Tales from the Poison Center: Granny’s pills aren’t candy

To kids, pills look like candy. We all can relate to this poison center caller.

You know those idyllic family gatherings that dance in your head but never seem to materialize? Here’s mine from a few weeks ago: My mother-in-law and I are in the kitchen, up to our eyeballs in roast beef and potatoes, when we hear my 5-year-old say, “How come Daisy gets candy and I don’t?”

I’m not one of those moms who settles every squabble, so Maddy’s complaint against her sister barely registers — except for the fact that we don’t keep candy in the house. The roast is about to come out of the oven, but I abandon it to investigate.

When I peer inside the family room, I see things that make my blood pressure rise a little. My husband and father-in-law are engrossed in a football game, oblivious to the fact that Maddy and 3-year-old Daisy are playing tug-of-war with their Granny’s purse.

The contents — including an empty pillbox that had been loaded with her daily medications for blood pressure, diabetes and pain — are strewn across the room.

“Girls, you know better than this,” I scold. “Did you swallow any pills?” (Or should I have said candy?)

Daisy gives me a guilty look. “I didn’t eat any candy, Mommy,” she says. “Yes, she did,” Maddy counters.

There are times when I really wish I had a built-in lie detector. I have no idea what to believe, but I do know that a lot of medications can be seriously dangerous for kids.

“Everyone get your shoes on! We’re going to the hospital,” I bark.

Half of my household freezes as Daisy bursts into tears. My father-in-law disappears into the kitchen and comes back to calmly hand me his cellphone and a magnet from our refrigerator — for poison control.

“They’ll help,” he says. “We had to call them last year.”

My husband assures me that he will get everyone ready while I make the phone call.

The nurse who answers my call knows exactly what to do. She says this sort of thing happens a lot. She has me look in Daisy’s mouth for evidence of the pills and I find nothing.

Next she asks me if we know exactly what medicine was missing. My mother-in-law is down on all fours, collecting her meds. I didn’t expect her to know what was missing so imagine my surprise when she pulls a medication tracker from her purse that lists exactly what she takes every day, even the milligram strength!

We sort and identify the pills one by one until we realize only one pill was missing — a blood pressure pill.

Unfortunately, the nurse at poison control tells me that some blood pressure medicine is dangerous enough that even one pill can be harmful to kids. Guess which one Granny takes?

The nurse asks me which hospital we’ll be visiting so she can notify them, as Daisy cries for a brownie.

“We can’t have brownies until after you go to the hospital,” I explain.

I turn around to get my own purse and when I turn back around, Daisy throws a slightly slobbery pill at me and asks, “Brownie now?” It’s the missing pill! It had clearly been licked, but I could even still make out the numbers on it.

I breathe a sigh of relief as the nurse from poison control celebrates with us. At least we can avoid a trip to the emergency room.

My vision of a perfect family gathering may be on life support, but it’s still alive — until I smell something burning in the kitchen — the roast. All I can say is thank goodness for gravy — and for Granny’s careful drug records.

– Frazzled in Franklin

Tips to keep kids safe from medication poisoning

Dear Frazzled in Franklin,

Bravo for hosting a big family dinner. With two small children under foot, that’s an achievement. When you’re busy entertaining a house full of company, it’s easy for kids to get into things.

We borrowed a few drug safety lessons from Frazzled in Franklin’s experience to help you keep children safe when house guests visit or anytime there’s medications in the house.

If you put your medication in a daily pill minder, always write down what medication you’re carrying. Frazzled in Franklin couldn’t rely on her daughters’ contradictory stories to learn whether they ingested any adult medications. It would have been impossible to know how much, if any, medications had been ingested without Granny’s written inventory.

  • If you’re a host, make sure guests store medications and other possessions out of harm’s way. When you entertain guests in your home, ask them to store purses and luggage where children can’t get to them. Kids are often tempted to explore guests’ belongings. Some guests don’t realize that ordinary products, such as hand sanitizer, can be harmful in the hands of children.
  • Teach your children to ask before they eat or drink. Brightly colored pills are easily confused with candy, so teach your kids to check with you before they eat or drink anything new.
  • If you suspect a child has swallowed medication, call the Kentucky Poison Control Center immediately. We help you determine whether you need to go to the hospital and how to get there — by car or by ambulance. Then we call ahead to make sure they are prepared for your child. The sooner they know the circumstances, the better equipped they are to start treatment.

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