What does arsenic, cyanide and polonium have in common? Yes, you guessed it they all are poisons and pretty lethal ones. Now what does perfume, rubbing alcohol and acetone have in common? Well from the point of view of a toxicologist, it’s the same thing… they are poisons.
The dose makes the poison.
Paracelsus the “father of toxicology”
Therefore, if introduced in your body beyond their safety cut-point doses, even the things that we think are safe are in reality poisonous. Hence, everything around you is trying to poison you; Households (Javel water, bleach, dishsoap…) plants (Belladonna, foxglove…) animals (snakes, spiders, wasps…) and the list goes on to even include your Ex!
Basically we live in a poison-full world, but what should we do if we got poisoned? What if your kid swallows pills from that bottle you hide from your wife? Or what if you drink from the empty water bottle you filled with turpentine and were sure you wouldn’t forget? What if you accepted that stupid bet and drank that bottle of dish soap? …
The answer is pretty simple… call the poison center!
(contact number for the USJ Poison Center is provided at the end of this post)
When I decided to write about what to do in case of intoxication, the first person that came to my head is definitely Pr. Hayat Azouri. Among other qualifications she is:
- A pharmacist
- A toxicology specialist
- Faculty member in Université Saint Joseph de Beyrouth (USJ) school of pharmacy
- Chief of the toxicology laboratory and the manager of the USJ poison center.
In addition, she was my Master’s program coordinator at USJ, so I picked up the phone, called her and set up an appointment to visit her on campus.
The conversation between us was extremely interesting… It turns out that the USJ poison center is a personal project of hers, she’s actually the one who came up the idea and proposed it to the university. She accepts phone calls anywhere and anytime 24/7, even when she’s out of the country, and yes it’s pro bono! She’s well known by her sharp, fast and accurate answers; so here’s are the highlights from our ChitChat:
Chris: What’s the scope of the USJ poison center and who is the team behind it?
Pr. Azouri: The center provides phone assistance in case of poisoning. I accept phone calls from the community or the healthcare professionals. Along with Dr. Diane Antonios (immuno-toxicology specialist and USJ faculty member) and the database provided by the university, we can give fast and life saving assistance to the caller. The fast response is always key, because such cases are extremely time sensitive.
Chris: Who should call the poison center?
Pr. Azouri: Although we accept calls from anyone, being called by healthcare professionals (Medical Doctor, Pharmacist…) makes it easier to communicate the assistance, antidotes and interventions, because they are somehow familiar with the process. On the other hand, the latter should not stop anyone from calling the center, because the least we can do is assess the situation and evaluate whether the intoxicated patient needs hospitalization or can be managed at home.
Chris: What are the main complaints that you receive?
Pr. Azouri: The main complaints in Lebanon are the same worldwide and mainly are related to kids accidentally swallowing medications, alcohol or any other toxin.
Chris: Now talking about the specifics, how do you manage snakebites, knowing that anti-venom is not available in most of the country’s hospitals?
Pr. Azouri: The Lebanese ministry of health is the one providing the anti-venom. So when we are contacted with snakebite cases, we provide the first-aid instructions and then we give the directives to obtain the anti-venom from the Lebanese Ministry of Health.
Chris: Knowing that all these services are free with no personal monetary revenue, why did you do it and still doing it?
Pr. Azouri: The answer again is pretty simple, and might come as a shocker to you. This is my way of giving back to the community… even the thought of me saving just one kid from dying because of an intoxication gives me the push and the alibi to continue doing what I’m doing.
I left the campus after this ChitChat, not only informed about the USJ poison center, but also learning a lesson about how to give back to the community, which can be by putting your knowledge and what you know into practice of helping others with only moral satisfaction in return… and most importantly, making a difference!
You can contact the USJ Poison Center by calling: 03-332246
Giving is not just about making a donation. It is about making a difference.
Kathy Calvin – president and CEO of UN Foundation.
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