Accidents happen: Part Two

Did I say “accidents happen” the other day??

What was I thinking?!

It’s like saying its q___t at work; never say the Q word!! It invites chaos and busyness and problem scripts one after another. But I said accidents happen, and so they did! Fate heard me, even though I don’t really believe in fate…oops, is that another invitation to the world to punish me?? Well punish is a bit dramatic, but you know what I mean.

So I’ve been recovering from accidents and errors ever since I wrote about accidents!! It wasn’t enough that I had my first ever minor car accident last Friday. On Wednesday, I had to go and fall down the stairs!! Like a really idiot!

I think it was sleep stupor, but to be honest I don’t really know. It was morning so sleep stupor could cover it; not much of a morning person, me. I took one step down leading with my right foot, another step down now with my left foot, another with my right and then I just slipped off the far edge of the next step with my left foot and I was gone. Our stairs go halfway straight down, turn 180 degrees then the other halfway straight down. Pretty standard. I slipped on almost the last stair before the turn. It might have to do with the stairs being shaped as wedges for the turn and I hit the tiny point of the wedge. I don’t really know how but somehow my left heel hit close to the edge of the stair and just slipped right out from under me and slipped over stair after stair after stair with no grip on any of them. My left leg was a useless slippery pointy thing sticking out in front of me causing nothing but trouble!!!

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Brain kicking into overdrive trying to figure out what to do, hoping to hit the wall at the bottom of the first half of the steps, grabbing the railing by instinct rather than thought, left leg useless sticking straight out front and can’t get a foot hold anywhere, getting half a grip on one stair after another but slipping over each and every one, poor right leg tucked underneath getting banged and scraped stair after stair after stair!!

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Luckily, and there is always an aspect of luck with me somehow, I was trailing my hand down the banister and managed to grab it! And even though my grasp slipped down the banister, it got caught on the post halfway down at the corner and I managed somehow to haul myself to a stop. I’ve seriously wrenched my neck and back and arm because of stopping myself but at least I didn’t go head over heels or something worse. And at least my hand was in contact with the banister when I fell; usually I don’t hold on at all! So it could have been much worse. Apparently its a workplace OH&S recommendation to have 3 points of contact with stairs at all times: 2 feet and 1 hand, or 1 foot and 2 hands if you are that person who just has to push the envelope! So maybe I need to put up some OH&S posters in my stairwell!

Panic as several steps went by and I missed the wall at the end, turning instead to start going down the next flight! Finally gripping the railing at the post as I slid to it and holding on for grim death!! Or is it life? Either way, I managed to stop on that poor banged up left hip with my useless left leg still sticking out in front, and the even more useless right leg underneath and my arm twisted backwards at some weird angle. So by the time my hand found a hold on the midway post, I was through the corner and heading down the next straight with my right leg tucked well under me getting cheese grated on each and every step where the carpet is bare and the strings are coming through. Basically I got a combination of carpet burn and grating right down my shin and a good few bumps on my left hip, which is swelling up nicely. I was feeling pretty shabby!!

So I was pretty stoked to have come to a stop, even if it was at the cost of the whole left side of my torso and arm. But how to get up?? I’m not a little thing, as most of you probably know. And unable to engage to use of either leg and one arm and side made getting up some kind of origami exercise! I actually can’t tell you how I got up, but there were a couple of bad moments where I started to slide again. But here I am to tell the tale!

So I grabbed on for dear life and managed to stop my fall. There was a moment of real horror thinking that the post might let go; I definitely felt it give. But when I went back afterwards it was as solid as ever. But as it turns out 120kg dangling by one arm is not only a threat to the wooden stair railing but to the muscles and soft tissue behind my shoulder blade. OUCH! Before too long I couldn’t turn my head to the left more than 20 degrees, behind my shoulder blade was singing and I was rapidly becoming frozen stiff. So a trip to the physio to get ironed out.

To look at you can’t even tell I’ve had an accident. Well not until I covered the grazes along my shin with white dressings that is, they kind of stand out on my tan! Not intentional but there you go. It saves me feeling like an attention seeker telling people about my accident; the bandages seek your attention on my behalf!! Is that the same thing?

Its amazing the pain and irritation such superficial scrapes create. Bed sheets, leggings, any clothing just rubs so I headed down to the pharmacy for some dressings so I can at least be a bit more comfortable. Now at least the stinging doesn’t keep getting set off again. But stretching the skin by moving it any way including walking is still aggravating. So here we are, another accident. What to make of this one? I really don’t know what went wrong so that I can avoid it again. Just one of those things? Or I should take more care?

