You are not an Irresponsible Parent, It’s Just that Toddlers are Always Trying to Kill Themselves……

“What an adult strives all day to achieve, a toddler can accomplish in a single, unsupervised minute.”

I saw these words on a meme recently, and they couldn’t be more accurate. Essentially, as soon as you have a child, you need to “grow a pair.” No, not a pair of balls as you may be thinking, but a pair of eyes on the back of your head. I say this because young children can wreak an exceptional amount of havoc in the split second during which you dare to turn your back. As soon as your child begins to move and speak, you cannot afford to avert your gaze even momentarily. If you have a toddler then you will know all too well that one transient loss of concentration can, and often does, lead to disaster.

I hear/read about a lot of parents agonising over the fact that their toddler/young child has injured themselves during some spectacular domestic accident. They feel horrendously guilty because they think it is their fault. Whereas I agree one needs to be vigilant and remove obvious risks (where recognised) from the path of the toddler, rest assured that them injuring themselves is probably not your fault. As I once heard a very wise woman say, “it’s not that you are a bad parent, it’s just that toddlers are always trying to kill themselves!” This is so true. At one time or another, no matter how careful you are, something is bound to happen. Whether it’s a purely unpreventable and unforeseen circumstance/event or whether it’s simply that the doorbell rang and you were distracted momentarily or you sneezed and your eyes closed for a split second, your kid is probably going to get injured at some point no matter how hard you try to prevent it. After seeing so many people beat themselves up over such incidents, I thought I would share a story that will hopefully make everyone feel a bit better.

This tale begins on a Saturday during the summer of 2018. My husband was due to work an out of hours GP shift that evening and so we decided to enjoy a family lunch with Henry (our then 11 month old) before he left for work. On the way home from said lunch, we decided to grab a takeout from Costa Coffee (chain of coffee houses in England in case you aren’t familiar). At the time I was 6 months pregnant with Edward and so I enjoyed a decaffeinated beverage. We arrived home with the coffees still piping hot and I set about preparing the evening meal and making my husband something to eat for the evening shift. At some point in the moments following our arrival at the house, my husband, without thinking, put his hot coffee down on the small coffee table beside our sofa. Henry had only just started walking at this point and so was always toddling round, exploring anything and everything in his sight and within his grasp. That said, there are no prizes for guessing what happened next.

Suddenly, I became acutely aware of the fact that my 11 month old was toddling rapidly towards the (conveniently toddler-sized) coffee table upon which stood the steaming caffeinated beverage my husband had placed there without thinking just seconds ago. I could see his little arms outstretched, ready to grab and explore the coffee cup. A feeling of panic began to rise rapidly from the pit of my stomach. I ran towards the table, shouting “NOOOOOOOOO!” and everything seemed to slow down around me. My voice sounded unnaturally deep and slow to me much like Kevin McAllister’s when he distorts it on his TalkBoy in order to successfully book and pay for a hotel room at The Plaza Hotel in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (“Credit card? You got it!”) Of course by the time I could rush over there, it was too late. The room was filled with the sound of screams- from both myself and my now hysterical son who, of course, had got hot coffee all over him.

Unfortunately, as soon as I realised Henry had been scalded by the hot coffee, I inconveniently forgot my entire medical degree and stood there feeling helpless. I have dealt with lots of emergency situations throughout my medical career, but this didn’t seem to help me when I was put into the situation of being the mother with a sick/injured child. Luckily my husband did not react in the same way. He did some surgical training before he trained as a GP and spent a lot of time working in a regional burns centre. I have to say, he was excellent in this situation (don’t tell him I said that). He immediately ran a cold bath and put Henry in it, hosing him down with cold water in the process. Henry soon started to get too cold and so we had to take him out of the water. My husband proceeded to bandage the scalded areas with clingfilm and instructed me to wrap Henry in a blanket and cuddle him to try and warm him up and calm him down. He then declared that we were taking him to children’s A&E to be assessed. Although it looked as though the burn was not very bad at all (perhaps owing in part to the prompt treatment my husband gave him) we knew that we were not in a position to assess the situation ourselves because, doctors or not, it is very difficult to doctor your own children (most doctors will tell you this). We got in to the car ready to venture to the hospital. Henry was hysterical and so we had to travel somewhat unconventionally, but if I tell you exactly how we rode in the car, we would likely be arrested, so I won’t. Let’s just say, as the vicar at my local church would say “I would be in terrible bother” if anyone found out (this is code for “if anyone found out I would most likely be hanged, drawn and quartered.”)

