This week’s guest columnist is Dr. Allan Olson, a Family Practice resident at University Hospital and Clinics here in Lafayette.

It’s mosquito season again- never far away in Louisiana.  Usually bites are harmless, causing some redness, itching, and swelling that goes away within hours.  Ten years ago mosquito bites were just a nuisance, but now the news is full of stories about Zika and Dengue, and remember West Nile virus?  So when to worry?

Your 10 year-old son played outside this afternoon.  When he came in for supper he had two itchy, raised, red areas on his arms and one on his neck.  Other than some rubbing and scratching, he seems fine.  Should you be concerned?

Not yet: your boy is behaving normally, has no fever or other symptoms besides the bites.  You tell him to stop scratching- good luck with that!  When mosquitoes bite, they inject an anesthetic so you don’t know they’re biting and can’t swat them.  But then later some people develop a tiny allergic reaction to that anesthetic, and thus the spot of swelling and itching.  And when kids itch, they scratch, and no words can stop that.

To get rid of the itch,  use anti-histamines like Benadryl, Claritin, or Zyrtec.   Ibuprofen or Tylenol can take the edge off itching too, and can safely be taken with an anti-histamine.  Also, keep your kids fingernails cut short.  If they tear the skin with scratching, that broken skin is an entry for bacteria, and infections and pus can result.  If your child has extra sensitive or dry skin, keep it moisturized with lotion and moisturizing soap, making it less itchy and less easily torn by fingernails.

Even better, keep those bites from happening!  Mosquito buzzing is no reason to stay inside all day playing video games.  Kids need exercise (besides their thumbs) to stay healthy, not to mention wearing them out so they’ll sleep at night.  Have your kids wear light, long sleeved clothing and pants, with cuffs tucked into socks.  Too hot for that, or too dorky for your kid?  Repellents with DEET or picaridin can help keep insects away.  Avoid being outside when mosquitoes are most active- dusk, dawn, and after rain.

Here’s a different mosquito scenario than from our boy above.  Your teenage daughter goes on a mission trip to Central America with her church.  She was helping out at a clinic in a remote village, and gets some mosquito bites.  Two days after coming home she begins to feel bad- with fever, headaches, nausea.  Her body aches and she’s tired.  Knowing that many infections transmitted by mosquitoes get better on their own, you give her Tylenol and have her drink plenty of fluids.  So when to worry now?

These days with Zika virus in the news, heck, you’re already worried!  So you take her to your doctor or the ER.  Most of the time though, these mosquito-borne infections are viruses that run their course and leave your daughter fine.  Occasionally, kids may need tests to look for one of the bad infections like West Nile, Dengue, or malaria. They may need fluids for dehydration or specific medicine for pain.

Many countries in the Caribbean, Central America, or South America have increased risk for mosquito-borne diseases like Zika, Chikungunya, yellow fever, West Nile, Dengue, or malaria.  If you or your kids are working or vacationing there, preventing these illnesses is way better than getting them!  Sleep under mosquito netting, in a room with screens on the windows.  Air-conditioning helps: you can sleep in a more sealed room, and the cool air makes mosquitoes less active.  Use repellents and protective clothing as mentioned above.

Before you go, check the Centers for Disease Control website (  The CDC lists the disease risks for every country in the world, and what you need before you go.  If yellow fever is prevalent, get vaccinated for that.  For malaria prevention, the site tells you what antibiotic to get from your doctor, when to start taking it, and when to stop.  It’s a pretty cool site (at least we doctors think so), so check it out.

Don’t let those mosquitoes disrupt your kids’s outdoor fun or travel plans.  Take these steps to help them have a great summer at home or on the road.  And so you don’t have to panic when you hear BZZZZZZ.

Stay Outdoors This Summer!

My college required students to take four blocks of Physical Education, much like high school, except we chose the sports.  We also had to pass a swim test to graduate.  My roommate Brian, who’d never learned to swim, had to use his PE blocks to take swim lessons until he passed that test.  So while the rest of my buddies and me were horsing around in floor hockey or golf lessons, Brian was off to the campus pool in swim trunks, towel around his neck, trailed by jokes about playing in the “kiddie pool,” and “don’t forget your water wings.”

Learning to swim and playing in the pool are great ways to spend the hot summer. It’s good exercise and though kids are outdoors, they stay cool.  And they have fun!  More importantly for we in Emergency services, knowing how to swim is good drowning prevention.

