When bloopers aren’t that funny…

This is a follow on piece from the ‘Bloopers’ topic of the other night. One of the bloopers turned sour in a big way, so I thought I should complete the picture. I guess it shouldn’t be a shock that bloopers in healthcare aren’t too funny, mostly. Some are interesting, some awful, and a few hilarious; that’s about how it works out, it seems.

You know that guy I was telling you about, the one with shoulder bursitis? The one whose wife and daughter gave him too much ibuprofen and paracetamol unintentionally, dosing him every 4 hours on the hour for several days due to his excruciating pain without observing the 24 hour maximum doses because they weren’t told about it by their doctor? And obviously they weren’t told about the maximum doses by pharmacy staff either if they bought the medication in a pharmacy, or maybe they bought it from the supermarket; this is my strong argument that these “simple” pain killers not be available from the supermarket. I guess the family never read the packet either, although English as a second language was a factor here for the wife, but not the daughter. This is the patient who was brought into ED after he started coughing up blood as a side effect of ibuprofen which irritates the stomach lining. You’ll remember that the family who wouldn’t give him the stronger pain killer Endone in case he got constipated, but had given him toxic doses of weaker pain killers. The patient who is an example of people being given incomplete advice about how to take their medications, and blindly following that advice without taking any initiative themselves.

Well, he died.

I saw him Saturday, he died early Monday morning. I was shocked when I found out!! I knew what they’d done was bad, and that he was going to suffer the consequences, but I never expected him to die! Not that fast, certainly. I planned on looking up which ward he was in in Monday morning so that I could handover the story to the ward pharmacist, but then it said: DECEASED. I had to read it twice. I thought I’d picked the wrong patient. But no, deceased, 0600 hours, 16-4-2018.

Wow!

So I looked into it. And right there as the cause of death: acute on chronic renal failure precipitated by NSAID use. That’s non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: ibuprofen (Nurofen), diclofenac (Voltaren) etc. Acute on chronic means he had a degree of chronic permanent kidney failure that couldn’t be reversed, not unexpected at 77 yo, but it was made acutely much worse by something, in this case medication.

There are a few things you can do to help reverse acute kidney failure: give IV fluids to flush toxins out, stop all medications that are toxic to the kidneys, manage blood pressure with medication and fluid so that the kidneys have optimal perfusion, but at the end of the day there’s only so much that can be done without the patient going to the intensive care unit and being put on dialysis. Once the kidneys go off, fluid accumulates in the body. This patient already had heart failure which causes fluid to gather around the heart and lungs, and the kidneys failing to clear fluid adds additional pressure on the heart. This was listed as the secondary cause of death: heart failure. In fact 4 causes of death were described in more detail than the overall cause as I’ve put it above, acute on chronic kidney failure precipitated by NSAIDs: kidney failure, heart failure, NSAIDS and age. Once the snowball got kicked off it gathered momentum from pretty much every other medical condition that the patient already had, unsurprising since the whole body is in a delicate balance. But if that trigger hadn’t been there…

In this case because of his age and many other medical conditions, the family did the sensible thing and let things be as they would be; and in this case death is what would be. It’s a shame that kind of common sense thinking hadn’t prevailed any earlier in the case. I feel like this death could be listed as preventable.

If a patient asks me generally whether ibuprofen is good for them, there are several medical conditions I’d want to be sure the patient didn’t have before recommending it: asthma, stomach problems like previous ulcers or gastritis and even reflux, heart failure and kidney failure. So the ibuprofen probably shouldn’t have been started in the first place; a steroidal anti-inflammatory like prednisolone would have been more appropriate. Although sometimes we say cautiously, take it but for no more than x days. Of course we then also tell the patient the maximum dose and how best to take it. In this case I’m pretty sure if you had asked the patient’s cardiologist or nephrologist before hand whether this man should have been given a NSAID they would NEVER have signed off on it.

Then maybe he’d still be here, a bit fuzzy headed or nauseous on Endone, taking paracetamol less regularly than actually happened, and blood sugars high from prednisolone, but alive, his bursitis improving and his life going on at home.

RIP.

I’m sorry the system let you down.

