09/08/2015 12:48 EDT | Updated 09/08/2016 05:12 EDT

What I Learned From My Child's Accidental Epipen Injection

Tom Merton via Getty Images
Boy taking insulin injection in leg

I used to make jokes and wonder how someone could "accidentally" give themselves an epinephrine shot -- until it happened to us.

My three-year-old son once found an EpiPen on the counter and thought it was the practice EpiPen that we allow him to play with. It happened so quickly. I had emptied out my pockets when we got home and placed the EpiPen where I thought it was out of reach. I was right beside him making lunch, and I didn't realize what he was playing with until I heard him scream, saw the shock on his face and an EpiPen in his hand.

I called 9-1-1 immediately. I explained what happened to the operator, and instead of sending an ambulance, he provided me with the phone number to Telehealth so I could speak directly with a nurse for medical advice. After speaking with that nurse and answering a series of questions, she concluded that it was not an emergency**, mainly because my son shot the epinephrine in his thigh, the appropriate place, and his behavior and breathing were normal. I was told to take him directly to the hospital if his condition changed. I sought a second opinion by contacting my doctor's office and got the same advice.

**I am not a medical professional. I am simply sharing my experience. If this happens to you or someone in your household, please contact a physician or emergency services for advice on what you need to do. All situations are different.

I don't recommend that anyone use epinephrine unless it's absolutely necessary, but I did take away some positive lessons from our accidental Epi-Pen experience:

1. Keep Calm and Carry On

I'm a very expressive person, which is the main reason I'm such an awful poker player. My biggest regret from this experience was my initial panic when I realized that he used the real EpiPen. My fear and shock caused my son to become even more afraid. He was already scared and howling because of the pain in his thigh, and my initial reaction probably caused him to believe he was also going to get in trouble. It took a minute or so for me to calm down and collect myself, and once I did, he felt reassured and stopped crying.

The last thing I want is for my son to be afraid of an EpiPen or think that it's "bad" to use an EpiPen. If this ever happens again, I'll remember to keep my cool.

2. EpiPens are Not Something to Be Afraid Of

I'm actually a little thankful that this happened, because he was too young to remember the last time we used an EpiPen on him. Now he knows what it feels like and that his leg only hurt for the initial needle prick. Once the excitement was over, we had a long talk about EpiPens and what they do, and why he doesn't need to be afraid to use them.

3. Practice Makes Perfect

I wondered if giving him access to the practice EpiPen was a mistake, but I quickly dismissed the thought. The fact that he had so much practice is the reason he knew that epinephrine is injected in the thigh, which was the reason this accident was not more serious. Had it been injected in the eye, neck, or any other area, the outcome may have been different.

4. Understand the Difference Between Practice and Real EpiPens

The yellow label I taped on the practice EpiPen peeled off, so it looked almost identical to a real EpiPen. We've since changed our approach and taught him to understand the difference between the real and practice EpiPens. I let him hold the two at the same time and asked him to point out the differences. The main difference was the window that shows the medication. Finally, we have agreed that before he practices, he needs to double-check with an adult if it's the appropriate EpiPen to practice with.


5. Pay Attention and Stay Organized

As with most accidents, this one was completely preventable. EpiPens are always supposed to be kept in the same place at all times when we're in our home, and I must not allow distractions to get me disorganized.


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