Emergency Measures When Folk Take Poison
( Originally Published 1936 )
The first thing everybody tries to think of as soon as a member of the family has taken some poison accidentally, is the right antidote.
That, however, is probably the least important element in the emergency procedure for poisoning.
What can be done that is most helpful before the doctor comes, is simple, easy, applies to every poison—no matter what kind—cannot possibly do any harm if there has been a false alarm, and need not tax the memory.
First, make the patient vomit three or four times.
Then give an enema.
Then start a perspiration.
Then get as much fluid into the patient as is possible.
All this is based on the very simple logic that the best things to do are to get as much as possible of the poison which had not been absorbed out of the patient's body and to dilute the poison that has been absorbed so that it can do the least amount of harm.
The induction of vomiting is best accomplished by having the patient stick a finger down the throat and stimulating the soft palate until the vomiting reflex is started. If the patient is too weak or hysterical or comatose to do it himself, it can be done by the attendant. Common household substances which cause vomiting, are mustard (a teaspoon to a pint) and salt (two tablespoons to half a pint of warm water).
Be sure the patient is breathing. If he is lapsing into unconsciousness start artificial respiration and keep it up indefinitely.
Attention should also be given to stimulating the patient. The most effective way of doing this is to wrap him in blankets with plenty of hot water bottles. This not only is a circulatory stimulant but it helps elimination by increasing perspiration, and removal of the drug in that way. Hot coffee, or ammonia, or brandy, may also be given as stimulants.
The antidotes usually given are egg whites and milk. These are useful, however, only to mercury poisoning. This, however, is one of the three commonest poisons. It is most frequently thought of by suicides and is for many reasons one of the commonest poisons swallowed by accident. So the use of eggs and milk is likely to be right.
The other two commonest poisons are carbolic acid and arsenic, the latter because it is so frequently used as an ingredient of rat poisons, etc. Epsom salts and alcohol are the antidotes for carbolic acid. The best antidote for arsenic is hydroxide of iron, which may be given in unlimited quantities.