Safety at home

As a parent and a first responder, one of my biggest tasks was trying to instil in my children good hygiene habits. Most of the time I was successful, but no matter how much I tried, something always got through. Then the “sick child” would appear, and so too would the medical bills, the worrying; and following the illness would be the finger pointing as to whose fault and what needed to be done in the future.

I can say with little contradiction, that at least once in every house where there are children, you will find a preventable childhood illness.

How often have you heard or used the following statements? “Did you wash your hands before coming to the table?” “You were just outside playing in the dirt, wash your hands before you touch anything in this house!” “One of these days you are going pick up something and then you will learn.” “Hard ears children will never listen until they feel.”

The old folks would say that sick days are part of growing up, and children today are soft and spend too much time indoors in front of the television. “When I was a boy, me and my friends would climb trees and build club houses out of tree limbs.”

“Summer time we would be swimming; today summer time is summer camps and TV.” It has been said by many grandparents that worrying about childhood illnesses is part of being a parent. Parents often wonder: “What’s that weird rash?” “Where were you playing to get this?” “I think that cough sound worse than before, you need to keep quiet.” “Dear Lord, am I going to catch this, too?”

Doctors are always cautioning parents about instilling good hygiene habits in children. Most of the times when children complain about not feeling well, it is as a result of poor hygiene, picking up something from the outside, using it, playing with whatever they find and not even aware of any danger to themselves.

Parents quickly learn from experience all about ear infections, pinkeye, stomach bugs, colds, and the flu. These things may be most familiar to you, but there’s a whole world of childhood illnesses out there that you may not know about.

The medical fraternity will say that several childhood illnesses are viral or bacterial infections, and the majority are preventable by simply encouraging the child to keep his or her hands clean with old-fashioned soap and water. Practising good “cough etiquette” is another important way of reducing the spread of childhood illnesses. Kids should be taught to cover their mouths when they cough and wash their hands afterward. Some in the medical field suggest teaching children to cough in to their elbow to avoid exposing their hands to the germs.

Many of the emergency calls that end up in the doctor’s office or the emergency room are as a result of either a worsening illness or an accident. Most illnesses are preventable or can be quickly treated if the symptoms are identified before worsening conditions appear.

When children come into contact with germs, and the sources are many, they can unknowingly become infected simply by touching their eyes, nose, or mouth. And once they’re infected, it’s usually just a matter of time before the whole family comes down with the same illness, and the phrase “Dear Lord, am I going to catch this, too?” now becomes a reality. Germs can be transmitted many ways, including:

* touching dirty hands

* changing dirty diapers

* contaminated water and food

* droplets released during a cough or a sneeze

* contaminated surfaces

* contact with a sick person’s body fluids.

Good hand washing is the first line of defence against the spread of many illnesses, from the common cold to more serious illnesses such as meningitis, bronchiolitis, influenza, hepatitis A, and most types of infectious diarrhea. Don’t underestimate the power of hand washing!

Adding a simple nursery rhyme while washing hands allows for enough time for the germs to be cleansed, and also allows for reinforcement of the practice. The few extra seconds you encourage a child to spend at the sink could save you trips to the doctor’s office.

Here are some tips that I learned from health professionals that you may want to add to that daily “preacher’s list” of constant reminders.

Please wash up:

* before eating and cooking

* after using the bathroom

* after cleaning around the house

* after touching animals, including pets (rabbits, hamsters, etc.)

* before and after visiting any sick friends or relatives (care should be taken when exposing infants or toddlers to certain illnesses)

* after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing

* after being outside (playing, gardening, playing with the dog).

Another worry in the home are accidents. Children are masters at finding things and coming in contact with the dangers that can exist in a home, electrical outlets to ovens, stoves and clothes dryers. The US Centre for Disease Control have stated that unsecured clothes dryers are one of the leading injuries among toddlers, due in part to their natural curiosity to examine any object.

Pesticides and herbicides are another area of concern for children. Then there are the medicines; liquids with no labels and enticing odours. Then we have the plants and trees with berries that look delicious, but in fact may be quite deadly. These should be high on the list.

The following houseplants are poisonous if swallowed or chewed and should be kept out of the reach of children: poinsettia, mistletoe, dieffenbachia, philodendron, rhubarb, laurel, rhododendron, azalea, and cherry boughs. I would recommend that adults store all poisonous materials on high shelves, out of the reach of children.

You should never keep poisonous products in containers or bottles used for beverages or food, as they can be easily misinterpreted for something else unless the smell turns them back. Toxic products should have safety caps and should be properly closed.

Why am I writing this? Because unlike adults, it is very difficult for a child to identify what hurts; just that it hurts and they want you to make it go away. Children will always explore, but we need to protect them from themselves as best as we can.

When we fail at this task they suffer, and in extreme situations, serious injury or death may be the final chapter in their young lives. In 1994, while resident in the US Virgin Islands, I responded to a call from a young mother whose child had fallen into a drinking water Cistern, which had a cleaning hatch located inside of her bedroom.

For varying reasons, that hatch was left open, the result was, in hindsight, an avoidable tragedy. One moment there was life then it was gone, then next there was pain and remorse.

Within every home there are items that can hurt or kill the young. Please be mindful of where you left your tools or your loosely closed cardiac medicine bottle or cough mixture. Practising household safety really works.

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