Proper swim lessons, like in the Boy Scouts, don’t only teach swimming.  They also teach water safety, because even good swimmers can get into trouble, like my buddy Walt. Walt is an ER doctor who had been in the Air Force Pararescue, or “PJs.” This elite team’s mission is to rescue downed pilots, particularly in water. Needless to say, Walt was as capable in water as any Navy Seal.  One day at the beach, however, he and his 8 year-old son got caught in a riptide and were taken out to sea.

Hundreds of yards off shore, Walt saw a current that would sweep them back, but the stream he was in prevented him from swimming there.  After hours of trying to break through while holding up his son, growing exhausted, he resigned himself to throwing his son to the beach-bound current before he himself drowned.  Just then a rogue wave slapped them into that good current and they got home.

After that, Walt never went to the beach without numerous flotation devices and a long rope.  Good swim lessons likewise teach about safety and rescue strategies like having flotation and other equipment handy.  They also teach the buddy system so everyone is accounted for in a crowd.

Playing outdoors in the summer is great exercise too, though not as cooling as swimming.  Kids can get overheated, especially if they are in sports practices.  Several times in July and August we get football players in the Emergency Department with heat exhaustion.  The boys start to get muscle cramps, and then can become sleepy and sometimes confused.  When they are confused or difficult to arouse, we worry about heat stroke, a life-threatening emergency.

Dr. James Andrews, a famed sports orthopedic surgeon, wrote a book called “Any Given Monday: Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them.”  In that book he advocates kids cutting back on organized sports when they are young, to avoid repetitive injuries that he used to see only in college and professional athletes.  This allows for more unstructured outdoor play for kids that’s easier on their joints.  Kid-driven play also helps avoid heat injury.

In regular play, there’s no training agenda to drive kids past their comfort zone.  Kids can goof around outside all they want, and when they get hot and thirsty come in to get drinks and cool off.  They take breaks whenever they want.  In coach-driven sports, kids are pushed to the limits of their endurance to improve performance.  Sometimes they are pushed too far, and get over-heated.

However, organized sports practice can be made safer. Coaches should allow unlimited water breaks.  Heat injury happens with temperature and dehydration working together to punish; plenty of fluids prevents that.  Breaks should be in the shade.  Teams should practice in cooler times of day, early morning and late afternoon or evening.  Football practice should start with shorts and tee-shirts, with endurance and equipment gradually added in following weeks.  Finally, coaches should watch players for signs of heat exhaustion, just like they watch for signs of concussion.  If players acts groggy, they should be rested and hydrated in the shade.

So let your kids play freely outdoors. They should get swimming lessons and have lots of pool time to play and exercise.  If they are outdoors in the yard, be sure they take plenty of water and cooling-off breaks, and have sprinklers to play in.  Come to think of it, maybe football practices should have lots of running through the sprinklers too!

Don’t Choke: Learn CPR!

This week’s guest columnist is Dr. Kevin Morris, a family practice resident at the University Hospital and Clinics here in Lafayette.

My wife and I sit down to enjoy dinner with our boys- the three year-old in a booster and the 8 month-old in a high chair.  We are chatting and relaxed when the baby quits making sounds.  He had inhaled to cough and sucked in a piece of teething biscuit, completely blocking his airway!  I pulled him out of his high chair and used three quick back blows taught in basic rescue classes.  The piece popped out and tragedy was averted.

Most people understand the danger of non-food items causing choking, like coins or rocks, but any object in the mouth is a hazard.  This is especially true for infants and children, who explore with their mouths and aren’t careful about chewing. The National Safety Council Injury Facts 2016 reports that choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional death.

What to do?  First and foremost every adult, parents or not, should take a Basic First Aid/CPR course.  In these you’re taught important life-saving maneuvers, including the Heimlich maneuver.  There are different techniques to use depending on the child’s age, and you practice hands-on.  Call the American Red Cross, American Heart Association, or your local Fire/EMS for a class, or navigate their websites.

The most obvious way to avoid a choking episode is to make sure there aren’t small, non-food items within the child’s reach.  This includes marbles, rocks, small toys like lego pieces, button batteries, etc.  ”Within reach” is a big place for a toddler- they explore by crawling and walking wherever they can.  Since their mouths are one of the most sensitive parts of their bodies, they lick and taste new things they find, and pop them inside for a really good going-over.

Thus to keep children safe from choking, parents, grandparents, and other sitters need to be diligent.  Caregivers should periodically get on their hands and knees and explore the house and yard like a toddler would- finding and cleaning up all small things that the child might ingest.  You can look on-line for all sorts of other ways to “toddler-proof” their world.