We arrived at the hospital and we parked the car in the staff multi story carpark (because, by the way, the children’s A&E is located at the same hospital in which I worked at the time of asking *cringe*!) Now this multi story carpark, and most likely most multi story carparks in the hospitals around the country for that matter, are pretty horrible places. I especially hate roaming around them at night since it is not uncommon to come across some unsavoury characters during these hours (most of them tend to come out at night, just for the record). Luckily this was in the middle of the day, but it didn’t stop us from stumbling upon some unwanted horrors. As we went to get in the lift, I noticed a steaming pile of human excrement at the top of the stairwell. Now, I have seen a lot of gross stuff in my career so far. I would say I am the opposite of squeamish. Yet, even this sight turned my strong stomach and gave me an overwhelming desire to run straight back to the car and flee the premises. Feeling slightly disturbed, we hurried into the lift and worked our way towards A&E.

We checked in to A&E and were sent to the paediatric waiting area. Awkwardly most of the staff recognised my husband (he had worked in the A&E department there before) and a few of them knew who I was. At this point we had to smile awkwardly and sheepishly own up to what we had done (it is always uncomfortable when you’ve done something daft that has resulted in familial injury when you are a medical professional who is supposed to “know better”). After a short wait, we were seen by one of the doctors. They asked us several questions about what had happened. We told them that Henry had walked towards the coffee table and tried to grab the cup and that the hot coffee had been spilled all over him as a result. We added that yes, this was as a result of us “not thinking” and “inadvertently placing hazards in the path of our toddler.” The doctor was very nice about it and confirmed that it happens to almost everyone with young children at some point. They then checked that Henry’s developmental milestones were in keeping with the history we were giving. They didn’t directly say that this is what they were doing but as doctors we were aware of what was happening. As doctors we are trained to check that a child is capable of carrying out actions that the parents say they did. For instance we had said that Henry had walked over to the table and so they were obliged to check that he was able to stand and walk and grab for objects. The reason why this is done is to screen for so-called “non accidental injuries.” For example if they found that Henry couldn’t even stand unaided then they would be suspicious that our account of the events was not entirely accurate. All of this is done, quite rightly, to try and protect children from abuse at home. Luckily Henry passed the test. We were given the all clear and the good news that they didn’t think the burn would leave any significant scars. They offered us a follow-up appointment at the regional burns centre (because he was under one with a burn) and an appointment with the consultant a few days later to check how things were healing. Luckily he has made a full recovery now and although we suspected he was fine we are glad we took him to be assessed formally- always best to do so just incase complications develop later on.

My Mum frequently tells me about when I got scalded as a toddler. In a similar scenario to ours, my Dad had left a hot cup of tea near the edge of the kitchen table. I had grabbed it and scalded my arm. My Mum told me how upsetting this was for her and that she felt so guilty for what had happened and for removing my jumper afterwards as it had peeled some skin off and made things worse. If you are reading this Mum HOW COULD YOU BE SO IRRESPONSIBLE?! Ha ha, I’m joking- now I can fully relate to her story having been through the same thing myself. I think almost everyone with a small child has experienced similar things. Trust me, it happens to the best of us. Don’t feel too guilty about it. At least most of you won’t have to take your child to be assessed in the hospital in which you work and your husband has previously worked.

After this highly stressful and traumatic experience, my husband headed to his out of hours session. He had called earlier to say that he may be slightly delayed due to Henry’s trip to A&E. They had assured him this was fine and they would see him when he arrived. When he did eventually get there (only 30 minutes late in the end) he found that the clinic had been cancelled anyway and they had failed to inform him that he was not needed! He phoned me on his way home, swearing profusely about his wasted trip. I told him the day had been very disquieting and so I suggested we did something nice to try and relax and forget about it. Of course we decided to go out for a coffee, as you do.

Coffee- watch out- although enjoyable it can be a total hazard with mobile toddlers around! Enjoy your coffee safely!

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