PSA

Here is my public service announcement (PSA).

Not to be confused with prostate-specific antigen, Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and I’m sure many other words starting with those letters positioned in that order.

Do you take any medication? Any medications?? Even one medication?

“No, only vitamins, no medications”. “Which vitamins?” “Umm…”

“Just a blood pressure tablet…oh I don’t know what it’s called, its the pink one”

“The doctor started me on an antibiotic this week, no I don’t know what it is”

Here goes, my entire public service announcement: KNOW YOUR OWN MEDICATIONS.

Every day, somewhere between 4 to 18 times depending on shift length and how busy the department is, I walk into an ED cubicle and ask a patient, do you take any medications? And I get some frustrating answers: frustrating in that the patient or their carer hasn’t taken ownership for their own or the patient’s healthcare, frustrating in that I have to put in a lot of time and effort that the patient didn’t think was worthwhile, and isn’t necessary, and I forget why else; I’m sure there was something.

 

I’m not whinging about having to do my job. The whole point of a pharmacist is to elicit the best possible medication history from or for a patient, and I have to dig a lot to get the optimal history. It’s the reason I go to work and the challenge of it creates a real sense of satisfaction once I’m certain of a patient’s medications. But I do think that patient’s have to be engaged and do their part. Obviously I cheerfully exempt unconscious patients, those who are demented/delirious, institutionalised patients and anyone else not in charge of their own medications. But the rest of you? Own your health, for your own sake if nothing else.

You don’t have to be a doctor, a healthcare professional or know anything really about medicine to excel at managing your own medications. You just have to put in  a little time and effort, and get to know the following: the medication generic name (the one in small print), or the brand name (I can work with that), and the strength of the medication. That’s it. I’m not even asking you to memorise it. In fact I don’t want you to rely on your memory. When you’re in the ED, there are so many things going on that with you that your medication name and strength are going to get prioritised right out of your memory recall centre, and be useless to both me and you! So write it down, photograph it, tattoo it on your skin if you must! Okay, the last one is a joke, people!

After that, I need to know a couple of things about each medication: how many times a day you take it, what time of day you take it, and anything else pertinent to the medication specifically. If its written down, all you have to do is hand me the list and that’s all I need; if its on your phone just hand me the phone. So if you don’t want me bugging you, and asking you questions, be organised! I will reward you.

And as an added bonus, if your medications are written out neatly and the list shows you know your doses, your medication chart will be written up quicker, more accurately and your medication chart will be safer. I think that’s worth some effort.

For instance, one patient today brought all of their own medications in a box with a handwritten list saying what time of day each was taken. I was able to record all the information I need: generic medication name, strength (from the medications themselves), and the amount she took and what time of day she took it (from the handwritten list) while the patient was sleeping. When she woke up, I just quickly ran through the list with her to confirm it was up to date, and that was that! Easy, fast, and done, just like that! Her medication chart checked for accuracy and the patient was safe to go to the ward, medication-wise.

A lot of patient’s are very good at bringing in their own medications. In fact Epworth patients are exceptional at bringing in their own medications. This is mostly because they know from their last admission or from savvy ambulance drivers that if they don’t bring their own we’ll dispense what they need, but they’ll pay the same cost as if they were getting the medication dispensed at their usual pharmacy. Most figure they’ll just use what they already have. But having all the medications together in one place at the start makes taking a medication history a lot easier and more accurate, so there’s a hot tip for you.

 

Let’s try this again: do you take any medications? Yes? So what are they? Acceptable answers include:

  1. Here is a photo on my phone of all my current medications including vitamins showing the medication name and strength of the tablet/capsule clearly
  2. Here is my medication list that I keep in my wallet/handbag/toiletry bag that I bring to hospital with the name and strength of each medication and what time of day I take them
  3. Here are all of my medications in some sort of bag
  4. Here is the name of the pharmacy where I get all/most of my medications dispensed regularly

Personally? I carry a list in a plastic slip case that I got the the National Prescribing Service (NPS): it has sections for medication name, strength, amount, time of day, diseases, allergies all neatly in a double-sided fold up sheet that fits into a plastic cover; I think you can get them from NPS online.

So even if it’s one, or two, or “just” vitamins/non-prescribed medications, take the time to record them some way, some how. This isn’t just for hospital, but of course this is from my perspective working in a hospital. But I’m sure your GP, your specialists, and maybe others will make good use of your medication recording. So get going, and do me proud! I’d love to see your efforts, so send me your best!