Keeping non-food items out of your child’s mouth is one thing; but food is also a choking hazard.  My boy, who choked on the teething biscuit as a baby, had a second episode when he was 5 years.  When we were leaving a restaurant he grabbed a peppermint from the bowl on the counter. Once in the car I was backing out of the parking space, looked over my shoulder, and saw a scared look on my son’s face.  His hands flew to his throat, the classic sign of choking.  Since he was older, the back blows I used when he was a baby were no longer appropriate.  I jumped out, grabbed him from his seat, and administered the Heimlich maneuver. After five abdominal thrusts the peppermint was expelled and my son was breathing again.

Like we said above, prevention is the best medicine for choking.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding these foods for young children: hard candies like that peppermint, un-cut hot dogs, nuts, peanut butter chunks, popcorn, seeds, whole grapes.  You get the idea: any firm object large enough to block your child’s airway.

Grapes are good for kids, they just need to be cut into halves or quarters.  Hot dogs need to be sliced.  Children don’t always chew food thoroughly, and aren’t yet able to reliably keep food from falling to the back of their throats.

Another important rule is never let toddlers and small children walk and eat.  It’s hard for a kid to do both when they’re still new to those activities.  When kids walk, they breathe harder, chew less, and thus increase choking risk.  And when they’re walking, they can walk out of your sight and choke to death without you even knowing it!

Therefore, all kids from infancy to elementary school should sit while eating, where they can be monitored by adults.  And as I have repeated, we highly recommend that every parent, caregiver, and babysitter take a BLS/First Aid course to have the skills to save a choking child.  Like I did twice with my son, you may save a life very important to you!

Becoming A Doctor

Many kids want to become doctors, and many doctors want their kids to be doctors too. Once I had a great opportunity to show my son how cool it could be.  I spend a week each year in Honduras working in remote mountain villages, and take one of my kids along.  It was the end of the day, we were packing the trucks to head back to town, when I heard shouting from the road, “El doctor, el doctor!”

Two villagers were coming up, carrying a makeshift litter of two tree branches draped with blankets. Inside the blankets was an 8 year-old boy, face twisted in pain. Peeling back the covers, I saw a huge chunk of flesh missing from his right thigh.  Excited voices informed us that he had just been bitten by a pig.

We unpacked the trucks, moved back into the schoolhouse we had been using, and pushed school tables together to lay him on.  One of the other doctors, an anesthesiologist, injected a nerve block in our patient’s hip to numb his leg.  While I was arranging my surgical tools, I thought, “Great, my boy will see his Dad be a hero,”  like an episode of the TV show MASH.

However, as I started working, I noticed my son at the far side of the room, his back to us. When I called him to come see, he said he’d rather not.  Instead of exciting him, the blood, the wound, and the child’s pain made him sick.  So much for Dad The Hero and his son the doctor; my boy was going to go another way.

None of my kids want to be a doctor, though they occasionally like the idea of being a doctor.  Many feel that way: it sounds fun to have the prestige and income, to help others in a meaningful way, to have some excitement.  But my kids know better- it takes a lot more, at least 11 years of school and training, than just liking the idea.

It takes perseverance.  What helped me was that I loved science (unlike my kids). Studying biology and chemistry was just plain fun.  Also, I wanted to care for others using science, and was undaunted by the long hours.  I wanted adventure too, and medicine promised that.

I wanted to be a doctor since sixth grade, but some decide that later.  One resident of mine failed college after his first semester, already not your typical path to an MD!  His dad was a nursing home administrator, and while he was moping about his academic disaster, his dad said, “While you’re doing nothing, come spend time with some of my patients. They’re so lonely.”

The first patient he went to see had cancer, as well as being elderly.   He sat down with the man, they started talking, and hours later he was still there.  They became fast friends for years, until the man’s death.  That visit stimulated this resident to continue his dream of patient care.  He became a paramedic, and after several years with EMS, got serious about college, and went on to medical school.  In 4 weeks he graduates residency to be a full-fledged doctor.

Though we discussed above that becoming a doctor means loving science, it’s really about taking care of people.  Often that ideal is lost in the rigors of the eleven year training, where student live and breathe medicine and science.  Patients become subjects of study, rather than people in need.

