When you have children, you always want them to be safe at home, so you make sure you put poisons out of reach, you put gates on stairs, and you put covers on electrical outlets. There is a lot to be said about ensuring your home is baby proof, but making sure your campsite is baby proof is also a very important task.
In August of 2008 my husband Michael and I went on a trip to Algonquin Provincial Park with friends of ours, Laurie and Bryan, their seven year old son, Tobias, and our three children, Owen, Lily and Ethan, ages six, five and one. We were staying on a gorgeous site at Little Trout Lake — it was picture perfect.
We looked around to find a safe place to put our youngest, Ethan, then put his baby harness on him and tied him to a tree stump. He had about eight feet of rope to allow him to explore. When my husband and I were searching out a place to put him we made sure he could not reach the fire pit, and that the heat from the fire pit would not be too hot for him and we made sure there were not a lot of little sticks and twigs he could choke on. He was perfectly safe or so we thought. We did not consider one thing. It was hiding under a bush where we didn’t think Ethan could reach. We didn’t even think about it until it was too late, and although we had commented on how pretty the little mushrooms were we didn’t ever imagine in our wildest dreams our son would pluck one and have a taste.
I noticed first that Ethan had a fist full of mushroom and as I was taking it from his hand and telling him “no,” my oldest, Owen, exclaimed quite loudly “Mom, he’s eating some!” We had told the older three children that the mushrooms aren’t for eating or touching because they could be poisonous, but, we didn’t think about the baby being able to bother with them.
Once realizing Ethan had swallowed a piece of mushroom I turned to my friends and asked them “what do I do?” I had no idea. Their faces went white and they told me to make him vomit. I called to Michael and he came running. We couldn’t get the baby to bring anything up, we both tried. Then it occurred to Bryan that perhaps Ethan had an empty stomach, as when it happened we were preparing breakfast. Thankfully, Michael had thought to pack a few tetra boxes of soymilk. They don’t need to be refrigerated, so they are great for an interior canoe trip. We quickly filled the baby’s bottle with milk and he drank it. Once he was finished his bottle Michael took him and made him vomit. It was a nasty business, but a necessary one. After he threw up Michael handed the baby to me and searched the vomit. He found a piece of mushroom, about the size of a dime, a small relief.
The waiting began, and let me tell you, the next few hours were some of the worst of my life. We were all constantly watching for any slight change in Ethan. Is his temperature okay? How is his complexion? Is his personality normal? Is his breathing okay? I was scared out of my mind.
We discussed a plan of action on how to get Ethan out of the park as quickly as possible and signal for help should things have gone horribly wrong. Actually what happened was Laurie asked if we should start getting our gear packed up to get out in a hurry and Bryan flatly said “Laurie, you’re not coming.” Michael and Bryan decided if we needed to get Ethan medical attention they would paddle him out and leave Laurie and I at the campsite with the other three children, and Laurie and I were to make a fire and try to signal for help, because the guys could get him out a lot faster without us.
I was on the verge of panic and told Michael I wanted to take the baby out now. I was ready to pack up and go home, never to enter the wilderness again.
A few hours passed and I started to relax, then 12 hours, then 24 and Ethan was still okay. He was acting 100% normal. At that point, we were all fairly certain he was going to be fine.
While doing research for this article I discovered that even if a person appears to be okay the poisoning for some mushrooms can take several days to take effect. I have also learned there are no antidotes for mushroom poisoning. It is important to teach your children that eating or even touching mushrooms in the wild, including mushrooms found in your own backyard, is very dangerous. Consider all types of wild mushrooms to be a serious hazard to you and your children, and unless you are a mushroom expert (a mycologist), don’t eat ever pick them to eat them.
One thing to remember about mushrooms is they can pop up at anytime so you need to check your campsite at least once a day to make sure nothing new has come up where your children will be playing.
He gave us a terrible fright and taught us a lesson. We would never put one of our precious children in harm’s way on purpose. While sharing this story may be embarrassing, if I can help keep another child safe then that is more important. We have been camping since the incident with the mushroom, but when I step onto a campsite or I’m walking on a portage I look at the wildlife, flora and fauna, with new eyes.
I wrote this article to share my experience with you, but I am in no way suggesting if your child were to ingest a wild mushroom that you take the same approach as we did. I have learned since then that waiting for symptoms to appear is not the best tactic. Prevention is the best way to keep your child safe, and I hope no one else is ever subjected to an occurrence like this.