Earlier this year, my husband made a phone call that most parents dread ever having to make. He called Poison Control. It was my fault. With all three kids sick and taking multiple medications, I’d accidentally given my youngest daughter too much guaifenesin, a common over-the-counter medication used to thin mucus and relieve congestion. I didn’t know what the effect of an overdose of this medication might be, but because our daughter also has a congenital heart defect we didn’t want to take any chances.
So we dialed the number that every parent should know. Poison Control, no matter where you are in the United States, may be reached at 1-800-222-1222. This single number connects you to one of 57 call centers, all of which have trained professionals ready to help you in case of an overdose or other possible poison-related emergency.
Have this information ready
When you call Poison Control, you will need to have certain information ready. This includes your child’s age, weight, and any health conditions that might complicate the situation. Also, you need to know what drug or substance was ingested, and if possible, how much was taken. Finally, you will be asked how long ago the drug or substance was ingested and whether your child is exhibiting any symptoms.
When you are scared, seconds may seem like hours. Try to be patient as the Poison Control operator collects the needed information, and then looks up the answers you need. Remember, they deal with hundreds of substances and the answers are not in their heads.
Be ready to act
In our situation, the overdose was relatively harmless, and we were advised not to worry based on the dosage of guaifenesin our daughter received. We were relieved, and no further action was needed. But you may not be so lucky.
Be ready to listen and follow the directions given to you by Poison Control. They will tell you exactly what you need to do, and even connect you to local emergency services if needed. Do not induce vomiting or take other action without talking to Poison Control first. Your uninformed actions could make a bad situation much worse.
Just a few more questions
Part of the job of Poison Control is to collect data. Lots of data. They have statistics on just about every kind of poisoning, every possible treatment, and the outcomes of hundreds of thousands of calls each year.
Poison Control will likely ask for the first name of the person who you are calling about, and may ask for a contact number. This information helps them collate data on followup care after a call. They may also ask what state or city you are calling from and where the incident took place. You can read some of the ways that they use this information in their annual reports. With more than 10,000 callers a day, the reports are extensive.
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