So that was my fall. I thought that was enough, how about you?

But no. I get to work and start my usual Thursday; you know, all the packs and stuff that I wrote about recently. Then my boss brings one of the packs to me and says it has been brought back to the pharmacy over an error! That shoots straight through the heart. Especially right on the heels of having experienced a dispensing error and making (possibly) a big deal about it. As it turns out I hadn’t seen that there were 2 loratadine (you know, Claratyne the anti-histamine) tablets instead of one in Tuesday morning. It’s a robot error, but my job is to pick up that type of error, and I didn’t.

I could justify my omission by saying that its not that serious an error; in all likeliness there would be no side effects as loratadine generally has no more side effects than placebo (sugar pill). But the point is that I missed the error.

I could justify it by saying that the patient hadn’t taken it yet so it wasn’t so bad.

I could also justify the error with the conversations I’ve regularly had with other pharmacists checking packs discussing how extra tablets in packs is the hardest error to pick up, compared to other errors: broken tablets, missing tablets, wrong tablets. But I still missed the error. Not good. But it has made me further reconsider my response to the dispensing error that happened to me.

But wait, there’s more!! Unfortunately.

This, I suppose, is what happens when you only work twice a week. Short of them texting you about issues on your days off (it happens!) they save them up for next time you come in!

So, it seems that I dispensed a patient’s 500mg Epilim (valproate) correctly, then attached the labels to 200mg tablets. THIS is a problem. This is a big problem. I don’t know why the patient was taking Epilim but irrespective, taking this error over weeks to months WOULD have resulted in a relapse had the patient taken it: a relapse of epilepsy resulting in seizures, a relapse of bipolar resulting in depression, mania or suicide or worse. As someone who takes Epilim and dreads the probably inevitable day that I relapse, I can totally empathise with the patient in this scenario, as well as my position as pharmacist!!

I could justify this error by…nope, nothing!! I should have scanned the medication against the dispensing; this would have shown the error. I should have compared the original script to the box of tablets to reconcile the strength; this would have shown the error. I could have reviewed the history, but that’s an extra step. All I needed to do was the 2 steps mentioned; that would’ve prevented the error. Luckily the patient identified the error, brought the medication back and no harm, no foul.

Sound familiar?? My high horse is sinking through quicksand and I’m about to go down with it, unless I jump off and acknowledge that I just made an error as significant as that other pharmacist, and how do I want to be treated over this? What lessons do I need to learn? How would I feel about being reported to the pharmacy board? My boss knows, so that aspect can’t get worse, but he was very good about it actually.

Can I console myself with the errors that I did pick up today? 5 missing doses of magnesium in one pack, 2 missing dose of metformin (for diabetes) in another, a broken Panadol tablet making an underdose, a broken clonazepam tablet (for seizures or spasms) underdose, double the Efexor (antidepressant) dose in one slot, a random thyroxine (for underactive thyroid) tablet found in a pack where the patient doesn’t take that medication, and more. Does it make up for letting a more severe error pass through to the keeper? In short, no.

But it does make you think. Here I am, on a squared playing field, accepting that human error exists but there are systems to obey to minimise it, and ignoring the systems is just not on!

Finding the light

Hello friends,

I’m back. Sorry about missing the blog last week! I tried. I came up with one draft, then discovered it was totally over-dramatic and not what I wanted to say. I did another one, but when I read it back over it just didn’t really seem like much of anything! So, here I am with two discarded drafts, no post for last week, overdue for this week and next week is coming around fast! A bit frustrated!

Why am I so stuck? Why am I spinning my wheels? I want to write about suicide, but this time it’s real, somebody that I used to know. And despite however much distance you’d think “used to know” would put between me and this event, it has gotten under my skin.

For people who suffer with mental illness, hearing about another person’s experiences can be a trigger for a worsening of your own condition. We’re so susceptible to worsening when we’re unwell. It’s different when we’re doing well; we’re resilient and strong. This is especially true abut suicide. Talking about suicide, hearing about suicide, reading about suicide can be a trigger for someone who is unwell to start thinking in circles, over and over about suicide. That’s not to say that someone can cause another person’s suicide. But to a person on the edge metaphorically, it only takes a tiny bump to over-balance.

