The ‘redhead’ and the child that drank kerosene.

Empty water bottle used to store kerosene which a child accidentally drank

Anyone looking at her sitting cross-legged on the sofa, with her long dark hair and beautiful dove eyes, would assume she was a pretty much calm river. Indeed looks are deceptive as Justina was anything but calm! Essentially a ‘redhead’ personality in brown skin, she just couldn’t let any matter slide.

“I’m calling him right now! You know I don’t have time for this type of rubbish.” she quipped.

“Justina, abeg leave this matter. I will handle it.” Kemi replied.

Story! I’m calling him now.”

But the call was not to be as Kemi’s three year old son ran past them, reeking of kerosene. Perplexed, Kemi dashed after him to investigate. The kerosene odour on his breath greeted her warmly as she lifted him up.

“You drank kerosene? Yeeeeeee.” she wailed. “This boy has finished me! Of all things to drink! What will I do now ehn?”

Not being one to waste time, Justina sprang into action. Ignoring her friend’s lamentations, she found her way to the kitchen, cut an onion bulb in pieces and poured palm oil into a cup.

“Eat this.” she said, giving Michael a piece of the onion.

chopped onions to induce vomiting in a child that drank kerosene
Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

He shook his head vigorously from side to side indicating a capital letter NO. However, Michael was in for it because Justina never took no for an answer. She cornered him, held his legs firmly between her thighs and hooked his head in her armpit. Afterwards, she pinched his nose shut, cutting off his air supply. He opened his mouth for a mouthful of air but got a mouthful of palm oil instead. Frustrated, he tried to wriggle away but he was no match for Justina’s strong grasp. After three massive gulps of palm oil, she let him loose and he began to wretch. Some seconds later, he was vomiting. And crying. Loudly.

Justina was satisfied. “That’s how it’s done!” she said, smiling like a pro.

Kemi was mortified with the drama that just played out but a thought consoled her: ‘At least he has vomited the kerosene he drank’. She petted and rocked him, and before long, he was fast asleep.

The rest of the day was uneventful but the next phase of the drama was still loading. Michael woke up the next morning with a terrible cough and a high temperature. His breathing also became unusually fast and rough. Kemi started giving him a cough syrup but there was no sign of improvement. In fact, he got worse instead. That afternoon Kemi rushed him to the hospital because he was already very weak.

The doctor asked a few questions and examined him. His diagnosis was chemical aspiration pneumonitis. He said Michael’s lungs were irritated from inhaling kerosene and so he would need admission. She made a down payment for the admission and Michael was placed on oxygen in the emergency room.

But Kemi was confused. She went to the doctor to clarify. “Doctor, I said he drank kerosene… and it was by mistake… not that he inhaled it.”

He took a moment to explain. “Madam, by God’s design, the lungs contain mainly air. So, if any other thing gets into the lungs, they could become irritated and stop performing their functions properly. This is why Michael was coughing and breathing abnormally. We call this aspiration pneumonitis. Now, kerosene is very volatile, that is, it evaporates easily. So when someone drinks it, there is a small chance of it being inhaled into the lungs as vapour, and that can cause lung irritation.”

Kerosene fumes that can be easily inhaled when someone drinks kerosene and vomits
Photo by Luke Besley on Unsplash

“Really?” Kemi asked wide-eyed.

“Yes madam. However, if the person vomits for any reason, the kerosene has greater opportunity to evaporate and get inhaled. This could increase the amount that enters the lungs; and there is usually a greater extent of lung irritation and damage when higher amounts of kerosene are inhaled.

“Wow! So in essence, you are saying we should not have made him vomit?”


“But I thought that… someone said his tummy would swell if he didn’t vomit the kerosene he drank.”

“Swell? From drinking kerosene? No, not likely. He may have had loose stools, nausea, vomiting, or even no symptoms at all. Tummy swelling is not typical.”

Kemi was still in denial. “But our mothers did this all the time. They made children vomit whenever something like this happened.”

“And we both know that some of those children did not live to tell the story.” the doctor cut in. “The truth is that for things like this, some people are lucky enough to escape because nothing happens but for others it’s a major health issue, and some have even died. There are so many factors that I can’t even begin to explain. But the bottom line is this: Since no one can tell how a person will respond, isn’t it better to play safe?”

Kemi nodded her agreement, still dazed processing the information she just received. She sat beside her son and held his hands, feeling very guilty. Poor child.

Little boy on admission after vomiting kerosene that he drank

Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash

The realization that they may not have been here if Justina didn’t make him vomit was very painful. So also was shelling out her hard earned cash as a single mum.

Sometime later, a nurse came around and gave her a pamphlet on chemical aspiration. She scanned it briefly and a section jumped at her. It read:

‘Since prevention is always better than cure, do not store chemical items like kerosene, petrol, bleach, or liquid soap in empty water bottles or soft drink bottles. Children usually don’t know the difference, and an adult who is not aware of the contents might accidentally get hurt. It’s best to leave such substances in their original bottles and label them clearly. Also, keep them at heights that children cannot easily reach.’

That was strike one. She should never have put kerosene in the empty bottle of water. And to know that she kept it under the kitchen table where it was so accessible… Gracious goodness. He must have thought it was water since it was in a water bottle.

She continued reading.

‘If anyone swallows kerosene or any other hazardous item, don’t give palm oil, onions, pepper or anything nauseating. Do not even try to make the person vomit because that could make the situation worse. Instead, take the person to the hospital immediately, where proper care will be given and you will be advised on what to do.’

Strike two! Ignorance was really dealing with her. As she sat there, she wondered how many people knew these things. So she brought out her phone and took pictures of her son and the pamphlet. Then she composed a message to Justina using the images. Next, she forwarded the message to all her WhatsApp contacts. She didn’t want anyone she knew to be in this predicament.

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18 thoughts on “The ‘redhead’ and the child that drank kerosene.”

  1. Beautiful and we’ll knitted piece… Can you make this more accessible to the set of people it should actually reach..? Keep up the good work ma…

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