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I was a fairly new EMT working in a suburban area just north of New York City. My partner and I were just finishing up a 12-hour shift and refueling our ambulance at the gas station when our dispatch radioed us asking if we were available for a priority-one call. A child was in cardiac or respiratory arrest. I immediately felt my heart sink into my stomach. We jumped into the ambulance and raced around the corner to the scene.
Upon arrival, we grabbed our gear and ran inside. I pushed my way through the several firefighters who had beaten us there and saw the lifeless body of a one-year-old baby boy lying on the floor. A couple of firefighters had already started to ventilate him with oxygen. The boy’s grandparents were standing nearby. A police officer attempted to calm the grandmother as she screamed and cried for help. The grandfather stood in utter disbelief just watching as though he were in some nightmare.
They had no clue what happened. They said he was fine prior. The grandfather was watching TV as the boy played with some toys on the floor and then, the next minute, he just lay there motionless. My partner and I grabbed the boy and carried him out to the ambulance. We were thankful he still had a pulse though, unfortunately, he was not breathing. We intubated, ventilated him, and attempted an IV as one of the firefighters drove us to the hospital. The boy’s pupils were pinpoint. All signs pointed to an opioid overdose, but how?
Luckily we arrived at the hospital very quickly. We administered Narcan, which is a drug used to reverse the effects of opioids. The boy immediately responded to the medication and began to breath on his own. The breathing tube was removed and he made a full recovery.
By now you may be wondering what on earth happened to this poor child. The grandparents had oxycodone, a powerful narcotic pain medication, on the coffee table near where the child was playing. Unbeknownst to the grandfather, the boy had reached up onto the table and grabbed one of the pills. When too much of an opioid is consumed it suppresses the respiratory drive, decreasing breathing and potentially stopping it completely. In this case the pill dosage was meant for an adult. Therefore when taken by a smaller child, the concentration was much higher and caused an immediate overdose.
If you have children in your household medication safety is super important. Make sure to store medications in a safe place out of their reach. If you have potent medications, such as heavy duty narcotic pills, I would even recommend keeping those locked up. All medications including over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol and ibuprofen can be very toxic if consumed by young children. Teach your children medication safety and don’t leave pill bottles lying around even if they have a so-called “child-proof cap.”
If a child does consume a medication or a hazardous substance call for help. Contact the national poison control hotline at 1-800-222-1222 or visit PoisonHelp.org. If your child is showing symptoms or acting inappropriately call 911 or your local emergency number. When in doubt, call for help.
Remember the best first aid is prevention. Educate yourself and your children, prepare and prevent, and equip yourself to respond in an emergency.
Emergency Medical Technician, Basic Life Support Instructor