It happens so quickly. You try not to panic. You pick up the phone, you call poison control. To be precise, that’s Banner Good Samaritan Poison and Drug Information Center at 1-800-222-1222. We talked to the some of the team members on the other end of the line.
On top of the trends
Sharyn Welch, BSN
23 years at the center
Poison control centers sound the alarm for products that maybe dangerous—laundry pod detergent, for example.
In my experience over the years, when kids got into laundry soaps, we very rarely sent them to the emergency room. But with the emergence [of pods], more than 50 percent end up going to the emergency room. It’s more concentrated; it can cause burns.
We’re not just for things kids get into. Call us if you have teenage kids and you have questions about potential drug abuse, what the trends are now, or about side effects of medicines, bites and stings, exposures to chemicals.
If you have just moved to the area, we are certainly here to answer questions. You don’t have to call your doctor and wait for a call back. If there are any doubts whatsoever, call us. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Caring for patients you may never see
Donna Stevens, RN
21 years at the center
It is like being a detective. You have to have really good people skills, good telephone skills, see if you can dive into the conversation a little bit deeper.
For the most part, you have time. Sometimes, parents are concerned that we have to hurry. There are quite a few instances where we can wait and discuss the history. If I need some help, the fire department will go out to assist me, to read labels or to calm people down.
The calls vary from shift to shift. I’m primarily a daytime nurse so we get a lot of calls about kids who are home, or school nurses or people at work.
At [elementary] school it could be a kid chewing on a pencil or a pen, or eating a plant on the playground. At high school it might be things in the chemistry lab. We get calls on dosing—mom gave the dose of cough medicine, dad didn’t realize it and he dosed the child again—or taking someone else’s medicine by mistake. It runs the gamut.
Lots of times you will get very panicky parents. The main thing to do is to try to calm people down and try to help them sort through the actions that brought them to this point. Try to get a really good history. If I can keep you at home, and I can manage you at home, that’s fine. If we have something that requires a trip to the emergency room that is OK too, because that is where it is best handled sometimes.
The more things change…
Becky Hilder, RN
30 years at the center
I’m the relic. I’ve been here since 1983 and I’ve seen many changes. The increase in call volume is probably the most apparent. Our staff has had to increase accordingly to keep up with that. Once we were established, and became known throughout the community, more calls came and we grew. Along with that growth came improvements in technology.
When I began, we did everything longhand, written on paper. We didn’t have headsets—just handsets. We used microfilm and microfiche to reference our information, and then computers. That revolutionized poison control and made us more efficient. We began exchanging information rapidly among poison centers throughout the country.
Children learn about their environment by exploring, and that’s a constant. Not much has changed in that respect. Parents cherish their families and their babies. They call us with much anxiety in many cases because they don’t know what is going to happen. The beauty of my job is that 80 percent of the time we can reassure them that everything will be OK.
Never knowing what to expect
Dan Thole, RN
19 years at the center
It is always challenging, always new. You never know what is on the other end of that phone line, what you’re going to get, or what kind of call may come in. It’s always a challenge to your brain to figure out how to handle something.
I had one today I don’t get very often: a lion fish. Somebody who has an aquarium who is cleaning it out and gets stung by a lion fish. It is very painful but usually isn’t a big issue. Those are the odd things. You’ll get fish stings, people calling from Mexico who have been in the water with stingrays. I like those calls; they’re different.
We always share information. If we have questions, we bounce them off each other. We are all working together to make sure everyone’s safe and that everyone is taken care of in a good manner. Definitely, you are calling a team.
As panicked as you are, keep in mind that we are here for you. Take a deep breath, realize there is someone who can help you. Give us a call. We’ll talk you through it and we will make sure everyone is safe and fine.
The scoop on scorpions
Ann-Marie Krueger, MPH, CPH
Education and Community Relations Coordinator
20 years at the center
Everybody has a different reaction to a sting. Every time it will be different. Calling the poison center and talking to the staff—they talk to 9,000 people a year about stings—is very personalized for the kind of symptoms you are having.
I do community relations. We talk to anyone and do a lot of health fairs, safety fairs. I talk to parents all the time about the fact that they need to teach children what scorpions look like and the places you might see them.
Scorpions climb really well. They climb everything but clear glass and plastic. So if you have a swing set that is a wonderful wooden exploratory thing, scorpions might really like that. They love cement block walls. Teach kids where they might be hiding during the day. Get a black light, take the kids out at night and look for them. It’s up to you to decide how you wish to dispose of them.
We live in a wonderful state, and I love to be able to talk to people about how to enjoy it and not to run and hide. You’re in a desert, and the more you know, the better it is. If you know that scorpions are going to be on the walls, and that they’re going to drop in, if you know their behaviors, at least you can be aware in the back of your mind of what could happen.
Multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint writes about health topics and produces audio and video stories for Raising Arizona Kids magazine. This interview was first posted in June 2013.