One of my favorite movies is a 1991 comedy called Defending Your Life, starring Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep. The premise is when someone dies, before going to heaven he must defend his life in a trial with lawyers and judge. The evidence presented is scenes from the deceased’s life. At one point for fun the prosecutor shows scenes of Albert Brooks just being stupid. He shows the character in the bathroom picking up shampoo instead of mouthwash, taking a swig, and then spewing shampoo all over.
A similar goof happened to two kids last month. They picked up hydrocortisone cream instead of toothpaste while brushing. They started brushing with the cream and I am sure re-enacted Albert Brooks. I found this pretty funny, because I KNOW brushing with hydrocortisone is harmless. The two moms didn’t know this. One mom called Poison Control, who told her that this was perfectly safe and she could stay home. The other mom didn’t call and came to the Emergency Department, waited an hour to get seen, to have me say her kid was fine.
So here are things that I have seen kids, usually those pesky exploring toddlers, eat that are perfectly harmless. Shampoo and hydrocortisone cream, of course. Sugar ants (had invaded a restaurant’s soda machine and mom found them floating in her daughter’s drink). Poinsetta leaves (turns out that these are only mildly irritating on contact, maybe leading to some brief vomiting and diarrhea at worst). Ibuprofen (brand names Motrin or Advil).
Here are some things kids drink that are USUALLY harmless in small doses. One of the most common toddler ingestions is household bleach. A few teaspoons is harmless, which is usually all they can stand before gagging and spitting. Tylenol, Aspirin, and ADHD medications are also okay in small amounts. Call Poison Control to be sure. They can help you decide if your child needs to be seen. If your child should be checked out, Poison Control calls the Emergency Department to alert us you are coming.
Occasionally a child poisoning is not as goofy as those kids from above who brushed their teeth with hydrocortisone. Once police were called to a house where the parents were fist fighting. When the officers entered they found a 3 year-old boy lying unconscious among empty pill and liquor bottles. When the child got to us he was breathing but unarousable.
We tested the boy for everything we could- brain bleeding, alcohol poisoning, narcotics, etc. All the tests came up negative, but there are many medicines we do not have tests for (real life is not like CSI:Miami). There was a grandmother in the house also, who took eight medicines. Worried that the child took one of those, we reviewed the list with Poison Control. Four of the drugs could have made this kid like he was. We admitted him for observation and fortunately he woke up the next morning and was fine.
What kinds of grandma medicines could have done this? Many adults take blood pressure medicines, heart medicines, and diabetes pills. All these can hurt kids. Other dangerous medicines include antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and narcotic pain medications. Believe it or not, one of the most dangerous medications a toddler can take is adult iron pills. Keep all these medicines where small children absolutely cannot get them! Elderly people often organize their many pills in plastic daily dispensers; if the grandkids are around and granddad leaves it out, that’s big trouble waiting to happen. Toddlers who see granddad pop his pills will imitate him and do the same.
Finally, do not leave fuels like gasoline and kerosene around in cups. To a toddler, a cup is an invitation to drink. They don’t understand the difference if that cup was filled with old lawnmower gas or juice. Be just as careful with drain cleaners like Drano or Liquid Fire- these can be deadly too.
Again, when in doubt call Poison Control. They can tell you if you need to come in, or stay home and not wait in Emergency for me to tell you: brushing with hydrocortisone is pretty funny, and safe.