Accidents happen

We all know this: accidents happen. It’s part of life.

But in some areas, accidents aren’t okay. So we make systems and safeguards and policies and procedures and checks and balances and we educate to minimise human error. Sometimes, even that isn’t enough.

I know mistakes happen. This week I had my first ever car accident. I’ve had plenty of near misses and close calls in the fourteen years since I got my learner’s permit, but luck has always been on my side. I did have to run off the road once when someone stopped dead in front of me on a 100kmph road…but apart from having a panic attack from a massive surge of adrenaline after I finally pulled the car to a stop in an orchard, there was no harm, no foul!

This week what happened was that my left front tyre slipped on the soft edge of the road made up of leaf litter, and despite me pulling on the steering wheel and braking hard I slid off the road into the shallow ditch and hit the bank on the other side! It was sort of interesting to note that the wheels did turn; once I got out of the car and found that my knee was just bruised, I found that the wheels were in a slightly turned position but obviously I just skidded. Luck was still on my side though: the side of the road, the mini ditch and the wall of the ditch that I ran into were all so soft that there was almost no damage at all, and I wasn’t hurt. In fact when I eventually got off the wall, it was running water; there was practically a river of water running out of it! The unlucky part was that I “crashed” (a dramatic word for sliding off a road at slowish speed) in the back of beyond on a road very infrequently used with no internet or mobile reception and no GPS! Couldn’t call hubby, couldn’t call RACV, couldn’t call work to tell them I was a bit delayed; nothing! I couldn’t message through Viber, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Gmail; nothing! No one could track my phone by GPS. So I had to sit there and wait. And wait. And wait! In the end I had to wait half an hour before the next car came along! Still, it could have been a lot worse.

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Doesn’t look too bad right? Just resting here…

 

I couldn’t leave the car to find better reception, even locked, because I was halfway between picking up a bucket load of drugs and delivering them to my pharmacy! Imagine: I’m a pharmacist in a new job, trusted for the first time with a pick up, and for the first time I have an actual car accident!! Not cool! Someone asked me if I told the boss…um no!! Sure I could get him to pay the repairs, but do I really want to start with that kind of problem two and a half months into my job? Please note this drug/medication transfer was a one-off event; my car is not usually filled with drugs!!

So I sat there. I yelled out loud at the top of my lungs a few times for no one to hear. Just expressing my frustration in a civil, calm manner. I tried slowly reversing back without spinning the wheels but the ground was too wet and the leaf litter was too deep; the front wheels gripped for a millisecond but slipped almost straight away. Pretty sure the back wheels didn’t budge…well of course they didn’t, its front wheel drive; duh!! My years of bumping around our block on the old Fergie tractor have finally come to some kind of use, especially that time I had to back myself out of an actual metre deep ditch! But it had better wheels more suited to this kind of situation; it could practically climb a wall! The leaf litter on the edge was so deep that when I stepped out of the car my foot went right down into it. I tried to push the car back out of the ditch from the drivers seat, I tried to push it from the back seat but it didn’t budge…oh whoops the hand brake is still on! Kind of redundant since I’m resting on a bank. But letting it off didn’t help, and whats that on my foot? EEEEK!!!! Screams at the top of her lungs!! A leech!! SWAT!! Thank goodness that’s gone. Oh no its on the steering wheel!! SWAT!! Now its on a different part of the steering wheel! ARGH this leech is a real sucker!! Who would have thought?! Jumps out of the car out of impulse trying to get away from the huge, enormous, blood sucking monster!! Almost as bad as a spider at close quarters!

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The exact view from my car window…so it wasn’t all bad!

 

 

Oh wait, what’s that?? A 4WD or ute or something big and heavy and revving is coming down the hill! Start waving, start waving!! Yes its a cab ute with 2 men and a towing engine thing on the front and a solid tow rope with a huge hook…oh yes, this is what I’ve been waiting for!! Waving, waving, getting out of the car, please help me!! It occurs to me belatedly…that I am in a deserted part of the world, with no mobile or internet reception, asking 2 men for help in a situation that I can’t help myself out of, and trusting to their good nature. When I was suffering anxiety, I would’ve been hiding in the boot of my car til sundown and my husband realised I was missing and sent out a search party!! Actually no, my boot was full of drugs…well maybe the back seat then. It just shows how far I’ve come, and that really most people you run into are good.