But immersion in medicine, becoming a “medical nerd,” is pretty much required.  First, students need all A’s and B’s in four years of college, usually in a science degree.  Then, only one-third of medical school applicants get accepted to go on. The next four years in medical school are even harder- 50-plus hours per week of class, study, and hospital time, instead of the 15 to 18 hours class time in college. After medical school comes residency, where the “resident” doctor works 80-hour weeks apprenticing in a specialty. Residency takes three years for the basic specialties (pediatrics, adult medicine, family practice), more years for OB/GYN, surgery, or subspecialties.

But if you are not dissuaded, and want a life of profound duty and fulfillment, service and excitement, and have a capacity for delayed gratification (I was 29 years old when I finished school and training), go for it!  Just don’t forget about your patients. 

Creepy Crawly Critters

This week’s guest columnist is Dr. Richard Pearson, a Family Practice resident at the University Hospital and Clinics here in Lafayette.

After school your son goes outside to play.  Later he comes in dirty and sweaty, and then pulls the crumpled letter from his backpack. It’s on school letterhead, formal intro……LICE???  They found lice in your son’s hair!  Your head spins: Where did he get them? Does he have to miss school?  Do my other kids have them?  DO I HAVE THEM? You unconsciously begin scratching your head.

Head lice is not uncommon in school children.  Lice are critters that live on the scalp, biting and taking blood for nourishment.  They can’t jump like fleas or fly like mosquitoes, they simply walk around.  Their bites don’t spread infections but they do itch, often the only symptom.

Since lice only walk, they pass from person to person soley by direct contact. For this reason, taking selfies with others has been recognized as a new mode of transmission. Your son likely got lice from a schoolmate, or someone else in your house. But simply being in the same classroom is safe: kids diagnosed with lice should finish the school day, avoiding head contact with others, and start treatment that evening.

Treatment is straight-forward.  First, check everyone in the house, and yourself! Everyone must be treated simultaneously so they don’t re-infect each other after treatment. The best treatments are over-the-counter products like Permethrin 1% lotion.  Follow the directions on the box carefully. Sometimes it takes two or more treatments.  If you’ve heard that lice in your area are resistant, call your doctor about alternatives.

After treatment, comb out the lice and eggs with a fine-toothed comb.  Re-comb daily. Clothes and bedding should be washed in hot water and dried in high heat.  If a favorite stuffed animal or pillow can’t be washed, putting them in sealed plastic bag for 2 weeks will starve lice or eggs.  Kids with super-thick piles of curly hair will be easier to treat after a shorter haircut.

The CDC and American Academy of Dermatology websites have great articles on lice eradication. Their instructions are simple, and tell you what not to go crazy over.  So you can be rid of lice and move on!

Everyone in Louisiana knows mosquitoes.  Many also have run-ins with fleas or scabies, not to mention the lice we talked about above.  All these critters attack your skin, bite, and cause itchies. Treat with anti-itch cream and maybe some Benadryl, in case of fleas treat your pets too, and you’re done.  Then, there’s bedbugs.

Bedbugs are tougher.  They are bugs like lice, that crawl on your skin and bite to suck blood.  They look like walking apple seeds.  However, bedbugs only bite when you’re sleeping and then go hide, so you never see them.  All you know is that you’re getting itchy bumps, and assume it’s mosquitoes.

If you’re getting more itchy bumps at night, and are pretty sure there aren’t swarms of mosquitoes in your house, you may have bedbugs.  Time to look: they hide in crevices in mattresses or other furniture.  If you find them, call a pest management professional, because unlike lice they’re hard to eradicate.

The good news is that preventing bedbugs isn’t hard.  They’re most often picked up when you travel, staying in hotels or other’s homes.  If you’re not careful they’ll hitch a ride home in your suitcase, or if you buy used furniture that you haven’t inspected carefully.

Here’s how to prevent un-wanted fellow travelers.  If you start getting itchy bumps while staying elsewhere, unmake the bed and inspect the mattress seams.  If you find them or their dirt, move out!  Keep your suitcase on a luggage rack: bedbugs aren’t jumpers and can’t crawl up the smooth legs of the rack.  If you put your clothes in hotel drawers, inspect them first.  Put dirty clothes in a sealed plastic bag.  If you buy used furniture, check it carefully.

If bedbugs get in your house, they’re expensive and difficult to eliminate.  But the good news is that though they’re gross and itchy, like lice they don’t carry diseases.  But it’s another case where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, like the cost of a new mattress and the exterminator.

So take care when traveling; you don’t want unwanted hitchhikers!

The Elixir Of Life- Blood!

