The empty bottle of Dramamine was in 3-year-old Melanie's hand, the cherry-flavored motion-sickness medicine smeared on her mouth.
It happened quickly. While her dad was unloading the minivan, she had opened the glove compartment, untwisted the bottle cap and guzzled the pink stuff stashed there since our last big car trip. Of course she'd been told repeatedly never to take medicine herself. Of course I shouldn't have left it in the car.
We were lucky it wasn't a more toxic drug. Still, Melanie and I had to spend the afternoon in the emergency room and the night in the hospital's pediatric unit.
The next day, she was her noisy, energetic self; I needed longer to recover from the experience, not to mention the bite out of our checking account, despite insurance.
The ordeal -- and a late-night chat with the nurses -- made me realize how close we might have come to tragedy. Each year nearly 8,000 children die in the United States from unintentional injury -- more than from all childhood diseases combined -- according to the National Safe Kids Campaign, the nonprofit childhood injury prevention program.
Some 10.4 million children are treated in emergency rooms each year for various injuries -- from car and bicycle accidents to burns to near drownings and poisonings: 360,000 are hurt seriously enough to be admitted to a hospital. Another 50,000 children are permanently disabled.
Summer -- when we let down our guard a bit, heading out to playgrounds and pools and beaches and the homes of relatives -- is prime injury season. More children are fatally injured during the summer months than at any other time of year, the National Safe Kids Campaign notes.
"Whenever people make changes from their usual routines -- doing something different or being in a different place -- it increases the likelihood of accidental injury," explains Dr. Mark Widome, spokesman on safety for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"The most important thing parents can do is plan ahead," Dr. Widome says. Take a bottle of syrup of Ipecac along, he suggests, in case a child eats something poisonous or takes someone's medicine. But don't give it before consulting with a doctor or poison control center.
If the kids are small, be sure the car-rental agency has a car seat and that the hotel offers childproof rooms, bed railings and electric-outlet covers. A growing number do.
And keep toddlers and preschoolers out of hotel bathrooms as much as possible, so they can't get to dad's razor or mom's allergy pills.
Ask the people you are visiting to move household chemicals, plants, ashtrays and medicines to out-of-reach spots. Get down on the floor for a child's perspective. Are there outlet covers? Small objects within reach? A locked gate at the pool?
For a booklet titled "Safe Kids are No Accident: How to Protect Your Child from Injury," send $1 for handling to the National Safe Kids Campaign, Dept. LAT, 111 Michigan Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20010.
An Academy of Pediatrics chart with advice on handling injuries like burns, fractures, poisonings and choking is available for $2.95; call (800) 433-9016.