I’m not suicidal. I’ll clear that up now, and relieve any worried minds. I’m actually doing quite well, but this event has given me pause to think about not being well. It’s quite a long time since I have been suicidal. I have been very fortunate that suicidal thoughts have only been a small part of what I’ve experienced over the last 3 years. I tend towards grey days, nothing dramatic. But still, hearing about someone I’ve known, someone who was one of my first childhood friends, someone who I grew up with ending their life creates a moment of questioning of the situation and myself.

Of course there’re so many questions that come with any death by suicide. Thankfully in this case some of those were answered before the last day. The family were well aware of the mental illness and very supportive of their son, including providing a flexible workplace. Relationships were good, things had seemed to be going well. But there was no questioning why he died because the answer was clear: mental illness. Of course there was the question of could we have done more? But the answer is no: medications, counselling, support all given in full. Just an overwhelming sense of wishing it hadn’t ended this way this soon, but feeling that maybe it couldn’t have gone any other way.

Could something have stopped it happening that day? Yes. Would that have stopped it ever happening? No. Could we the long lost friends have done more, kept in touch? Yes. Would it have changed anything? No. Because it’s not about us, the friends and family. It’s about the mental illness battle ground in a person’s head. However much we love someone and want to help them, we can’t climb inside their head and fight the fight for them. We can only do what we can do from the outside.

Someone with mental illness has different questions that are all for themselves. This person had depression, I have depression; he ended his life, so where does that leave me? If it took xyz for my friend to take his life, what would it take for me to get to that point? They took their life this way, could I do that; if not, what would I do? It’s like being inactively suicidal and contemplating ideas and theoretical points of view, but you have no plan to carry them out; no active suicidality (the medical term for being suicidal). It’s like ruminating on whether I’ll get to go on holidays this year, and if I do where will I go, and what luggage will I need to pack? When patients are actively suicidal they will often have their will written, letters completed to their family, plans for handing over the business and literally will have signed themselves out of their life having hoarded enough poison, collected enough rope, built up the nerve to jump in front of the train etc. Then again sometimes it’s pure impulse on a background of ongoing suicidal thoughts that are just eating away at your will to live. A tipping point is reached, and that’s that.

So I’ve had a period of questioning myself: how am I? Am I doing okay? Are things still under control like they were before I heard the news? I run through my “on the edge” symptom check but there are no tell tales signs; maybe I’m a bit more shaky in my left hand, maybe I’m a touch more anxious, a bit more fixated on anything changing. But after giving myself a few days to take the impact of the news, attend the funeral and debrief, things are okay. I’ve gotten through a potential trigger okay.

Which is bully for me! For the family, the friends grieving now and for a good while to come, where is the light? Where are they to look to find something good out of this? One place that I’ve found comfort is to see the men and boys in my old friends life passing the okay sign around on Facebook in a campaign to vow to listen to each other, to talk about mental illness and suicide, and to try to prevent this from happening again. This has to be one of the best ways to commemorate a death by suicide; a pledge to fight it’s influence and talk about it openly.

I know that its difficult for people to talk about this awful thing that’s happening in their heads. And it’s hard for others to hear what they have to say about it! But we have to be brave; be strong and talk about it. Bringing it out into the daylight is the only way to make it less scary, and to take away its power over us. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. And remember the souls who couldn’t fight it’s power anymore. It wasn’t their fault, they didn’t mean it or even want it, but they were overpowered. Remember that. They were fighting the battle and lost, through no fault of their own. Remember them. Talk about them. Share their story. There is someone out there that you can help if you talk about suicide.

Check out Conversations Matter for videos, fact sheets and resources for talking about suicide.

Use one of the umpteen helpline services that are available in this country. You don’t have to have a mental illness to call. You can call to talk about a friend, someone you knew who died, or just to learn more about mental health. So many people are reluctant to call, so go ahead and buck the trend! Call! Ask questions, learn things, talk to someone on the end of the line anonymously before you talk to a friend. Whatever you do, do something to improve awareness of suicide and prevent it occurring again.

beyondblue 1300 22 4636

SANE 1800 18 7263

Lifeline 13 11 14 (crisis support and suicide prevention service)

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 (free service for people who are suicidal, caring for someone who is suicidal, bereaved by suicide)

Kids Help Line 1800 55 1800 (5 to 25 years old)

Victorian State Suicide Help Line 1300 651 251

Mensline 1300 78 9978

Veterans and veterans families counselling service 1800 011 046

Qlife 1800 184 527 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities)

Carers Australia 1800 242 636

Many more helpful phone numbers and web sites can be found at Mental Health Commission’s Get help page