Every year during National Poison Prevention Week (March 17 - 23), I think of my younger brother, Jim. And sometimes I even call to remind him of what happened 30 years ago.
My grandmother was babysitting my daughter, Jennifer, who was three-years-old at the time. Jim stopped by between law school classes and my grandmother asked him to look after Jennifer -- my grandmother had to run a quick errand. No problem for Jim, he'd done it plenty of times.
My grandmother was a wonderful woman. As she got older, she developed arthritis in her hands, which made it difficult to open the child-resistant medicine bottles. So instead, she placed her medicine in a container that was easier to open, and left it on the kitchen table.
Well, Jim ran upstairs quickly, leaving Jennifer alone for just a minute or two. When he came back down, Jenny was sitting on the floor with my grandmother's blood pressure medicine scattered all around her.
Jim had just started to panic when I walked in the door. When he explained what happened, I started to panic as well. All these horrible thoughts raced through my mind: How does blood pressure medicine affect a child? What do we do? Who do we call?
Then my grandmother walked in and the three of us were all panicking together. Had it not been so serious, it probably would have been funny: Three adults, running around, trying to figure out what to do next.
We called 911 and the operator directed us to the poison control center. The people at the poison control center were great and gave us the perfect advice. In the end, Jennifer was fine but the experience was one I'll never forget and one I wouldn't wish on any parent, let alone an uncle and a grandmother.
But these kinds of situations continue to happen far too often. According to a report released this week by Safe Kids, a young child goes to the emergency room for accidental medicine poisoning 67,000 times a year. That's one child every eight minutes -- a 30 percent increase over the past ten years.
Most parents will tell you they know to store medicine where children can't get it. Why then is accidental poisoning occurring so often? According to our research, when parents think about safe medicine storage, they don't always consider pills stored in purses, vitamins left on counter tops or a diaper rash remedy near a changing table. And many times, well-meaning parents may also want to keep medicine close at hand so it will be convenient for the next dose.
Regardless of how it happens, it only takes a few seconds for curious children to get into medicine that could make them very sick or worse. That's why it's important to take a look around your house to make sure all medicines and vitamins are up and away and out of sight - even when you use it every day.
My brother has a lovely wife now and is the father of three terrific kids. He still feels guilty about that day with Jennifer, and being the good big sister, I'm still there to tease him about it. But the truth is we both understand that this could happen to anyone, and just how lucky we were that things turned out OK.
We don't want to rely on luck when it comes to keeping our kids safe. Here are a few practical tips to think about during National Poison Prevention Week and beyond:
- Put medicine and vitamins up and away and out of sight. (In 67 percent of emergency room visits for medicine poisoning, the medicine was left within reach of the child, such as in a purse, on a counter, or under a sofa cushion.)
- Look around your home for products you might not think about as medicine, such as diaper rash cream, vitamins, rubbing alcohol, or eye drops, and store them out of the reach of children.
- When you have guests in your home, offer to put purses, bags and coats up high and out of sight to protect visitors' property from a curious child. In 43 percent of emergency room visits for accidental medicine poisoning, the child got into medicine belonging to a relative, such as an aunt, uncle or grandparent.
- Be alert to medicine in places your child visits. Take a look around to make sure there isn't medicine within reach of your child.
- Program the nationwide poison control center number (1-800-222-1222) in your home and cell phones and post it in your home where babysitters can see it.
For more tips on safe storage, safe dosing and safe disposal of medicine, visit SafeKids.org.