We read about these things in our books, but when they happen for the first time it’s a surprise.  The parents rushed their 8 year-old girl into the Emergency Department.  She had been riding her bike, turned the handlebars too sharply, and tumbled off.  When she fell down the end of the handlebars speared her in the belly.  Soon she was pale and weak.

Examining her, the only mark was a quarter-sized bruise just above her belly button.  But she certainly was pale, and when I sat her up, she said “I can’t see,” like she was passing out.  Laying her flat, she suddenly could see again. She clearly was fainting from blood loss, and I had read about the “handlebar-spear” as a risk for internal injury.  While my nurse started the IV and slapped on the monitor leads, I ran and grabbed a second nurse, “I need blood and I need you to hang it!”  Next I called a surgeon, and my girl was off to the OR.

Lots of kids need blood.  Some are injured, like our girl above.  But also kids with cancer need blood products too.  The most common childhood cancer is leukemia, which affects bone marrow.  Bone marrow manufactures blood, and leukemia crowds out the good, blood-making cells with cancer cells, and those kids thus need transfusions.  Some chemotherapy drugs also impair marrow function.  Children (and adults) who have heart surgery also need lots of blood, to keep up with surgical losses and to feed the heart-lung bypass machine.  Occasionally premature babies need blood transfusions too.

Where does all that blood come from?  You!  Blood doesn’t come from a pharmaceutical factory, but from donors, in our area and across the nation.  Our local blood bank, United Blood Services keeps that vital stuff coming. UBS is a non-profit, charitable organization that provides this crucial resource.  There are UBS centers across the country, and one on Bertrand Drive here in Lafayette.  Their blood-mobiles fan out across Acadiana, going to charity events and churches, schools and universities, stores and work places, to collect blood from volunteers.

Giving blood is easy, except this one time for me: I was in medical school, and there was a blood drive in the cafeteria.  The night before, I had been on call in the hospital, too busy to eat or sleep.  I came to the drive pale, hungry, and exhausted, but ready to do my part.  Giving the blood wasn’t bad, but after they put the bandaid on, I saw that they had free cookies and juice.  I leaped out of my chair, bellied up to the table of goodies, and started chowing down.

Suddenly, I couldn’t see.  “Gee, that’s weird,” I thought.  Several blood drive staff noticed that I was more pale, had stopped chewing, and was staring off and starting to sway.  While I was still puzzling over my vision black-out, they helped me back into my chair before I fainted completely.

Soon my body began to send more blood to my brain and my vision returned.  I learned an important lesson on donating blood- get up slowly after.  Your body needs to adjust to losing a pint.  Also, start eating slowly, sitting down.  When you’re eating, your body shunts blood to your digestive system to absorb all those nutrients.  If the dipstick is low, there may not be enough blood to go around, and it’s harder to pump it up into your head when you’re standing.

Giving blood is easy (for well-rested non-medical students), and it’s important!  Like we discussed above, lots of kids in Acadiana need blood to save their lives: accident victims, kids with cancer, children who need heart surgery, and the occasional premature baby.  Donations are down in Acadiana, with the oil down-turn.  Fewer people have an hour to spare to donate.  Companies that once sponsored blood drives have laid off employees that used to be donors.  The employees that are left have to work harder and fear taking company time to donate, not wanting to be labeled a slacker and lose their jobs too.

Donations are down, but need isn’t.   Donating is voluntary, and a really good deed.  You might even get a t-shirt or a chance to win a prize.  And I still like free cookies and juice too.

Is Anything Really Toddler-proof?

This week’s guest columnist is Dr. Asma Khan, a Family Practice resident at the University Hospital and Clinics here in Lafayette.

9 pm: a frantic call from my sister. She was in the kitchen warming a bottle for her infant, went back into the kids’ room, and found her 2 year-old daughter with her purse. Diet pills were scattered about and a half chewed one in the girl’s mouth.  Though the daughter wasn’t showing any signs of distress, my sister sure was!  She wailed through the phone, “What do I do?”

This is a classic accidental ingestion, and a serious concern for parents.  In the 1970′s, the Consumer Product Safety Commission mandated that medicines be sold in child-resistant packaging. This requirement has saved countless lives.  Also in the past 50 years the advent of Poison Control Centers has reduced deaths among children who get into medicines.

Fast forward to now, we still see children in the Emergency Department with ingestions. In 2014, the 55 U.S. Poison Control Centers provided telephone guidance for nearly 2.2 million people, mostly for children under age six.  Many more come to the ER. This begs the question: why, with “child-proof” containers, are kids still getting into these things?

