Poisoning Scare Proves Truth of Old Proverb

This week we discovered the truth in the proverbial "there are as many opinions as there are lawyers," only in this case it involved doctors.

On our last foray to Britain we discovered the wonderful homeopathic tea tree oil. Highly antiseptic, a drop in a cup of water near a radiator overnight kills cold germs and during winter in Moscow, where dry, overheated apartments lead to constant morning stuffiness and sore throats, it made a fantastic difference.

But on going in to remonstrate with two larking toddlers who were meant to be asleep recently, Vita casually confessed that she had got hold of the 10-milliliter bottle and given both herself and baby Benedict a few swigs. Certainly their mouths reeked of tea tree.

Panic. We rang the London Guy's Hospital poisons bureau who said it could lead to convulsions up to four hours later. Giving milk or water was all right, but not enough to make them vomit and under no circumstances let them have their stomachs pumped lest it enter the lungs. "If you were in England we'd recommend going to casualty for observation." Our hearts sank: This isn't England.

We rang Western clinic No. 1, which recommended not panicking. They could arrange monitoring but we were better off watching for symptoms. We rang the Moscow poison center (whose number was efficiently provided by London Guy's: 928 7541 days, 928 1687, 24 hour, Russian speaking). They said we should panic, but admitted they were not child experts and recommended Filatovskaya Children's Hospital (tel. 254 9855, general advice; 254 8170 poison department. Both 24-hour and Russian speaking). They suggested we should panic, added unconsciousness to the list of possible effects and recommended calling 03 -- the notorious non-arriving Russian ambulance service.

We passed on this and rang Western clinic No. 2, which recommended we not panic. They could arrange hospital observation or send a doctor but if there are no symptoms what could they do?

In other words 50:50 for and against panicking, with the anti-panickers sure the pungent taste would have stopped them swallowing more than a drop. Both one Russian and one "Western" mentioned stomach pumping which Guy's had warned against; all were very helpful.

So much conflicting advice lead us to another saying from the 17th-century English philosopher John Locke: It's not that you shouldn't trust your doctors, but you should trust your instinct first.

Today's best doctors go along with that: If the parents "feel" there is something wrong they will investigate. In our case we sat out the rest of the four hours and took them into bed with us just in case.