It only takes a second for an accident to happen.
I was reminded of that last week – not by a medical error, but by a mistake I made at home that injured my child. It shook me to my core, and reminded me that life can change in an instant. And, it made me stop and acknowledge: my life is too fast. I’m cramming in so much that I’m missing the details.
Last week my family was in full force planning my 10-year-old son’s Harry Potter birthday party, complete with a potions class at my dining table. One of the experiments involved lighting a mixture that included rubbing alcohol. Once lit, a grey snake skin would appear from the ashes.
Now, being a mom and a doctor, I’m all about safety, and I’m totally into science. So of course, I was careful about the preparations for the potions class. We decided to walk through the experiments a few days before the party to make sure they were okay to do with a bunch of boys. I let my kids set up the experiments, and then when it was time to light the rubbing alcohol, I took over and lit the flame.
But then I made a mistake. After completing one successful experiment, and thinking that the flame was fully extinguished, I started to pour in more alcohol. And when I did, the flame burst so high it travelled across my son’s face and over his hair. I’ve never been so scared. My husband tackled him to the ground and rolled the fire out. We doused him in cold water and got him treatment. My son’s okay. Amazingly, his 2nd degree burns were limited to his neck and ear. His eyebrows and eyelashes were singed, but his eyes were spared.
I couldn’t believe I made such a rookie science mistake. My poor boy suffered, but things could have been so much worse: His injuries could’ve been permanent. My house could’ve caught on fire. I made so many errors – we didn’t have safety goggles on, the kids weren’t standing far enough away, I hadn’t pulled the fire extinguisher out from under my sink…
I just wasn’t thinking. And I should’ve been. But since it happened, I’ve been thinking a lot – about what I need to do differently in my life.
I need to slow down. Recently, I’ve been an activity junkie – my days and evenings are full. I see now that I need to give myself more downtime to process what I’m doing, what I’ve done.
I can’t just run with whatever information I quickly gather – I need to take the time to thoroughly think through things for myself. If I hadn’t been in such a rush, I would’ve read through the experiment more carefully. I would have looked up similar experiments, read reviews, and realized how dangerous things could get… and then I could have been prepared.
Also, I need to remember to stop and look at things from other perspectives, not just how I see it in the moment. I might have done things differently if I had paused and asked myself, “How would a science teacher set up this experiment?”
And I need to stop trying to multitask. No one is good at that, and I already know that I’m especially bad at it. I’m better doing tasks one at a time. But the evening of the accident, my attention was in a million directions – I was cooking dinner, decorating the house…
These small but concrete changes are critical – and they apply to other parts of my life as well. Accidents do happen, and I forgive myself – no one’s perfect, especially me! But as this science experiment reminds me, there is a lot I can do to prevent mistakes.