By Karen Sheehan, MD
I forgot my phone at home yesterday, which was an odd thing for me to do because I take it with me to work every day. But I was hurrying, thinking about a meeting in which I needed to give a presentation, so I got distracted from my normal routine.
I am sure all of us can remember similar situations that include a forgotten phone or a lunch that was accidentally left behind. It’s not uncommon, and aside from being a minor inconvenience, there usually aren’t grave consequences.
Unfortunately, there are times when forgetting something — or someone— has dire consequences. Each year, there are about 28 children who die from being left alone in a hot car by a caretaker. In just 10 minutes, a car’s temperature can rise nearly 20 degrees. That means, on a pleasant 85-degree day, the inside of the car can quickly exceed 100 degrees. And cracking the window will not sufficiently cool it off. Once a child’s temperature reaches 104 degrees from external causes, major organs begin to shut down.
Most of the children who have died in hot cars were left unintentionally. As parents, we would like to think that this would never happen to us —we could never forget our child — but it has happened to parents who represent nearly every care-giving profession, including a teacher, social worker, clergyman, even a pediatrician, just to name a few.
Denying that such a thing could happen to you might actually make you more vulnerable. Forgetting that your child is in the car could happen to even the most loving and careful parent. Fortunately, we can all implement strategies to ensure that it doesn’t happen to us:
Always check your front and back seat before locking the door and walking away.
Put a stuffed animal in the front seat to remind you that your child is in the back. A sleeping child in a rear facing car seat becomes an inconspicuous passenger.
Put your phone, purse, or briefcase in the back seat so you will always check there before leaving your car.
Ask your child-care provider to call you if your child does not show up as expected.
Now, if only I had a strategy to remember where I parked my car.
Dr. Karen Sheehan is a general pediatrician and a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. After taking care of kids who fell from windows, or were shot, or were hit by cars, it occurred to her that it would be better to prevent such injuries in the first place. She now focuses on prevention and maximizing a child’s health and well-being.