Thrive by IU Health

June 10, 2021

Poison center nurse answers the call – toddlers to adults in distress

Poison center nurse answers the call – toddlers to adults in distress

As a nurse in the Indiana Poison Center at IU Health Methodist Hospital, Brandy Thacker has undergone specialized training to answer urgent calls.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

There’s a special warning on many common household products: “Keep out of Reach of Children.” Many of those products include the familiar skull and crossbones image.

When a curious toddler accidentally ingests a poisonous substance, IU Health Nurse Brandy Thacker is at the ready to answer the 1-800 call. She’s specifically trained to calm the nerves of panicked parents and provide answers on the next steps to save their child’s life.

But what happens when those calls come from doctors who are treating teens and adults who have overdosed on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications or controlled substances?

The calls are urgent. They typically come from an attending physician, or a paramedic and Thacker is again prepared to walk them through treatment.

“A lot of people think of poison control as it applies to children but we get calls from hospitals across the state when they get patients who have taken a toxin ingestion such as carbon monoxide exposure, exposure to a chemical spill, or anybody who has taken an overdose to harm themselves,” said Thacker, who has been a nurse for 21 years – including ICU experience. She joined IU Health Methodist Hospital in 2005 and began working at the Indiana Poison Center four years ago.

“This role has completely broadened my knowledge base as a nurse and given me a new perspective on working with this new patient population. It is very challenging learning a new way of looking at a patient,” said Thacker. She works remotely, relying on specific information provided by the caller, and then matching certain medications and symptoms with specific treatment protocols. “When you are working with a patient who has overdosed, there are certain issues you must think of and look through the lens of someone who is specialized, not necessarily common knowledge as a bedside nurse.”

She estimates her calls are 50-50 between toddlers and teens/adults.

“We’re unique in that we don’t pull in resource nurses. We are nationally certified for this particular role and when a doctor or nurse calls in they want answers while we’re on the phone,” said Thacker. She is one of 11 staff and the center currently has openings for additional team members. They work 12-hour shifts; staffing the center around the clock responding to anywhere from 25 to 40 calls a day. The highest number of calls typically comes during the winter holidays and the call volume increases between 5 p.m. and 2 a.m. Sunday night and Monday are two of the busiest days for answering urgent calls said Thacker. Indiana Poison Center staff members have access to a toxicologist at all times.

“A common call from a hospital might be about a 25-year-old guy who comes in with high blood pressure and a fast heart rate. He’s sweaty and confused and can’t tell anyone what he has used so the doctor wants to know what they are looking for,” said Thacker. Different drugs and medications exhibit in different ways, and some reactions are similar. The drugs may range from something as common as Tylenol or Ibuprofen to illegal substances such as Methamphetamine or cocaine, she said.

“I love working at Indiana Poison Center because of the close-knit feeling between co-workers and our toxicologists. We can provide comfort to the public and provide treatment plans to the physicians, mid-level providers and bedside nurses for the toxin exposed patients,” said Thacker. “It really is a rewarding job where people calling in are very thankful for the services we provide and our medical staff if very appreciative of the work.”

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