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Irene Lee, a pharmacist and specialist in poison information, followed up on a case March 31 at the Missouri Poison Center. The poison center is a division of SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. Lee is a parishioner at St. Clare of Assisi in Ellisville.
Irene Lee, a pharmacist and specialist in poison information, followed up on a case March 31 at the Missouri Poison Center. The poison center is a division of SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. Lee is a parishioner at St. Clare of Assisi in Ellisville.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand

Glennon: Preventing poisonings

Missouri Poison Center offers compassionate, expert advice through hotline and outreach efforts

Amanda Ruback knows the panicked feeling of walking into a room and seeing her child eating something seemingly dangerous.

“One of my sons bit into a glowstick,” she recalled. “I turned around the corner into the dark room where he was playing with it, and I just saw his glowing mouth, a glowing floor.”

Ruback, a registered nurse and community outreach coordinator at the Missouri Poison Center, is typically on the receiving end of frantic calls from parents. She worked answering the center’s hotline for about nine years before stepping into her current outreach role. While her medical training kicked in and helped her remember that glowsticks are a fairly low-risk item, experiencing that initial “oh no” feeling helps her empathize with other parents facing scary situations.

The Missouri Poison Center, a division of SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, offers a free, 24-hour hotline for poison-related questions and concerns. The hotline is staffed entirely by registered nurses and pharmacists with expert subject knowledge.

“It could be anything from a simple call about a kid who bit off a chunk of deodorant, and mom’s panicking. You can pretty quickly reassure them, calm their nerves, avoid that ambulance from being sent to their house, keep them at home and reassure them,” Ruback said. “Then the next call could be from a doctor in a hospital who has an overdose patient that’s not doing well, and you provide treatment advice for this critical patient.”

Parents often blame themselves for their children’s potential exposures and may worry that they’ll be perceived as neglectful, Ruback said. No matter what the incident may be, the staff always strives to meet the caller with understanding and compassion.

“We understand. Most of us are parents, most of us have had our own kids have exposures — it’s not something where we’re going to be shocked,” Ruback said.

A poster made by Eli Ruback was displayed in the office of Eli’s mother, Amanda Ruback, who is the community outreach coordinator at the Missouri Poison Center.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand
After offering guidance about recommended at-home actions or seeking further medical treatment, Poison Center staff follow up with the caller shortly after to check in and make sure the situation is under control.

“We don’t just say goodbye; we say, ‘I’ll call you in an hour,’” Ruback said.

In addition to the hotline, the Missouri Poison Center also offers poison education to all ages. You may recognize a sticker featuring a bright green face with its tongue sticking out — a poison prevention tool dating back to the 1970s.

“Mr. Yuk is still around — now I call him an emoji because that’s a little more trendy,” Ruback said. “I tell kids and parents that it’s not a sticker you put on your shirt or your notebook; you put it on something that’s potentially poisonous, and you teach the kids that if you see Mr. Yuk, that means don’t touch.”

Poison education and prevention is much more than Mr. Yuk stickers, of course. With older adults, Ruback might discuss safely managing prescription medications; for teens, education about vaping; for new parents, good practices to keep children safe from common household poisons like cleaning supplies.

Since the Poison Center serves the entire state of Missouri, both the hotline and the education efforts deal with a wide range of poison-related issues. In rural areas, questions about snake bites or exposure to pesticides are more common; in urban areas, the center fields topics like alcohol and cannabis ingestion more often. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the center saw a huge increase in calls related to hand sanitizer and bleach, Ruback said.

The center also serves as a valuable resource for medical professionals. About 28 percent of the calls the hotline receives are from doctors or nurses who may have questions about specific poisons or treatments they haven’t seen much before, Ruback said.

Missouri Poison Center director Julie Weber, a parishioner at Christ the King Parish in University City, said she feels a strong connection between her work and the SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital Mission Statement: “Through our exceptional health care services, we reveal the healing presence of God.”

“The sacredness and dignity of each person is upheld through our compassionate and nonjudgmental services provided to each and every caller to the center,” Weber said.

The Missouri Poison Center Hotline

  • 1-800-222-1222
  • Get free and confidential help with poison exposures 24/7.
  • Staffed by registered nurses and pharmacists

Learn more about the Missouri Poison Center and find resources at www.missouripoisoncenter.org.

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