One big reason is the proliferation of medicines in households.  Many adults are on 2 or more prescription medications, and most also have over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol and cold relievers.  Parents try to store them in high cabinets, but they sometimes miss pills in purses or left on counter tops.  Adults who are sick or have sick children may keep medicine close at hand to be convenient for the next dose.  Abundant medicine within reach becomes a field day for curious toddlers.

How can parents prevent children from ingesting these things?  First, pick a safe storage spot that kids can’t see or reach.  Know that any medicine or vitamin can cause harm, even those without a prescription.  Put medicines away after every use- never leave them on a kitchen counter or child’s bedside table- children sometimes try to help parents by taking the medicine themselves.

Putting medicines in high cabinets is often not enough.  I know one ex-toddler named Brian who would go exploring in the middle of the night.  Once at 2 am his mom heard noises from the kitchen and found him standing on the counter (having pushed the stool over as a ladder), and was getting a hammer out of the cabinet above the refrigerator.

Knowing Brian’s abilities, his father installed hook-and-eye latches on the house doors so he couldn’t get out.  Some nights later the parents heard more noises and found him wandering outside anyway.  He had used a broom handle to push the latch up, and out he went!  Soon all the cabinets in the house had locks, and the door latches had spring-loaded catches that couldn’t be jimmied from below.

Like we discussed above, toddlers sometimes get into medicines and accidentally poison themselves, despite having those medicines in high cabinets.  Many children have super-toddler abilities like Brian. Fortunately, most medicines have safety caps that click to tell you they’re closed safely.  Some are so toddler-resistant that adults have a hard time getting them open- this is good!  But sometimes adults have so many pills, and have such a hard time with child-proof caps, that they put their medicines in a weekly pill organizer. These are NOT toddler-proof, and should be treated with EXTREME CAUTION with kids around.

Never tell kids that medicine is candy to get them to take it. Instead, explain that taking medicine is for feeling better. If kids are told it’s candy, and then they see grandma taking “candy” from her pill organizer, where to you think they’ll go next?

Sometimes we have guests in our homes, especially during holidays. There’s hustle and bustle, and lots of curious, exploring kids.  Discuss medication safety with your guests. Help them keep purses, bags, and coats with medications out of reach.

Finally, before you find yourself in a toddler-ingestion situation, be prepared with Poison Control’s phone number handy.  It’s 1-800-222-1222.  Put that in your house and cell phone.  Before you run to the ED, they can advise about whether you need to go in, call 911, or not worry.

Take care with household medicines and kids.  Because nothing is really toddler-proof. 

Don’t Get Chopped In Your Own Kitchen

My family loves the cooking show “Chopped,” where contestants make dishes using “mystery basket” ingredients, their creations judged by famous chefs.  The prize: $10,000.  Though it’s interesting enough to see how creative the cooks can be, the show injects more drama by queuing up exciting music when someone burns an ingredient or drops their food on the floor.  But the really big artificial moments come when someone cuts themselves, or starts a fire on the stove.

Kitchens can be dangerous, particularly for kids.  Ovens and stoves stand ready to burn little hands.  Microwaves produce boiling liquids to spill.  There’s broken glass, raw meat, sharp knives, poisonous powders and liquids under the sink, blenders and garbage disposals.  Since parents spend lots of time preparing meals and kids want to be around them and everyone is getting something from the refrigerator, it’s a high-traffic area where collisions happen.  Watch Chopped and note how chefs warn each other when passing; they know it’s dangerous bumping each other with pans of hot oil.

Yet kitchens are places for families to get together.  Ideally, parents and kids meet there at breakfast, and discuss what-happened-today at dinner. Parents can monitor their kids’ homework at the counter.  Also, kids want to help with food prep- if weren’t entertaining, they wouldn’t have cooking shows!  Kids want to learn skills like chopping and baking. And of course, they want to eat!

It’s important then to teach food safety.  First is frequent hand-washing.  Most illnesses are contracted from hand-to-hand contact. In the kitchen hands are touching raw meat, dirty vegetables, raw eggs, which can carry illness-inducing bacteria.  And people are always touching their faces and licking their fingers, putting those germs into their bodies.  Everyone should be washing hands after handling raw foods, before forgetting and inadvertently infecting themselves.

