Two years on from the Foxglove Poisoning

Two years. Two years have passed since Esme’s Adventure with Foxgloves. Today is a similar sort of day, it’s warm and dry, just the sort of day for running around the fields catching falling leaves (if you catch one before it hits the floor you get to make a wish), but today I’m staying in. 

I might wander into the garden later, let the wind blow away the cobwebs, but for now I’m content on this side of the window. Watching the bluetits squabble over the bird feeder, and the red kite get tossed this way and that in the gusty sky. 

Today is the day that I can’t pretend. I can’t pretend that I don’t hold a deep-seated fear. I can’t pretend that I don’t sometimes look at Esme and think, “What if..?” 

I have been so careful not to fall into the dangerous trap of overprotectiveness. It would be a false-safety to never let her learn that the world is not all soft edges. She is hardy and sensible and brave. 

Her younger brother is now older than Esme was when she ate those Foxglove leaves. It almost feels like an invisible threshold has passed. I have so many blessings to count. So very many, but today it is ok to just sit and wallow for a while. 

We don’t take enough time to wallow. Someone always has it worse. We can always look for the good, but ignoring pain just lets it sneak up on you when you’re not looking. I still cannot listen to the song that was playing in Intensive Care without tears. It came on the radio the other day. It didn’t know better, it wasn’t aware that it shouldn’t have. Oh the tears. Not even crying, no heaving sobs, or gulping breaths, just a silent river of tears that have to take their course and wend their way. 

Two years ago Esme ate Foxglove leaves and became incredibly ill. Today she is healthy and happy with a head full of golden curls and an impish grin. 

Just as I was frustrated two years ago about the lack of meaning in such a horrible accident, I am frustrated now by the same. There is no greater meaning when bad things happen. There is no personal growth. I have not learned and become a better person for it. 

But, that doesn’t mean you can’t create meaning. People shared Esme’s story and maybe one day it will stop another accident happening. I have learned not to fight against my anger and pain, but to let it wash over me. I’d prefer not to have the anger and pain, but hey, you can’t have everything, and they are different with time added to the mix. Those ripples in the pond are becoming smaller with greater gaps in between. 

The world keeps turning, children keep doing ridiculously stupid things, we keep doing our best. 

And the happiness? The happiness is in the little moments. Morning elbow drops from small people, feeding the birds, making wishes on oak leaves. 

Today’s wish will be for more small happinesses. You can keep your flashy ecstasies, I’ll take running through sheets hanging on a line, or watching TV cuddled in front of a roaring fire, or looking for shells on a beach over your big stuff. 

Give me small moments, and give me lots of them, and you can have your occasional river of tears. 


If ignorance were more socially acceptable perhaps we’d all be a lot more knowledgeable

I can’t always talk about foxgloves. In fact I didn’t really mean to start a blog. I wrote an article. An article that was important to me. That I needed to share. That I wanted the world to know about.

Or at least the parts of the world with Foxgloves in them.

And then I found I’d started a blog, sort of accidentally. It was a quick way to share information.

Before I knew it another article appeared. It was linked to the first. It was about the trauma. It fitted.

Now for me it’s only the first that needs saying. The extra bits, the continuations, they’re just the conversation behind the big neon sign of what happened.

I won’t always talk about foxgloves.

But I’m going to today. I’ve had so many responses from the tens of thousands of people who viewed my blog in the 4 days since I started typing.

They’ve slipped neatly into three categories
There are the, “Everyone knows this. Why say it?” People. There aren’t many of these. They know about poisonous plants. They can list many common or garden hazards. They are knowledgeable on the subject.

But they’re wrong.

Not in a horrible way. In a lovely way. They believe that because they know something, that everyone else does.

It makes me think that maybe we should sometimes check on our general knowledge base. Because there’re lots of things I don’t know (like how to set up an aesthetically pleasing blog – I suspect the answer is “don’t be lazy and do it all on your iPhone, turn on the damn computer”), but it’s not fun admitting that.

If ignorance were more socially acceptable perhaps we’d all be a lot more knowledgeable.

Sounds wise doesn’t it?

Back to my categories. The second group, larger than the first, maybe a third of people who messaged me, didn’t have a clue. They had no idea that foxgloves were poisonous.

The lack of knowledge frightened them. Not the foxgloves themselves, just the fact that they maybe had them in the garden, in close proximity to a small child, and had no inkling that there was any kind of hazard present.

The third, and largest group, knew that foxgloves were poisonous, but had no idea how dangerous they were. They thought that they would maybe cause some nausea.

And then of course there were those who don’t get a category of their own, who felt that I should have explained about all poisonous plants. Since foxgloves alone isn’t dealing with the issue. Of course they are absolutely right that foxgloves are not the only dangerous plant in the garden.

I assure this lot that the second I have first-hand experience of this, I shall blog about it. The way Esme’s going, she’d be happy to oblige, but I hope it’s ok that I do my utmost to stop her.

Because I’m not just talking about poisonous plants. I’m talking about my daughter. I’m talking about the days when I didn’t know if she would ever wake up again.

But use this opportunity to embrace your ignorance! There’s a great website called The Poison Garden.

Study it. It’s brilliant. And then don’t panic. Just file it away for if you ever need it.

Or visit them in Alnwick and hear their stories whilst they show you the plants. I think my children need to go.

I also think that Foxgloves have a very specific draw to children. They’re tactile. They’re fuzzy. The flowers are little hats, or fit perfectly on fingers. They grow at child-height. They’re abundant in the summer, when you’re out in the garden. They’re beautiful.

All in all they’re a bit of a perfect storm.

So why don’t poisonings happen more often?

