Heads up: I’m going to tell three upsetting stories. I don’t want to surprise anyone.
I’m not an alarmist. (Which is a silly thing to say; no one things they’re an alarmist, right? We all believe ourselves to be realists.) However, there are so many hazards in daily life, and a great many simple habits we can cultivate to keep ourselves and our families safe. It’s not alarmist to buckle one’s seatbelt in the car. PSA #1 falls into that “simple habit” category.
I’m a kind and loving person. (Also a silly thing to say; I know some people say they don’t like people, but it’s a rare person who truly doesn’t give a shit about anyone.) Sometimes, though, helping someone else can put the helper and his or her family in harm’s way. That should never, ever mean that we choose not to help (I don’t want to live in that kind of world.), only that we must choose ways to help that protect everyone. PSA #2 is about protecting oneself while helping another.
I’m a smart person. (Yeah, yeah, I know. Have you ever met anyone who doesn’t believe that they’re one of the world’s smartest people in some way or another?) Our information saturated culture, though, makes it very difficult to find the information that we need. And sometimes the information that product manufacturers choose to share with us is incomplete. PSA #3 is about a piece of information that can save lives.
A dozen years ago, my friend’s little girl had open-heart surgery to repair a congenital defect. In the week she spent in the pediatric ICU, I got to know the mother of Alan,* the 14 month old baby in the next bed. He had a tracheostomy in place and his doctor kept him heavily sedated due to a near-drowning incident. The body of water in which he nearly drowned? The family dog’s water bowl.
It does seem like a nearly impossible feat, doesn’t it? Who imagines that anyone, even a baby, could drown in a dog’s water dish? Alan was playing, pretending to be the dog, and was on his hands and knees, lapping at the water with his tongue. The floor around the water bowl was wet and slick. His hands slipped, he went face down into the bowl, and couldn’t get traction to get himself back out. If he’d been an older child or an adult in a similar predicament, he might have saved himself by turning over or upending the bowl with the side of his face, but toddlers don’t have problem solving skills like that.
Go put your pet’s water bowls someplace where your pets can get them and your little children can’t. I’m sure that’s a very rare thing that happened to Alan, but obviously it’s possible.
I’m afraid I can’t tell you the rest of the story; my friend’s little girl was released from the hospital and we never found out what happened to Alan.
In 2003, Tracey was living in North Carolina with her husband and their two young children. When Tracey’s friend Holly expressed to her that her husband hurt her and she wanted to leave him, Tracey offered her a place to stay in her own home.
They arrived at Tracey’s house late one evening after their shift at the restaurant where they were both waitresses. They were out of the car by the time they saw Holly’s husband, Michael, armed with a steel shovel that he’d taken from Tracey’s garage. Tracey ran for the house but Michael hit her with the shovel before she got there. He hit her several more times before he forced his wife into his car and left and left with her. Tracey died under her own bedroom window, just feet from her sleeping husband and children. More of Tracey’s story is here.
Domestic violence is such a dark and terrible thing. I am blessed beyond measure to have never in my life lived in a family that was plagued by physical violence. I want every person on planet earth to experience the safety that I live with, knowing that the people who love me, no matter how angry they may be, will not hurt me in that way.
If you know someone whose partner (or any other person of any relationship) hurts her (or him), find a way to help. Encourage, help, support, love, and when she is ready to leave, help her get to a shelter. No, she (and her children if she has them) will not be as comfortable as she would be at your house, but you will ALL be safe. You can help her in a thousand ways, but only if you’re still alive.
Here’s the relationship: Brian’s brother’s wife has a sister named Lola. Several years ago, Lola’s little girl, Jenna, had the flu and she was miserable with a high fever. Lola gave her acetaminophen according to the instructions on the label and it kept the fever low enough to at least take the edge off of Jenna’s misery. Over the course of the flu, Jenna’s doctor saw her twice. On Monday, he diagnosed flu and told Lola that she should use acetaminophen to control the fever. On Thursday, he told Lola that Jenna had not developed bronchitis or pneumonia as she had suspected and that she should continue giving her acetaminophen for the fever. That night, Jenna went to the hospital by ambulance after she suddenly became non-responsive. Within a few hours of arriving at the hospital, she was dead due to liver failure. The ME identified the cause of death as acetaminophen overdose.
And that, technically, WAS the cause of death, and that’s how the media played the story. Unfortunately, not only did that wound the family (insult to injury, right?), but it gave a false impression that could put other children at risk. Lola gave her child the recommended dosage, never exceeded the maximum number of doses per day, and you know how the bottle says, “If symptoms persist longer than [x number of days] consult your physician”? Lola did that. Her physician advised her to continue giving Jenna the medicine.
Turns out, the max dose is only safe for a few days. (I am being deliberately vague here because I am not a physician, a pharmacist, or a medical professional of any kind, just a know-it-all blogger.) After those few days, the liver starts to struggle and in some cases, may fail entirely.
After Jenna died, Brian and I were scared about any and all over the counter (OTC) medications and I spoke to our pharmacist. Here are the suggestions he gave to me:**
- Strike a balance with OTC pain relievers. Don’t let your kids suffer with pain or fever, but don’t medicate at the first sign of discomfort, either.
- When you have questions or concerns about medications, address those questions not only to your doctor, but to your pharmacist. Pharmacists are a hugely underutilized resource and we put ourselves and our children at risk when we do not avail ourselves of their expertise. Pharmacists specialize only in medicines. They know virtually everything and what they don’t know, they know how to find out. Choose your pharmacist the same way you choose your other health care providers: carefully. Most of us don’t choose our doctors based solely on how close they are to home; we shouldn’t choose our pharmacists that way, either.
- When you need to use OTC pain relievers for several days, alternate the active ingredients. Give acetaminophen, then four hours later give ibuprofen, etc. You’ll give much less than the maximum daily dose of either medicine and thereby reduce the risk of liver toxicity due to either one.
There’s more information on risks associated with acetaminophen use here.
Sad stories, I know, but the three families I wrote about want us all to learn what we can from their tragedies, so go forth and be careful. Use a condom, wear your seatbelt, find a great pharmacist, park in well lit areas, and remember to strike that all-important balance: always be cautious, never be fearful.
*I’m making up all the names except the ones in PSA #2.
**Check with your own healthcare providers if and when you have questions.