July 24th, 2009
My daughter ingested sleeping pills. It was a sunny June morning in 2005, she was 2 1/2 years old, and I remember it like it was yesterday. I had flown by myself to Seattle some months earlier, meeting up with my brother and sister to take our mother on a cruise to Alaska. In days past, whenever I would travel long distances I’d take Ambien and Xanax with me. Anxious to fly? Xanax. Can’t sleep? Ambien. But these drugs played new roles for me after I had my daughter. Mother’s little helpers, my girlfriends and I would call them, and we all know the golden rule for mommies: NEVER keep drugs in your purse – at least not in containers that aren’t childproof. But I was traveling without my daughter on this little cruise, so it didn’t matter. A few months later I found out the hard way that it did matter. I’d left those pills tucked away in my purse in an easy access container – a bright and tiny green one, most attractive to a curious toddler.
I had just signed with a new voiceover agency and took my daughter with me that day to an in-house audition. It was a little nerve wracking. I was a newbie at the agency and didn’t know anyone, and the climate in the lobby was something to behold. There was always an air of competition about it – sometimes silent and sometimes loud with a lot of joke-telling one-up-man-ship, everyone trying to outdo one another. I generally stayed out of the lobby altogether and recorded from home because I cannot abide that shit, but on this day I needed to put in a little “face time” with my agents and I had my sweet, unpredictable Esther with me. She could very well be dreamy and content, but if the wait was long she could easily become impatient, cranky and loud. Since I didn’t know anyone in the lobby I couldn’t leave her there when it came time for me to audition. So, I took her in with me, but left her just outside the recording booth and in the company of the engineer tending to my audition. She seemed fairly content with her plastic cup of water and snack bag of goldfish, but on a whim, just as I started to walk in the booth, I decided to give her the treasure she was constantly seeking: my handbag. I’d only be in the booth for two minutes. What kind of trouble could she possibly get into?
I read my copy in record time. I walked out of the booth and looked down at my daughter in her stroller. She had my handbag open, had dumped my green pill container and was fidgeting with it. I grabbed it from her hand. It was empty and there were pills scattered on the floor and in the seat of her stroller. “Did you eat any of these little things?” I asked her. She looked up at me and said “Delicious.” Oh. My. God. I fumbled around with my purse and the stroller and tried to get out of the booth as quickly and as calmly as I could. I had no desire to let the engineer know that I was a derelict mother who may have just poisoned her child. I pushed Esther in her stroller quietly out the lobby door, grateful that I knew no one with whom I had to stop and chat. I stopped in the long hallway and began picking up stray Xanax and Ambien tablets from Esther’s seat. I kept looking at her, looking for signs of drowsiness. “Did you put any of these in your mouth honey, did you? Mommy really needs to know” – like a two year old could possibly grasp the gravity of the situation. I didn’t know how many were in my purse since I hadn’t used any for months and had forgotten they were there. Did she take one or six or ten? Esther looked a bit droopy-eyed to me, but maybe I was just paranoid. I gathered myself together and once again began pushing her stroller out to the car. She couldn’t have taken any, I kept thinking. They’re so bitter. She would’ve spit them out. But maybe the bitterness was masked by the taste of goldfish. Oh God, this is ridiculous. She couldn’t possibly have taken any. Calm down.
By the time we got to the car I was shaking and Esther was looking very sleepy. “Okay Esther, Mommy needs to get you out of your stroller and into the car” I said. “So you just stand right here while I fold up your stroller.” As soon as I stood her on her own two feet she staggered left like a sloppy drunk. Shit. Shit. Shit. She took them. She swallowed sleeping pills. My baby girl. My Esther. Just as I reached down to prevent her from falling over, one of the actors that was in the agency lobby walked by. A familiar face. He’s got a lot of commercials running right now. He’s probably nice, probably helpful. “Do you know where the nearest emergency room is?” I asked.
“Oh… Ummm… Hmmm… Well… Huh… Let me think…” He said… S-lo-w-l-y. God. I asked an obtuse person to help save my baby’s life. He was wearing a baggy, wrinkled Hawaiian shirt with beige shorts, and white socks with stupid dark brown winter shoes. Who wears those shoes in summer? Say something, I thought. Anything. Even ‘I don’t know’ would suffice. I could feel Esther growing heavier in my arms and wondered how long the obtuse actor would keep saying ‘ummm.’ The grass on the median was wet and muddy under my feet and my shoes were starting to sink. A stray goldfish was lying by my left foot. It must have fallen out of Esther’s stroller when I took her out of it. I was sweating and agitated and the sun was glaring in my eyes. The street was busy with cars and people. I could’ve asked anyone on this side street of Santa Monica Boulevard, but I ask obtuse actor guy.
“Never mind. I’ll figure it out” I said and whipped around to get Esther into the car. I climbed in the driver’s seat and called Tim praying he’d pick up his cell phone. “Esther just swallowed some Ambien or Xanax or maybe both. I’m at Santa Monica Blvd and Westholme. Get on Mapquest and guide me to the nearest emergency room.” He directed me toward UCLA. I kept telling Esther to stay with me, to look at me in the rear view mirror and try not to sleep. I ran a red light, jumped a green and made 2 illegal u-turns. Where is a cop when you need one? I could’ve used an escort, but no such luck. Just a lot of other cars with drivers flipping me off and pedestrians yelling at me like I was a crazed lunatic, which of course I was. I pulled into the emergency room, unbuckled Esther and ran her in. I thought they’d jump to my assistance and that there’d be lots of panic and screaming like on ER. Instead the nurse calmly guided us to a room in the back. Another nurse checked Esther out, hooked her up to some electrode looking things and asked me a bunch of questions. I thought for sure they’d call child services on me. When I told the nurse I thought it might be Ambien she said “Oh, that’s a great drug.” I looked at her and wondered if I was in hell.
Another nurse tried to give Esther this rather disgusting black stuff that had the consistency of tar – liquid charcoal – which would absorb any of the drugs still in her stomach before they went into her blood stream, but Esther wasn’t going for it. The nurse handed the stuff to me and I fed it to her from a giant syringe. Boy was that a mess – black tar all over both of us. The nurse said they’d need to observe her for about four hours, which is about how long it takes those drugs to move through your system.
After about an hour, the doctor came in to talk to me. He finally uttered the words I’d been waiting to hear: “Your daughter is fine. She’s just fine. A 2-½ year old has a very different metabolism than you and I, and sleeping pills don’t have the same effect. But here’s the deal” he said. “Next time, carry your prescriptions in childproof containers.” I thanked him, smiled sheepishly, and thought, ya – no kidding.