Kids should learn to wash dirty utensils and cutting boards too.  Keeping clean in places like the kitchen and surgery is like a kid’s game, where the bad guys (bacteria and viruses) are invisible, and you have to work a certain way to not get contaminated. Change or wash knives after cutting raw meat or vegetables.  Use only plastic cutting boards for meat- bacteria-laden meat juice soaks into wooden boards and stays.

I use my microwave a lot, but I hate others having them.  Sounds selfish, but the most common kitchen injury I see is kids burned when taking food out of the microwave. Usually mom is in another room; the child heats soup or noodles, opens the microwave’s big clumsy door, and someone bumps into it.  Screaming and blistering burns ensue.  If the child gets splashed on the face or hands it can be disfiguring.

Kitchen safety is something that is taught- kids aren’t born knowing ovens are hot, microwave doors are big targets, and dishwasher pods aren’t edible.  My mom loved to tell the story about my genius brother who, when she explained that the red stove was dangerous, he had to touch it for himself.  Yow!

After modeling kitchen cleanliness like above, next show kids how not to get hurt. Teach about the dangers of hot liquids, stoves, and ovens, and those damn microwave doors. If you have a gas stove, kids need to learn not to turn them on unknowingly, and about fire hazard.  People often store poisons under the sink- cleansers, dishwasher detergent, rat poison.  Dishwasher pods look particularly appetizing. If you have babies and toddlers, install toddler-proof locks on the cabinet doors.  Even better, put those things high and out of reach.

Kids want to handle knives.  They should learn basic rules like always cutting away from themselves, and not holding food being cut in their other hand. Knives should be used slowly and carefully- no hurry when slicing!  Leave the high-speed dicing to the cooking shows.

Finally, supervise kids when using blenders, garbage disposals, and snow-cone makers. It’s a life-long disability when kids lose fingers by reaching in these machines while they’re running.

Everyone needs to learn how to cook and to be safe in the kitchen.  We all learned cooking from our parents, and I’m proud of my son when he makes gumbos and stews, or when my daughters bake a cake.  It’s a joy to be together in the kitchen.  But teach them not to get Chopped.

Bumper Cars For Kids

This week’s guest columnist is Dr. Ben Fontenot, a Family Practice resident at the University Hospital and Clinics here in Lafayette.

Juice in one hand, 2 year-old in the other, 15 minutes late for work.  I buckle my girl into her car seat, off to daycare.  After the second curve, screaming came from the back.  In the rear view mirror I saw only feet, sticking up in the air!

I pulled over and found my daughter and her seat upside down, a confused look on her face.  What happened?  Someone had borrowed the car seat and forgot to re-buckle it when putting it back in my car.

Summer travel season is approaching, so everyone needs a reminder on car seat safety: road injuries are the leading cause of preventable deaths in children in the United States.  “Preventable” is an important word in that statistic, because 71% of those deaths would be avoided with proper child seat use.

And “proper” seat use is another important caveat, since 4 out of 5 car seats are used incorrectly, with an average of three mistakes for every seat!  Car seats are complicated things to buckle and position; ask anyone who has tried.  But it’s your kid’s best safety device, since car crashes are her most likely way to die.  Some important tips:

-Know your car seat!  Read the manual!

-Rear-facing seats: for newborns until age 2, or until the child reaches maximum height and weight for that seat (read that manual!).  Most bad crashes are head-on, and rear-facing supports baby’s heavy head.

-Forward-facing seats: when your child has outgrown the rear-facing seat.  Some seats are convertible, from rear to forward-facing.  Your child should stay in this seat until he maxes the seat’s height and weight (manual!)

-Booster seat: used with the car’s standard lap and shoulder harness, to position the child so that the adult seatbelts give maximum protection.  A child sitting in a regular seat would have the shoulder harness resting on his neck (very bad!), and the lap belt over his belly instead of his hip bones.  Boosters avoid this, and are for kids age 4 to 7 years.

Once we saw a case where a car had been hit by a truck.  The driver cried to the firefighters that her baby was in back, but they couldn’t see baby because the car was so crumpled.  They heard no noise from inside and feared the worst.  It took 45 minutes to cut away the roof and find baby in her car seat, sleeping quietly, clutching her stuffed rabbit.  When we examined baby in the ER, she was completely unscathed.  Hooray for car seats!

The backseat is actually the safest place in car crashes, and kids of all ages should be back there, not in front.  It’s not convenient, but it’s safer, and it’s the law.  Follow the rules every time, even for short drives.  Inconsistency with restraint use confuses children, again is illegal, and we see many injuries with unbelted kids when ”I was just going down the block!”  All kids under 13 should be in the back seat; airbags in front can kill younger children.

