Hannah was foraging as usual. She had always been adventurous when it came to her taste buds. Bland baby foods didn’t interest her. She liked variety in her diet and was prepared to give anything a go. At the beach, she ate the sand. If we sat under a pine tree, she ate the pine needles. She ate the loose shags out of our orange shag pile carpet. She ate the flowers off the pot plants and the leaves for dessert. She ate the loose fur off the cat. She had to be watched constantly because of her bizarre eating habits.
It was Good Friday and nothing much was going on …..
One Good Friday when she was 14 months old, I took her and big brother Adam to visit their father, Greg, in his office. They looked so cute dressed up as a pirate and an angel. We were living in a high-rise hotel/motel in Toowoomba, Queensland at the time. Greg was the manager of the establishment, and his office was downstairs from our apartment. As it was Good Friday there wasn’t much going on. The usual things that we did every Friday were cancelled such as playgroup and changing our library books.
The kiddies became a bit restless after spending the morning at ‘the pine tree’ park. After lunch, Adam started his mantra, ‘Go Daddy’. After 500 or so repeats, I couldn’t take any more, so we headed downstairs to the office where Greg was a fixture on public holidays. While Adam was sitting on top of the desk playing amongst the paperwork, Hannah was busy playing underneath it being as quiet as a mouse. I bent down and peered under the desk and discovered she was scoffing something out of a saucer.
“What’s in the saucer?” I asked Greg. “Rat poison.”
“What the f….?” I screamed. Adam started screaming too. As a two-and-a-half old naturally he couldn’t process the unfolding drama, so he did what toddlers do.
Oozing and dripping and seeping …..
Snatching her out from under the desk was no mean feat. She retaliated because she was obviously enjoying the rat poison. Originally pellet shaped, the poison had now liquified. There was green fluid oozing from her mouth, dripping off her chin and seeping out between her little fingers. She was attempting to fit both tightly clenched fists full of rat poison into her mouth at the same time.
Forcing the fists out of her mouth, then trying to prise the jaw open was almost impossible. I attempted to remove as much of the toxic substance as possible from her mouth, but she kept biting me for my trouble. All the while Greg was trying to keep Adam calm.
I rang the Poisons Information Service
“Take the child to the emergency department of the hospital without delay,” said the responder at the other end of the line. “I’ll call them to let them know you’re coming”.
We were met in the corridor
We were met by medical staff in the corridor of the Emergency Department (ED) of the Toowoomba Hospital. It was full on drama. Adam was having a meltdown struggling to get out of his pram, so Greg took him outside. The scene in the corridor was harrowing as a nurse restrained my baby on a gurney. She was reacting wildly to being pinned down by the nurse while another poured Ipecac syrup down her throat. Ipecac syrup normally causes vomiting but not in this case. She refused to bring up the rat poison, but instead brought up a few of the pine needles she had eaten at the park earlier in the day.
Upsetting? We were already upset to the zenith degree
As time marched on, Hannah still hadn’t vomited anything that even remotely resembled rat poison. “We’ll have to pump her stomach out,” the doctor on duty informed us. So they quickly strapped her on the gurney and headed for the ED. I was running behind trying to keep up. Inside the ED, suddenly more medical staff appeared from nowhere. There were four nurses each restraining a limb of my poisoned baby who was struggling to free herself. As the doctor prepared to insert a tube down her throat, I was warned that this could be upsetting so I was advised to wait outside.
Enough to kill a fully grown German Shepherd
After it was all over, the doctor produced a specimen jar full of the poison. “Could it have killed her?” I asked all teary eyed and trembling. “Well, it was enough to kill a fully grown German Shepherd,” the doctor replied. I remember thinking what a weird response. And if it was his way of consoling me, it didn’t work. After all, Hannah was only a very small child about a quarter of the size of a fully grown German Shepherd.
Hannah remained in hospital under surveillance for the next 24 hours. She was connected to a monitor hooked up to her cot which was a constant source of amusement to her and Adam. But to me, it was a constant reminder that our children are only borrowed and no matter how much we love them, if that loan is cut short for any reason, how totally unbearable life would be.
Image of Adam and Hannah taken by me with old fashioned camera in 1986.