SAN DIEGO — Ramona Easton didn't think her 4-year-old son had understood a thing when she tried to teach him how to use the 911 emergency telephone number a month ago.
"He was fidgeting, listening half-heartedly, and treating it like a game . . . at times, poking the wrong numbers and being silly," Easton recalled Friday.
Evidently John understood better than she thought he did. Authorities credit the tyke with making the emergency call that saved Easton's life when she went into insulin shock Wednesday afternoon.
Easton recalled that she didn't feel well on Wednesday, even after taking her usual morning dosage of insulin and drinking a glass of orange juice. She said she put her young daughter down for a nap while she went to lie down.
"I just thought I was ill, not going into insulin shock," Easton said.
Easton said her son is used to her getting sick because she's an "unstable diabetic," often suffering bad insulin reactions, but he isn't aware of the gravity of the sickness.
But when she failed to wake up an hour later, John punched in the 911 number on their push-button phone and told the dispatcher there was an emergency.
Although John was able to tell the dispatcher the problem--"low sugar, low sugar"--he couldn't immediately remember the address.
The dispatcher, however, managed to keep him on the phone for 10 minutes and, during the conversation, the address slipped out, said Rob Drake, spokesman for the San Diego Fire Department.
Usually, the location of the 911 caller is immediately traced by a computer and displayed to the dispatcher on a screen. The Eastons, however, are recent transplants to San Diego and their address had not been put into the system, Drake said.
Paramedics arrived at the apartment in the 4300 block of Meade Avenue to find John still on the phone and Easton unconscious. They gave her glucose intravenously.
"The next thing I knew I woke up to find strange people in my room," Easton said, noting that prolonged insulin shock can cause brain damage and death.
It was her fear about an emergency while her husband was at work that had prompted Easton to give her son the telephone lesson and to tape the number 911 by the phone.
"I am just surprised he remembered what to do and our address," Easton said, recalling the 15- to 20-minute lesson she gave John about a month ago.
"I unplugged the phone, showed him the numbers to dial and told him to say that mom was a diabetic and the sugar level was low," Easton said. She said she had planned to make the exercise a nightly lesson but had abandoned the idea after one sitting because "he didn't seem to be particularly responsive that first time. I thought he was too young."
Drake said authorities encourage teaching children 5 or older about the 911 system. Four-year-olds are usually considered too young, he said.