within an inch of

within an ace/inch of — чуть-чуть, почти (не)

Example 1:When he was dragged from the water, he was within an inch of suffocating (he could hardly breathe). — После того как его вытащили из воды, он еле(-еле) мог дышать.

see also
[еле-еле]
[by the skin of one's teeth]
[a close call]