Noe Valley Voice April 2007

Nina's Nuggets

The Poison Pellets

By Nina Youkelson

Grandma was a rotund woman who had difficulty walking. Marcie, her granddaughter, was a lithe, quick little dragonfly of a girl, and when Grandma took Marcie to nursery school--three blocks from home--Marcie was always way ahead of her. Adventurous little Marcie, only 4 years old, ran, skipped, and hopped down the street. But she always waited at the curb for Grandma to catch up before they crossed the street together.

One day, on the way to school, Marcie saw some green candy-looking things on the sidewalk. Since she already had some candy in her pocket to share with her friends at school, she added to her stash by picking up and pocketing the small green "candies" on the ground. Grandma slowly lumbered along behind.

Once at school, Marcie eagerly took handfuls of candy from her pockets and offered some to her two best friends, Ellie and Nancy. Around the three girls children rode trikes, jumped, and roller-skated: everybody was active, noisy, and happy. But a sharp-eyed parent in the room saw what Marcie was offering to her friends. She recognized the green pellets as rat poison, and brought Marcie, Ellie, and Nancy to me to see if it could be determined if they had eaten any. None of them was forthcoming with specific information. They had eaten some candy, they didn't know which kind, and so on in that vein. I decided to call the poison control number. (If you ever need it, it's 1-800-222-1222.)

A doctor answered and, after listening to my description of the situation, asked if we had Ipecac syrup in our first-aid kit. We had it, but it had expired long ago. She told us there was no time to lose, we should take the three girls to the nearest hospital with an emergency room: St. Luke's on Valencia Street.

The doctor at Poison Control called St. Luke's to warn them of our arrival. I asked Rose, a parent working at the school that day, to come with us. They were ready for us when we arrived.

The three girls stood together holding hands as the intake nurse asked them their names. Ellie, Nancy, Marcie, they whispered. We were ushered inside an examining room with two beds on which were arrayed a great number of buttons and cranks. Marcie, of course, exhibiting the same kind of curiosity that was responsible for all of us being in that room, pushed every button, turned every crank, and was delighted when the bed on which she was sitting went up and down, lights blinked, and equipment beeped and groaned.

Then a nurse entered with a tray upon which were three cans of soda, each with a clear, translucent straw. "Girls," she said. "The doctor said you should drink this soda." To Rose and me she added, sotto voce, that there was charcoal in the soda which would absorb the impurities in their stomachs but they had to drink all of it.

Now I knew that Ellie and Marcie would drink their sodas, and I also knew that Nancy would not drink hers. She was the kind of kid who only ate what I called "white food": french bread (no crusts), noodles (no sauce of any kind), and probably, if she was really hungry, mashed potatoes. Her parents, at their wit's end to get their daughter to eat something green--or yellow or orange--had bribed her, promised her the sun, moon, and stars, and threatened and cajoled, but Nancy was firm in her conviction that none of those other foods would ever pass her lips.

I watched Nancy as she slowly and with great suspicion sipped the soda until she saw the liquid rising in the straw. It was black! Well, that did it. She put the soda can down and stated, "I'm not drinking that." I knew she wouldn't, and I also knew she had to. Though the other girls, taking their cue from Nancy, complained about drinking the "black soda," they managed to drink it down.

Rose and I went to work on Nancy, pleading, explaining that she had to or she would get really sick, and giving her instructions on exactly how to drink it: "Slowly, Nancy, a little tiny sip at a time," and "Hold your nose."

Nothing, of course, worked. Nancy sat there resolute, blue eyes staring straight ahead, hands folded in her lap. We tried for an hour, to no avail.

Then in walked the doctor. He walked up to Nancy and said in a loud stern voice, "Nancy, if you don't drink this, I will have to put a tube down your nose to go into your stomach. It isn't pleasant, but I will be forced to do it if you don't drink this. You have 10 minutes!" And then he left the room. It was very quiet. Then Nancy reluctantly lifted the can up to her mouth, her blue eyes filled with tears, and slowly, slowly she sipped at the straw until she had emptied the can. Rose and I praised her extravagantly, and then we took the three girls back to school.

You can bet that Marcie got a lecture about picking up things on the street!