I have a recurring nightmare in which some emergency occurs—a fire, a car accident, a fall—and I rush to the phone to dial 911, but my fingers fail me. Either I repeatedly misdial the number, or my fingers are flaccid and boneless. I can’t dial. I can’t save whoever is hurt. I can’t fix the problem.
When I wake, I am left with a sense of my impotence that takes me a while to shake off.
Consequently, there is part of me that believes I would fail to act, or at least screw up royally if ever faced with a crisis in my waking life. And, so far, my track record isn’t that great. Take, for example, that time I ran away from a bear.
No, I’ll save that for another time.
Instead, let me tell you about yesterday, at Sophie’s fifth birthday party. We were rocking out in the basement. The night before I had made a playlist of all Sophie’s favorite, completely inappropriate, pop songs, which she has either picked up from the ether or learned from her girlfriends on the playground at preschool (e.g., We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together). Katy Perry was on a continuous loop. I had passed out glow sticks, Kevin turned out all the lights and trained a flashlight on our junior disco ball, and another parent turned a strobe light on in his phone.
No, we didn’t have a sudden rash of seizures. The kids were all jumping to the beat, waving their glow sticks, delighted and shrieking with the strangeness of it.
All I knew is that Kevin scooped up Sophie, grabbed me, and commanded, “Come with me,” with what sounded like grave concern.
My husband never panics. He is just the sort of person you would want in a crisis: clear-headed, definitive, swiftly moves towards action. In situations I consider dire, he is a rock. Like when I started hemorrhaging after giving birth. He fought his way past the doubting nurse (“Its hemorrhoids. She’ll be fine. I’ll get her a Tucks pad.”), to the attending, who fetched my OB and had me on the operating table as fast as was institutionally possible. (Had I been alone, I surely would have died. I told the nurse that the pain I was experiencing—the worst pain I had ever had in my life, far more intense that the recent experience of giving birth—was a “five” out of ten.)
But it seemed to me he was panicking now and that scared me, because I knew that I was being called upon to act clearly, swiftly and definitively myself. He held Sophie in such a way that I could not discern what had happened. As we carried her upstairs, towards the bathroom on the second floor, I could imagine all sorts of horrors. I spied something red on the floor—was that her blood? Had she fallen? Cut her self on the disco ball (that had happened to another child, last year who curiously reached up to touch it)?
Kevin held her over the sink. “She bit into the glow stick. The fluid is all inside her mouth. We need to call poison control.”
This was not something I had imagined or predicted. She’s five! She should know better!
No, this was not the time to scold her.
Get it out, my instincts told me. So I turned on the water and started flushing her mouth, sweeping with my fingers, to clean out the glowing red goo. As I did, I accidentally triggered her gag reflex.
Yes, that’s it. Get her to throw it up. Get it out of her, the inner voice commanded. I tickled the back of her throat again and she retched, bringing up what was either the glow stick fluid or the pizza she ate a half-an-hour before. I did this several times until it seemed like she was done. There was nothing left to void.
Remarkably, my daughter who cannot stand to take a bath, who claims it hurts when I washed her hair, compliantly allowed me to do this most invasive of acts. I said soothing words as I did it, “That’s it. Get it all out. You’re going to be okay, honey.” She seemed to understand the gravity of the moment.
And when I was satisfied. I raced downstairs, grabbed my phone, ran to the refrigerator where I had posted the number for Poison Control three years earlier and dialed the number with rapidity and ease.
I experienced some momentary glee at the effectiveness of my fingers.
Poison Control picked up on the first ring. “Poison Control. What’s your emergency?” (Or something like that. To be honest, I can’t remember what he said.)
“My daughter just bit through a glow stick and swallowed the contents.”
“When did this happen, ma’am?”
“Two minutes ago. I tried to make her throw up….”
“NO NO NO NO NO!” He interrupted me, “DON’T DO THAT!”
“I already did,” I confessed. How could that have not been the right thing to do?
“Then it didn’t happen two minutes ago,” he scolded me.
“I don’t know,” I said, a bit humiliated, and certainly disturbed because I still didn’t know why making her throw up was so awful. “Maybe it was 10 minutes? 15?”
“How old is your daughter?”
“Four. No five. It’s her fifth birthday today.”
“Okay. First of all it’s non-toxic.” I exhaled, my lungs deflated, my body relaxed.
“Non-toxic? It’s going to be okay?” Somebody handed me the package that the glow sticks came in. “It says right here on the package, ‘Do not ingest.’”
“Well, you’re not supposed to eat it,” the guy told me, “but it’s not going to harm you if you do. It kind of tastes like biting into a jalepeno pepper. It’s hot. Unpleasant. But not dangerous.”
“But what you did could have created a much worse situation than ingesting the fluid. The American Pediatric Association states that you should never make a child throw up after your child swallows a toxic substance. She could have aspirated it into her lungs.”
“Or, if it was toxic, it could have caused worse damage to her esophagus coming back up.”
“I see. I really had no idea…I thought it was the right thing to do.”
“No, it wasn’t. The first thing you should do is call us. So, if you’ve already thoroughly cleaned out her mouth, I would just get her to drink some water or milk. But she’ll be fine.”
“Thank you so much! I will!” I hung up the phone. He was kind of harsh, but I was deeply relieved to know everything was going to be fine. I ran upstairs. Kevin was softly telling Sophie that we might have to take her to the hospital.
“But what about my cake?” Sophie asked, appalled.
“It’s fine,” I interrupted. “I called Poison Control. It’s non-toxic.” Kevin’s forehead uncreased. “But the guy on the phone reprimanded me. Said I never should have made her throw up. That she could have aspirated it into her lungs.”
“Huh.” Kevin mused. “I didn’t think to do it. I just thought we should call Poison Control, but when you started doing it, I thought it was a good idea. I would have done the same thing, if I had thought of it.”
I felt somewhat vindicated.
Okay, maybe it was the absolute wrongest thing to do (like running from a bear)—but my cool-headed husband would have done it if he had thought of it. And I had been clear headed. I didn’t hesitate.
My fingers worked (perhaps too well).
That number for Poison Control? 800-222-1222.