Nov. 7, 2001 -- Shirley Rouse of Houston was panic-stricken
when she discovered that her 2-year-old son Will had eaten the tiny, white,
silica beads that he'd found in her new purse. "He asked if he could eat
the 'candy,' " says Rouse. "I told him that the beads weren't candy and
that he needed to throw the package away." Rouse left the room for only a
few moments, but it was time enough for Will to swallow what he believed was a
The first thing Rouse did was to assess the situation -- how
sick was Will, and how many of the beads had he eaten? Not very, and not a lot.
Then she grabbed the beads and called her local poison control center. Poison
Control told her that the beads, used to absorb moisture and commonly found in
new handbags and luggage, were nontoxic. But Rouse was still shaken.
She had good reason to be: Accidental childhood poisonings are
common, and they don't always have good outcomes. According to the American
Association of Poison Control Centers' Toxic Exposure Surveillance System, in
1998 alone more than one million unintentional poisonings among children under
the age of 6 were reported to U.S. poison control centers. Nineteen of these
poisonings resulted in the deaths of children under the age of 6, the majority
from ingesting common household agents such as nail polish remover, suntan
lotion, mercury (found in thermometers), lighter fluid, and boric acid (found
Luckily, most poisonings involving kids under age 6 result in
minor or no health problems, in part because the substances ingested are often
not toxic, but also because parents follow proper first-aid procedures.
Apparently, Rouse did nearly everything correctly after she
discovered that Will had eaten the beads, experts say. For starters, she
contacted the right emergency resource, Poison Control, whose number she had
posted next to her phone.
"The poison control center is actually better equipped to
assess the situation than your pediatrician. They have volumes of information
about which remedy is best for the particular toxic agent that has been
ingested," says Keith M. Perrin, MD, Louisiana chairman of Safe Kids and a
pediatrician at Napoleon Pediatrics in New Orleans. (Of course, if your area
does not have a local poison control center, you should call 911.)
Rouse was also able to remain calm, which helped her act
quickly and efficiently. "If Will saw I was upset, he wouldn't feel safe
telling me what had really happened." Rouse also managed to accomplish the
recommended task of bringing the beads with her to the telephone.
"This is important," says Rose Ann Soloway, RN, ABAT (a
non-physician certification in clinical toxicology), associate director of the
American Association of Poison Control Centers in Washington. "Parents are
often in a hurry to call us, and having to run back and find the poison can
really slow down the process."