Revolt

*WARNING (and spoiler alert): contains self-induced vomiting*

12th April, 2017

From one drama to the next! Honestly! Did I learn nothing from yesterday? The whole phone thing? Nothing about being careful and deliberate in my actions?

See, I have this system. Yeah right! A system is useless unless you stick to the system. Which I mostly do, but mostly isn’t really enough when there’s a system involved. You stick to the system, or you don’t.

This system involves my medications. I’ve probably been over this but I have a nice purple medicine box with 4 rows. One row for my morning tablets, one empty row, one row of 3 valproate tablets for each night still in their original foil because they go smooshy when exposed to air, and the final row for the rest of my night tablets. The valproate for the evening doesn’t fit with the other tablets, hence its own row, but the morning single valproate tablet fits it, hence the empty row. I have carefully marked the morning tablets, and the night tablets so that I can’t get confused. Plus there’s the fact that I unwrap one valproate tablet in the morning and three valproate tablets in the evening. The morning row has red and pink capsules of venlafaxine and 3 little white tablets; the evening row has a dark red iron tablet, a little pink cholesterol reducing tablet, and three chunky quetiapine tablets, apart from the lithium that is in both morning and evening. They are different, the morning and the night tablets; clearly distinguishable. They are not the same. If you take the time to notice, which I periodically don’t! Theoretically, I check all the tablets lying in my palm, to make sure every one is present and accounted for before swallowing them down. I have a list written on the back of the box telling me exactly what should and shouldn’t be there, for reference. But I’ve been on this same combination of tablets for well over 6 months now, and I’m very careful when I pack the box, supposed to be anyway, so sometimes I just pop the tablets and scull them down, get it over with!

Like yesterday. Before I knew what I was doing I had opened 3 valproate tablets, shaken out the dark red and pink tablets, noticed subconsciously the big chunky tablets, and sculled the lot! Even though it should have been obvious that I was taking the wrong tablets: wrong compartment, wrong colours, wrong amount. It took about 20 seconds to get that same shot through the gut as I had yesterday when I realised that I’d lost my phone. I knew then, consciously, that I’d really stuffed this one up!! It has happened before, once I think, but seriously! What was I thinking? And here’s the thing, I wasn’t. I was on auto pilot, distracted and that’s how it all blows up in your face. What’s the big deal? Those 3 valproate tablets, plus the 3 quetiapine tablets, they’s the big deal. They are basically my sleeping tablets, and here I’ve taken them 10 o’clock in the morning! They aren’t actually prescribed for sleeping, they are mood stabilisers but this is their major side effect. Any other day I’d just resign myself to going back to bed and sleeping them off, but not today.

Because there’s something else that I haven’t told you. I’ve got a job!!

I was going to save the excitement for my official start date on 29th April, however this happened, and on the first day that I’m going in to do the official orientation and get all of my paperwork sorted! I have a 4 hour shift starting in an hour and I’ve just taken my sleeping pills by accident/carelessness!! You can see the problem here. First impressions and all that, I don’t want to call in sick for my very first shift; I’m determined to be there and on time and get this job off to a good start. I don’t want to have to go home sick part way through the shift because I can’t keep my eyes open. I definitely don’t want anyone to think I’m under the influence, or unfit for work! That would be extremely unfortunate! Not just for this job, but for my career; the pharmacy board frowns heavily on pharmacists using any substance while on duty, oddly enough. So, what to do? I think you can see where we’re going now.

The ONLY way to try to prevent the sleepy pills doing what sleepy pills do is to get them out of my stomach before they are released from my stomach to my intestines, and absorbed into my bloodstream, making their insidious way to my poor brain. The only way to get them out of my stomach is to induce vomiting!! Honestly, I cannot think of a more revolting, horrifying task to have on ones hands than this. I don’t think I have ever made myself vomit before. I recognise now how compelling a disease bulimia is to convince you that this is a way to live. To me it is extremely repugnant. But what are my options here? It took a lot of psyching myself up for it, and a couple of false starts, don’t ask me how, but we got going. Here’s the killer: I ended up throwing up my entire breakfast which I’d had an hour and a half ago, yet there wasn’t a sign of the tablets and orange juice from 10 minutes ago. Here is the cleverness of your stomach. It knows that its job is to break down food into smaller pieces so that your intestines can do their job. But there’s nothing to break down in fluids, so your stomach lets them right past. In that 10 minute period, my stomach had already released all the fluid/orange juice, and the tablets with it, and they were gone. That whole disgusting, humiliating, distressing episode, for nothing!!

What next? Well, its time to go to work. Fingers crossed that I can handle this and get through what I need to get through.

