The Home School Court Report
No. 5

In This Issue


Doc’s Digest
Medical Advice from Dr. Sayre
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by Dr. Rodger Sayre
- disclaimer -
Stupid Things I’ve Done: Part Two

Don’t you sometimes wonder how you ever made it to adulthood? Is there significant doubt in your mind that your children will survive the journey? In my last article (“Stupid things I’ve done: Part one”), I shared some important lessons on childhood safety that I have learned through my own life experiences. This time, I have again chosen a few examples of brushes with disaster to serve as illustrations of some general safety principles.

Adequate supervision of children near a body of water seems to be a no-brainer, but when I was a kid, the supervision was often delegated by my parents to my well-meaning (but occasionally distracted) older siblings. This was not always a good idea. One of the places we went to swim was a place called Pots Falls, a gorgeous swimming hole replete with cliffs, pot-shaped erosions in the rock, waterfalls, and a depth of water that was unsearchable.

Jumping from the cliffs was an exciting summertime activity. One time I climbed to the top of the highest cliff (about 30 feet up). I excitedly glanced over the edge to be sure no one was swimming below—then I backed up to get a running start. Mustering both courage and speed, I sprinted to the cliff’s edge and leapt into the air. The next two seconds seemed like an eternity. The instant my foot left the rock, I saw below an unsuspecting young lady leisurely paddling along, directly in the crosshairs of my estimated trajectory. I desperately flailed the air, as if I could somehow gain enough traction to slow my descent. I was powerless to do anything but hold my breath . . . and wait for the inevitable impact. The young lady must have stroked at just the right moment, because the impact was but a glancing one, literally inches from serious injury or death. My siblings were there, but were likely having adventures of their own, not focused on the disaster in the making.

Take-home message?

Don’t leave your kids in charge unless they have demonstrated responsibility, especially when supervising swimming activities. By the way, if you have a pool or swimming hole on your property, it is your responsibility to maintain a safe environment. For example, retractable steps and/or a self-closing gate to a pool is a must, so a curious toddler can’t get to the water’s edge without supervision.

Not far behind drowning, fires and burns are also notorious killers of young children. Having working fire alarms in your house, and an escape plan drilled into your family members’ heads, is also crucial. I have had the painful experience of dealing with a couple who escaped a burning house, realizing to their horror that their teenage daughter was still inside. I have also cared for a family who all escaped just in time to see their old farmhouse virtually explode in flames behind them. For the first family, grief still lingers—a daily part of their lives. For the second family, a newfound appreciation has evolved for the importance of relationships in contrast to material things.

Hot water can cause burns almost instantly, even if that water is from the tap. If your hot water heater is set to the maximum temperature, your children are at risk for serious burns. Your dishwasher works better with really hot water, but clean dishes are not worth the risk of a scald injury! Be sure your hot water heater is set to a temperature less than 130 degrees. Changing the thermostat setting is a simple task—when you finish this article, go check it!

Be careful, too, about hot drinks. Fourteen years ago, my wife, Mary, was heating a mug of tea in the microwave while washing dishes at the kitchen sink. (When you have six kids under age 7, a good portion of your day is spent at the kitchen sink!) When the microwave beeped, her little 2-year-old apprentice asked if she could open the microwave door, having seen Mary do this hundreds of times. She was perched on a stool right next to Mary, hands happily busy in the soapy water. The microwave handle was within easy reach, so Mary, not wanting to squelch our daughter’s enthusiasm, responded, “OK, but don’t touch the mug.” Our daughter, perhaps too young to process simultaneous directives, deftly popped open the door, and before Mary could respond, grabbed the mug and attempted to pull it from the microwave. The lip on the microwave tray caught the bottom of the mug, its contents spilling over our daughter’s wrist and arm. She still bears the ugly scars of this unhappy event.

Before I close, I would like to address the subject of accidental poisoning. The medical approach to poisoning has changed in recent years. Not long ago, it was commonly recommended that every household keep on hand syrup of ipecac to induce vomiting after a suspected ingestion of poison or overdose of medication. Unfortunately, while ipecac-induced vomiting occasionally cleared some of the poison from the stomach, it also made it impossible for medical personnel to administer charcoal (or other potentially life-saving substances) in order to bind to the ingested poison.

When I worked in the emergency room, I hated it when parents gave their children ipecac before bringing them to the ER. The violent vomiting that inevitably ensued meant I would be going home wearing the charcoal I had coaxed the child to drink. The best bet now is to call your physician or the Poison Control Center to ask for advice any time you suspect your child has ingested poison or medication without supervision.

I have just scratched the surface of the important topic of safety for our children. We shouldn’t be paranoid or overly controlling, stifling our children’s independence. But neither should we ignore our responsibility to strive for our children’s wellbeing. As a youngster I used to ridicule the well-worn slogan “Safety First.” Now, as a father and physician, I recognize the wisdom in these words.

About the author

An HSLDA board member since 1997, Dr. Rodger Sayre is a family physician, and his wife Mary is a registered nurse. They live in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, and teach their 11 children at home. Dr. Sayre received his medical degree from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and maintains board certification in family practice. A Geisinger Medical Group associate with a busy practice in Nicholson, Pennsylvania, he is a member of the Christian Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American College of Sports Medicine.

Please Note

The views of guest columnists may not reflect the views of Home School Legal Defense Association.