Because most children, no matter how young, are clever enough to stop eating nasty things.

I keep hearing the, “why bother?” Question though.

Because it’s the question I struggled with for three months before posting.

And the answer always comes back to, if this is very rare, that doesn’t mean it will never happen again.

If it happened again, and the parent didn’t know, because we thought they knew, so we didn’t tell them, then that would be the wrong decision.

I try not to think about the hypotheticals of what not knowing may have meant to Esme.

That way bad thoughts lie.

Dealing with the Aftermath

When you’re trundling along, then your world is turned upside down, how do you learn to trundle again?

I’m not a psychologist of any kind. I have no great insight or magic cures. In fact I’m right in the middle of trying to work this out for myself right now.

So think of this more as musings than a How To guide.

In the week when Esme got sick, I got angry.

Of course I was sad. I was stressed. I was waiting for the worst to happen. But I was also very angry that what had happened was so pointless.

I was angry with myself for not protecting her.

I was angry with the fact that there was no magical cure.

I was angry that I was powerless.

When you’re angry and you have nothing to blame, the easiest thing is to turn it inwards.

I couldn’t be angry at the foxglove. I couldn’t be angry at a just-turned-2 year old who liked eating things. I couldn’t be angry at the hospital who were doing everything in their power. There was no focus.

I could be angry at myself for not reminding the older children that morning of the dangers of plants. I could be angry at myself for not checking where they were sitting for foxgloves. I could be angry at myself for not watching them every second. I could be angry at myself for not seeing it happen when it happened. I could be angry at myself for not getting to a hospital the second she’d eaten them. I could be angry at myself for being so helpless.

But none of it was helpful.

Anger is a normal and natural reaction to something bad happening. In the short term it can fuel you. It can keep you going when you’re exhausted. It can keep you putting one foot in front of the other when you are so tired.

But there comes a point where anger drains you. Where all it does is takes your energy away from the good things.

There comes a point where you have to let it go.

But how?

People say things happen for a reason. I don’t believe this. I’ve never believed this. Things happen. Full stop. And then you have to get on with your life and try to deal with what happened.

People tell themselves stories. They say “if this bad thing hadn’t happened, then it wouldn’t have led to this good thing”.

Stories genuinely help. They are in our control. We can decide on the story.

This blog is part of my story.

At first I thought everyone knew foxgloves were dangerous, so I couldn’t help the world by spreading the word.

But we met many medical professionals who didn’t know. Many friends who admitted in the same situation they would never have been able to suggest a plant to doctors.

So maybe I could create a point, create a purpose. Maybe Esme’s bad experience would lead to a greater awareness. That someone else’s child would be saved the ordeal.

I had to balance that with the fact that I don’t want to cause panic either.

This is rare!

It’s nowhere near as dangerous as an un-netted trampoline or a hanging blind-cord in your living room. Was it necessary?

I’ve had some responses saying that they can’t see why I’d point out what is public knowledge.

I’ve had far more responses saying that people either didn’t know that foxgloves were poisonous at all, or that they hadn’t realised they could be fatal.

I think that it’s easy to assume that just because you know something, everyone else does too.

There are many poisonous plants. But there’s something particularly enticing about foxgloves. They’re soft and they’re furry, and the flowers look like fairy hats.

So I decided sharing the story would become a part of my healing.

Telling people about a traumatic event is always a good thing. Be it your husband, your friend, your GP or counsellor. There’s something about taking the words out of your head and saying them aloud.

If you can’t find the words yet, start to write them. Put them on paper. Just for you. Just empty your head.

Sometimes people try to help by telling you how lucky you are. It’s true that I’m lucky. I am ridiculously lucky. I have so many things to be grateful for.

But focusing on the positives when I’m trying to deal with the negatives has always been problematic for me.

It’s really important to think about the good things. It’s vital. You must. But you need to make room to think about the bad things too.

Not all the time. If you find time has passed and all you’re thinking about are the negatives, then please talk to a GP. It’s what they are there for. No one wants you to struggle alone.

But if you find that you’re mostly ok, but sometimes need to shout, “It’s unfair. It is unfair. IT IS BLOODY UNFAIR.” Then in those moments, let yourself feel what your brain is trying to make you feel.

People may say “life’s unfair” or “well, yes, but we all have unfair things happen”. None of that is relevant. It’s dismissive. It’s belittling. It’s basically not listening.

It’s important to say to yourself that yes, it was unfair. Find a way to accept that.

It wasn’t some karmic justice. Karma doesn’t exist. It’s a nice thought.

Bad things happen to good people.

It’s not fair.

But it’s not the end either. We all get to choose. We get to choose the story we take forward. Everyday you get to write it in little ways. It’s not about trying to forget. Because that never works. It’s about acknowledging what happened, and moving on to new things.

Sometimes I still get angry. I blame myself. I say it’s unfair. I worry for the future.

When those times happen I give myself a bit of time to feel those feelings.

And then I get back to living in the now. I look at my beautiful family, I listen to the birds, I appreciate the moment I’m actually living in, and ignore the ever-growing pile of laundry, and it gives me some peace.

I quite like the analogy of my life as a lake. Someone chucked this huge rock into the calm waters. I’m still riding the ripples.

The more time goes by, the smaller the ripples, and the farther apart they are. When those moments come, if I try to fight them, then I make them bigger. But if I let them wash over me, accept them, talk to someone if I need to, I get back to the calm water.

One day the ripples will be so small I’ll barely notice them. Maybe a thought. A brief memory.

Maybe one day I’ll see a foxglove and just think “how beautiful”.

For now I’ll just ride the ripples.