Hiding in Plain Sight
MAJ. JAIME R. KOREN
Army Reserve Medical Command
Pinellas Park, Florida
As a relatively new parent facing the daily perils and joys of motherhood, one question pops into my mind every morning: “What am I going to flip out about today?” In preparation for my daughter’s arrival, I did what all new mothers do. I read articles in all the parenting magazines, I obsessed about the ideas shared on Facebook in parenting groups, and I bought just about every baby book ever published. When the time came for her to arrive, I felt entirely prepared to take on every single problem life could throw at me with the self-assurance and strength of a mamma bear protecting her cub.
I don’t take her health lightly. I don’t let her have too much sugar because it causes cancer. I also limit her screen time — well, because it causes cancer. And I don’t let her ride her little bike without a helmet because, somehow, this can cause cancer too. However, after all my preparations to protect my child from anything that could harm her, there was one hazard I totally missed … and it was hanging there right in my own home.
I was cooking dinner one evening and my 2-year-old daughter, Taylor, was playing with her blocks on the living room floor. This area, which is her unofficial play space, as she has taken over all our adult spaces, is a mere 20 feet from the kitchen and is in full view. I turned my back for a few seconds to rummage in the refrigerator for some broccoli and other organic vegetables when a tiny little voice from behind me said, “Look, Mommy, new necklace.”
I whirled around and saw that my baby had managed to climb up on the couch arm in front of the windows, wrapped the blind cord tight around her neck and was about to jump down. Horrified, I dropped everything. I have never moved so fast in my life. I sprinted toward her, weaving around the princess tent and hurtling over the building block castle. I lifted her up against the window to create some slack. Still I had a difficult time untangling the cords from around her neck.
Once she was safe, and my heart was beating normally, I completely broke down into a teary mess on the floor. After contemplating grabbing the scissors and cutting the cord, or just ripping the blinds off the wall completely, I ended up tying them up as a temporary fix.
When dinner was over and Taylor was snuggled safely in bed, I immediately scrounged the internet for solutions. Apparently, blind cord strangulation is a huge problem. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has identified window coverings with cords as one of the top five hidden hazards in the home. To prevent tragic child strangulations, the CPSC recommends the use of cordless window coverings in all homes where children live or visit. A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that from 1990 through 2015, 17,000 children under age 6, or almost two children a day, wound up in the emergency department for window blind-related injuries.
According to a statement from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the majority of those injured were released. But the study found that about one child each month died when their neck became entangled in a window blind cord. If you have corded window shades, the CPSC and the industry’s own Window Covering Safety Council have information on what to do to reduce the risk. The Parents for Window Blind Safety had produced a PSA titled “In an Instant,” which depicts a common window covering accident scenario. I also read that soon there will be no blinds with cords made or sold. Target and IKEA have already jumped on the bandwagon and will no longer sell them.
I clicked off the computer and looked at the former noose now tied up into an impotent ball of string dangling high out of reach alongside my window covering. I wondered, with all this information out there, and with all my reading and preparation, how did this pertinent piece of information slip past me? We had our home built by a reputable builder. So the blinds were chosen and installed for us. They never verbally warned us about it. Had we been given a warning label in the piles of paperwork we were presented with at closing? And if so, where? Was it buried in some operational manual typed in a miniscule font that one would need a magnifying glass to read it?
I reopened my computer and watched “In an Instant” on YouTube. Eerily, it depicted a family getting dinner prepared with their children playing in another room. A little girl holding a stuffed monkey, similar to the one Taylor has, climbed up on the windowsill and wrapped the cord around her neck. And then the girl slipped.
My throat tightened and I slammed the computer shut. Tears burned in my eyes. I went into my baby’s room wiping the dampness off my cheeks and kissed her warm face. I felt so fortunate that the evening's events turned out all right for us. For many, I now realized, it does not. I went to bed with the knowledge that in an instant my entire world could have changed, and thanking God that it had not.