Shoulder and seat belt use: when kids are 80 lbs. and 4 feet 9 inchest tall, they can go in booster seats, at about 8-12 years old.  When using regular seat belts, the lap belt should fit snugly across the thighs, not on the groin or belly.  The shoulder belt should lie on the mid-shoulder, at least two inches from the neck.

Correct installation: to tell if you have strapped the car seat in properly, use the “tug test,” tugging the seat from side to side.  It shouldn’t move more than an inch.  The “pinch test” ensures that the seat’s shoulder straps are snug on the child; you shouldn’t be able to pinch a fold in those straps when she’s buckled.  Young infants should have their seats in a semi-reclining position; if baby is too upright, his heavy head could fall forward and pinch off his airway.  Most seats have a built-in level on the side to show the proper recline.

If you get a used car seat, be absolutely sure it hasn’t been in a crash.  Replace ones that have been in a crash, are broken, or expired.  Throw them away, don’t give them away!

Finally, always wear YOUR seat belt.  Be a good example, and stay alive for your children!

Modern Adventures for Kids

In 2008, New York City mom Lenore Skenazy was shopping with her 9 year-old son.  They rode the subway, and that day he begged her to let him ride home alone.  Ms. Skenazy decided it was time for some independence and let him.  He returned home safely and was ecstatic with his feat.  But when Ms. Skenazy wrote about it in a newspaper column, she set off a storm of controversy.

Some called her the “world’s worst mom,” and child protection agencies took note.  Others praised her for not being afraid to give her child freedoms not allowed by  “helicopter parents,” so-called because they hover over their kids’ every move.  Ms. Skenazy recently completed a reality TV series where she coached such parents on letting their kids ride bikes or slice vegetables, to give the kids some independence.  The show’s title: World’s Worst Mom.

In the Pediatric Emergency Department, we often roll our eyes at what some kids are allowed to do- ride 4-wheelers or use the microwave.  But we only see the kids who get hurt; scads of kids use microwaves without spilling boiling water on themselves, and jump on trampolines without breaking something.  The key is teaching children to do these things safely.

Before Ms. Skenazy let her 9 year-old ride the subway alone, she had coached him on reading subway maps and identifying uptown versus downtown trains.  It’s the same with kids doing any risky thing, like riding bikes or 4-wheelers.  There’s rules and training before setting your kid loose.

Of course, learning to ride a bike requires teaching; kids can’t just get on and ride.  But the safety stuff requires more parenting- teaching the rules of the road and enforcing helmet use.  When my son wanted to ride to his friend’s house miles away, we went riding together to show how to stay on the right side of the road and cross busy streets safely, and to be sure he knew the way.  And we had him call when he arrived so we could relax.

When I was eight years-old, they built a hospital near my house.  Construction sites are as good as Disneyworld to a child: piles of dirt to play on, and those big yellow machines!  Fortunately the workers took the keys out of the bulldozer; otherwise we would have fired it up and gone for a spin.

One day I ran across the site and into a mud patch.  It was deep enough that I sank to my knees, stuck.  Remembering the quick-sand scenario in movies, I was scared that I might sink more.  I yelled to my buddy, but he stood helplessly at the edge of the patch, no rope or stick handy to save me.  Since no other rescue was likely, I decided I had to save myself and began to slog my way to a big rock nearby.  Three or four heaves in that direction and I was able to hug the rock and haul myself out.

Parents worry about letting their kids out into the world.  If my folks had known about that deep mud, would they have let me go to the site?  Perhaps not, but back then things seemed safer.  There wasn’t 24-hour cable news, needing to fill a whole day with attention-grabbing stories to scare parents.  Every child abduction in the country now gets breathless attention.  Before cable and internet there were only brief TV news programs and newspapers; no space to report every child tragedy in the nation.

In reality, back then children were actually less safe.  Crime was rising in the 1970s and 1980s, peaking in 1993.  Now there is 50% less crime than when I was a kid.  In addition to a more dangerous environment, kids went out without cell phones or bike helmets.  So the world turns out to be pretty safe for kids; the odds that your kid will be kidnapped or seriously hurt are very tiny.

And children yearn for freedom.  They want to explore, push boundaries, and be proud of their accomplishments.  Lenore Skenazy’s boy was beside himself with joy at going home alone on the New York subway.  While many think that’s extreme, even the FAA lets 14 year-olds fly gliders solo.  Makes a bike ride across town seem pretty tame.