Here’s the odd things about my sleepy pills. When I first started taking them I would be dead to the world within 30 minutes, or less. Honestly, I would take them and immediately get upstairs to bed because within 10 minutes all of the muscles in my legs would be jelly and I couldn’t step up a stair if I was being chased by an axe wielding madman! My arms would be equally useless. A couple of times I got into bed and then needed to go to the toilet. I would bounce off the wall, my bed, the dresser, my bed, the wardrobe, the bedroom door, the bathroom door and back again! I’m sure it looked completely hilarious from my husband’s point of view but I couldn’t even see straight, let alone have control of my legs. My eyes would go evil vampire red because of how much the medicine dried them out. Basically I was gone for the night. And I got the best sleep! I was drugged out really. And of course as my dose went up the effect continued.

But over time, as the dose has steadied out, I’ve become more tolerant. I don’t get that drugged out feeling now, and I can stay up sometimes for a couple of hours after taking my night tablets. On occasion it does make me drowsy enough to start blinking heavily, struggling a bit to keep my eyes open, but if I really want to I can keep them open; it doesn’t overpower me like it did before. It still helps to give me a good nights sleep, and without it I sleep pretty lightly and spasmodically. As I experienced last night, because after taking my night dose in the morning, I had to take my morning dose of valproate at night to keep the balance, and one tablet isn’t enough to sedate me; plus I had no quetiapine in my system.

So, I took the wrong dose, and didn’t manage to catch it before it got into my system. And now I have to go to work. Well this should be fun! Here’s hoping I can fight the effects for more than a couple of hours.

Okay, next strategy: a large Coke, no ice from Maccas. Hopefully the caffeine will do something!! I drove all the way to work (I was questioning whether that was a great plan, but I felt fine at this stage) feeling okay, until the last 5 minutes when that warm, fuzzy, about to go to bed for the night feeling settled in. I got a little lightheaded on standing, slightly dizzy if I turned my head quickly, and just plain drowsy. My eyes wanted to shut and go to sleep, my thoughts got a bit thicker, I was trying not to speak slower. I hope to goodness I managed to pull off looking as enthusiastic and committed as I wanted to. But there was a big challenge waiting for me. Most of the 4 hour shift involved sitting at a bench reading policies and procedures and signing off on them, and doing orientation quizzes on the computer!! I mean, seriously! Of all the days in the world, I really needed a stimulating day today, and I got reading of less than riveting material!! I think I pulled it off, I mean I got it all done, but I have no way of knowing whether I was doing it way slower than usual, a bit slower than usual, or how many micro sleeps I had sitting there at that bench! Luckily the chair was very uncomfortable so that keep a bit of an edge on my alertness, and after 2 hours when my supervisor went for lunch, I went out and got an iced coffee with plenty of sugar! I think that did help a bit to keep me going for another couple of hours! Plus the fresh air was good.

Yikes!! What a day! But I did survive, somehow, by some miracle, and I’m going back on Tuesday after the Easter break. To be continued.

Did I come home and go straight to bed? Yep, you betcha! A couple of hours sleep did wonders. Usually I can go straight back to sleep at night after an afternoon sleep because of my night tablets so I did struggle a bit getting to, and staying asleep without them. But I didn’t struggle catastrophically. I think I actually had a pretty good night’s sleep in the end, although I was awake from 5am on the dot this morning, Thursday 13th April.

I can’t double up once I’ve taken the tablets, even if they were the wrong tablets. So what’s the plan to get back on track from here? Most of my tablets can only be take once in 24 hours meaning I can’t take night tablets again today. So I’ll take my morning ones tonight, then my morning ones in the morning (the morning doses are smaller so it won’t be such a big deal taking them back to back) and my night ones tomorrow night; then I’ll be back on track. Until then I’m sniffing my head off because of the longer gap in between doses of quetiapine, from morning one day to evening the next. It usually dries me out so sniffing is unusual and annoying! Apart from that, and the obvious drowsiness there shouldn’t be any consequences from stuffing this up, luckily. When you take the same medication all the time, a one off dose mix up doesn’t tend to affect your overall medication levels enough for issues to arise.

And here it is 7am and I’ve written this blog and I’m ready for breakfast, bright and early. I could possibly be very productive without those night tablets, but it wouldn’t be worth it for my mood. Ah the catch 22’s in mental health treatment! 

So, have I learnt my lesson in being more careful? I’d like to hope so, but I find the lesson only lasts as long as my memory of it, and that’s a whole other story!