With a combined 210 years of experience managing cases, our poison specialists have heard it all. Whether the case involves life-threatening poisons or those that cause little or no harm, the poison specialists at the Maryland Poison Center (MPC) are always available to help. We asked our specialists to share some of their most memorable cases during their time at the MPC.
The Jar of Old Mercury
A caller had been collecting liquid mercury from old thermometers in a jar since they were younger. The caller’s child found the jar – which was unlabeled – in the garage and took a drink. Hazardous substances such as mercury should not be collected and saved for any reason.
The Flour Mistake
A caller was cooking fried onion rings and used diatomaceous earth instead of flour. Diatomaceous earth is a white powder that looks like cooking flour. It has many uses including for pest control, swimming pool products, and in the garden, but none for cooking. There was an open container of it stored in the kitchen, and it was mistaken for flour. Do not store non-food items near food items as they can be easily mistaken.
The Saddleback Caterpillar
Many of our specialists have managed cases after a saddleback caterpillar gets caught in clothing or because a curious child touched the odd-looking creature. A saddleback caterpillar is brown with a green part around the body, and a brown spot in the middle that looks like a saddle. Its body is covered with hairs that contain an irritating venom. When touched, you feel a stinging sensation and can develop a painful, swollen rash. This caterpillar is native to the Eastern United States. They hatch from their cocoons during June and July.
The Opiate Pudding
A caller stated that a child ate their grandfather’s pudding that had his opiate pain medicine mixed in it. The grandfather was prescribed the opiate and mixed it in pudding to make it easier for him to take. The mixed pudding was left in the child’s reach, so they mistook it for regular pudding. If using this method to take a medicine, it should be eaten right away.
Two Calls, One Day
A parent called about the same child twice in one day for getting into two different household items. This happens sometimes, and our poison specialists are always there to help you with no judgment.
The Dangerous Pill Dumper
An older adult called because they thought they were taking their daily medicines. Unfortunately, this caller kept all their daily medicines in one pill bottle for each day. The caller ended up taking a whole bottle of a different medicine by accident because they thought they were only taking their daily medicines. Do not store multiple medicines in one bottle, keep each medicine in its original labeled container. A daily pill minder can be used if taking multiple medicines each day. If you do not use a daily pill minder to take multiple medicines, read the label before taking each medicine to ensure you are taking the correct one.
The Spouse Medicine Mix-Up
The caller and their spouse accidentally took each other’s medicine instead of their own. This is a very common call that our poison specialists get. In some cases, taking other medicines isn’t harmful. But in other cases, it can be harmful to take medicines that are not prescribed to you. In this caller’s situation they both took multiple medicines. The poison specialist went through each of the medicines to see if there would be any interactions or side effects.
The Relief After a Common Mistake
Our poison specialists often receive calls from caregivers who think their loved ones are in danger after they have swallowed a poison, gotten something in their eye or on their skin, or inhaled something. The memorable part about these cases is hearing the relief in their voice when they are told they will be okay.
The pharmacists and nurses at the MPC are available 24/7 at 1-800-222-1222. Calling is free and confidential. You will always reach a real poison expert who can help.