The driver’s reaction when he got out of the ute? “Oops!” Precisely, my good man! But he said he had the same accident on the next corner himself last year, so I felt better. Because of course up until this moment I had naturally assumed that this was the exact kind of idiotic, stupid thing that I always get myself into and no one else would ever do such a dumb thing and wasn’t I a prize numpty?! And that this was yet another episode of me damaging the car, because there have been many! Part of my reasoning for not telling my boss; assuming that I would be embarrassing myself! Not that I actually did anything, I just sat there while I slid in the mud. But I always insist to myself that I’m the one that stuffed up. So these 2 kind men dragged me off the bank backwards with tow ropes, but the back of the car was slipping into the ditch now, so we had to switch to dragging the front up onto the road and the rest of the car followed. Meanwhile whatever hound they had in the compartment on the tray of the ute was howling at me as loudly and as often as it could breathe!! Another piece of luck was going off the road while it was still bituminised; another 500 metres and it turned to packed dirt…pretty sure that would have hindered the towing process. So 45 minutes of my life and I’m back on the same bit of road I was before the accident.

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So I displaced the bank, and a bit of my bumper…not a bad result

As it turns out I shouldn’t have even been on that road! I turned 150 metres too soon, and should have been on Maroondah Highway where this would never have happened. Ahhh. But I definitely got the scenic route, although I probably would’ve been happier swapping a bit of scenery for a car trip with no accident. Only something that would’ve happened to me, or just an unfortunate happening that could happen to anyone? At least I didn’t have to get towed with all those meds on board!!! THAT would have been embarrassing to explain to the boss!

So with all this in mind, I’m still unhappy about an error that occurred today. I got several scripts dispensed at one of the pharmacies I routinely use near my GPs office and one of them was wrong. Not a little bit wrong like the price was out, or I was given the wrong quantity. I was given the wrong strength of lithium, 450mg instead of 250mg making it an overdose, and it was the slow release formulation instead of immediate release meaning it would hang around in my system longer after the overdose, and it had the usual twice daily directions that apply to the 250mg strength instead of daily which is how the 450mg slow release should be taken so the level of lithium in my system would accumulate quickly. My lithium level is already at the upper limit of okay, and my psychiatrist is thinking of reducing my dose; this would have found me in hospital within 3 days!!! It’s that serious, and potentially worse.

But I’m conflicted.

As a patient I’m outraged and think the pharmacist should be reported for this very serious error, that fortunately didn’t eventuate because I picked it up before taking it. I think that there should be some consequences for not taking the proper amount of care.

As a pharmacist I know how terrible I would feel if this were my error, but I also know that lithium is one of those medications that you should take extra care and attention with when dispensing. The error occurred because the pharmacist entered the wrong medication when typing, and so the scanning check wouldn’t pick this up. But there would have been a message saying that I previously had a different strength, which was ignored. And my history must not have been reviewed before dispensing, despite it popping up and having to be entered through before you can type in anything. Two checks ignored, besides the obvious check of visually comparing what is written on the script with what is typed before printing!! That’s three checks ignored. I’m not sure the the pharmacy board would see any reason for skipping any of these checks, especially as there were only two patients in the store at the time.

So this is my big beef with pharmacy at the moment, both in my workplace and in the pharmacies where I get my scripts dispensed. There IS a proper way to do pharmacy, and it’s not being done! For reasons which are specious and inadequate, and I believe, unacceptable! I miss hospital pharmacy for this reason: maybe we take more time but we do things as properly as we can, no shortcuts or conveniences. Of course the pharmacist felt terrible, its a natural reaction. But will it change her future practice? Will she do things properly next time? I really don’t want to report her, mostly out of colleague empathy. But is it something I should do, for the improvement of the profession? I probably won’t, but it’s still all milling around in my mind.

What’s an accident, and what’s an error? What’s okay and what’s not? Should I be pointing fingers when I make my own mistakes? I don’t know. What do you think?