saw my wife, Liz, standing over one of our four-year-old twins, Wyatt. She had one hand on his chest and the other on his back as she screamed in panic, “He’s choking.”

Wyatt’s gag reflex immediately caused him to vomit—the body’s natural protective device to dislodge whatever may be blocking the airway. I glanced in Wyatt’s eyes and saw pure fear. He was scared and helpless. In an instant, those same feelings of fear, helplessness and panic overtook me. But then, my son began to cry. If he was crying, he was breathing.

It provided an ounce of relief, but Liz had already begun to call 911. I held my son and asked him, “What did you swallow, buddy?”

Through hysteria, I managed to understand, “A coin.”

Minutes later, when the firemen and paramedics arrived, they attempted to calm my wife. We had nearly forgotten that she was eight-months pregnant. They didn’t want the stress to send her into labor. To comfort us, they reminded us that as long as he was breathing and drinking liquids, he would be fine. It appeared that the coin had passed through his esophagus and into his stomach. Eventually, it would work its way out. But minutes after they left, we knew something wasn’t right.


Wyatt’s x-ray clearly shows the quarter lodged in his upper throat

Wyatt wasn’t acting like himself. He continued to complain of pain in his throat and his speech was off. I grabbed three coins—a dime, a nickel, and a quarter—and spread them out in my hand.

“Which one was it, Wyatt? Which coin did you swallow?”

He pointed to the quarter.

The x-ray would later confirm what we knew in that moment. The quarter was lodged in my son’s throat and it was an absolute miracle that it didn’t go down his trachea.

We put him in the car and headed to the emergency room.

An Unexpected Detour

Our experience at the local emergency room left a lot to be desired. Since our son was breathing, it didn’t seem to take priority over the more urgent cases. After a couple of hours, they informed us that there wasn’t a pediatric specialist who could complete the procedure to remove the quarter. We would have to be transferred to Chapel Hill Children’s Hospital more than two hours away.

By this time, it was already midnight and the transport van wouldn’t be ready until 4am.

Our patience and strength were wearing thin. To add insult to injury, they wouldn’t allow my wife to ride with our son in the transport van because she was pregnant. She would have to follow in our car. At 6am, we all arrived safely, just in time to watch the sunrise.

Apparently, this wasn’t a new problem for the folks at Chapel Hill. In fact, there were other kids in the same holding room for similar conditions. Again, our situation wasn’t life threatening so we were told that his surgery was scheduled for 3pm. At 4pm on Tuesday afternoon, they finally removed the quarter from Wyatt’s throat.

My son was tired, but he was alive and well.

Those eighteen hours taught me a couple of valuable lessons that I would like to share. There are parts of me that hesitate to share these stories here, but I believe it’s part of the journey for me. I believe these trials are not without purpose. Not only for me, but for you as well.


Here’s the quarter

Life in the Waiting

In a world of digital accessibility, we have become terrible at waiting. When information is available at the push of a button, why should we have to wait?

Sometimes, it’s the simple inconveniences like flat tires, losing our data signal, or standing in line at the DMV that force us to pause. Other times, it’s a bit more serious.

During our eighteen hours of waiting, I realized why we hate it so much. It’s in the silence of the waiting room where the voices of doubt and fear are the loudest. In the waiting, the lies speak louder than the truth.

While we waited for the doctors to remove the quarter from Wyatt’s throat, I was plagued by anxiety. What if it turned? What if it damages his esophagus? In the waiting, the “What ifs” are real. And if we let them, the “What ifs” will rule our lives.

As I thought about this, I was reminded of Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness—his waiting room. It’s those wilderness seasons when we’re alone and it feels like God has abandoned us. And just like Jesus, when we’re in the wilderness, the enemy is close at hand. Remember how the enemy tempted him, “If you’re the son of God…”

The point is, don’t listen to the “ifs” of the enemy while you’re waiting. You see, while waiting offers the enemy an opportunity to rob us of joy, it also offers us our greatest opportunity to trust God. The hardest and most important decisions are made in the waiting. You either give in to your fears. Or you trust in something greater than them.

God With Us

As I sat in the hospital room, watching my son toss and turn uncomfortably in his bed, I felt the real tension of waiting. In addition, I saw thousands of people around me who were waiting as well. There were student residents waiting to become doctors, doctors waiting to retire, patients waiting on their treatments, mothers waiting to give birth, families waiting on their loved ones. Everyone was waiting on something.

This experience brought the reality of the gospel to life.

As we approach another Christmas season, I’m reminded that God joined us in the waiting. Jesus’s very name means, God with us. That’s a profound truth to consider. The hope of the gospel is that we’re never alone in the waiting. In Christ, we not only have a savior, but an example as well.

I think the most important thing to remember is that if you find yourself in a waiting room, you still have a choice. You can see-saw back and forth between your regrets and fears, and you can listen to the voice of the enemy. Or, you can choose to rest in the present moment with the One who promises to meet you there.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to relegate our faith to a Sunday worship service and a few good deeds during the week. We praise God with one hand raised and cling to everything else with a clinched fist. But faith is about truly letting go. Maybe every waiting room is simply an opportunity to open both palms and trust Him exclusively.

If we’re willing, He will meet us there.


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9 Responses to Life Lessons From the Ham House | When Our Four-Year-Old Son Swallowed a Quarter

  1. Jon Stallings December 17, 2015 at 2:51 pm #

    Glad this turned out well Matt – Most think Advent is about preparing us for Christmas and too some degree it is. Advent is really about us waiting for Christ’s return. But I also have to be honest. i don’t like waiting. I want it now.

    • Matt Ham December 19, 2015 at 9:58 am #

      Touch and go for a bit, Jon. I love the season of Advent–a mindset of waiting with patient endurance. It is so hard though. I hope you have a Merry Christmas, brother. Thanks for your encouragement.

  2. Vicky Lightner Cox December 17, 2015 at 7:27 pm #

    This is a great reminder to be present in the waiting and experience God there. Often during the holidays I just want to get through them because it’s so rough on my daughters. But even this morning I felt God call me to experience Him in the valleys. So thanks Matt, I will.

    • Matt Ham December 19, 2015 at 9:57 am #

      Vicky, I pray that He would meet you there. I have faith that He will. Finish 2015 well.

  3. Michelle December 20, 2015 at 8:05 am #

    I have been there, an ER trip with my child, fear around every corner, and Grace to meet me there (
    Merry Christmas Matt.

  4. Skip Prichard December 31, 2015 at 10:33 pm #

    Matt, this is such a powerful and beautiful post – wow. So glad he is OK and that you were able to share these lessons with us. I’m not good with waiting either….

    • Matt Ham January 4, 2016 at 12:00 pm #

      Thanks so much, Skip. Happy New Year to you. It was a great lesson to close 2015.


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