Remember a little while back when I was talking about what happens when I miss a dose of my meds? [Tales of a Missed Dose, 22nd June, 2015]
It’s not a fun experience, and so I go a fair way out of my way to make sure that I avoid it as much as possible! Probably my motivation is just as much to avoid the unpleasantness as it is to keep on my prescribed regimen.
So, how do I do it? How do I manage my medications? What is my system?
The strips. This is where the real stuff begins
Is it hard? Yes. Is it worthwhile? Absolutely! Does it get easier? Not so far.
Up until the last few months my medications have been all over the place, add one here, add one there, add one here…that went on for a while! Then the doses were changing and the psychiatrist was fiddling with timing and so on. But lately I’ve had the same meds at the same doses for a while, at least until a week or so ago, so at least I got into a bit of a rhythm with what I’m packing into my tablet box. Although then there’s the thyroxine which must be kept in the fridge, and you can only take 14 days’ worth out at a time. And there’s my lithium dose where I take two tablets every morning, but two and a half tablets on alternate nights with three tablets! That takes some keeping up with!
Blank canvas – my weekly medication box exhausted and ready to be repacked
Then there’s valproate which literally cannot be taken out of the foil stripping until you need the dose. I found this out the hard way! The problem arises because I take the lowest strength available which is soluble, and therefore designed to absorb water as fast as possible once exposed. So the first week that I packed valproate into my box, I went to tip out my tablets the next morning and had more-than-soggy valproate! In fact it was more of a glob of paste that smooshed on your fingers and fell everywhere all at once! So I had to fish out all the goopy bits from fourteen small sections of my box and throw out some of my other tablets that had also become soggy and learned my lesson. So NOW, I get out my scissors with my shaky fingers and cut out all the tablets of a ten tablet strip, fold each of the sharp corners of the square into the middle so that it’ll fit into the box compartment, then put it on top of all the other tablets, and try to jam the lid shut. P.S. DO NOT swallow the tablet still wrapped in foil! It has been done, but thankfully so far not by me. I think the sharp edges would give me the hint well before it got as far as my throat; or so I hope!
So Valproate, I cut the strip into 10 squares, then fold the squares until they fit into the medication box with the other pills
But you’re a pharmacist, it’s probably easy for you?
I’m a pharmacist second, but a patient first. My systems and medication knowledge is invaluable in understanding my condition and sorting out my meds! In fact, I constantly wonder how people without that knowledge get by at all!! I say that because at times I feel like I’m barely keeping it together: what scripts do I need when I see the doctor (among all the other things I need to talk to him about!), what scripts do I have to take to the pharmacy to get dispensed this week, and when will I get there? What tablets are in low supply, do I have a current script for that? Have I got enough thyroxine downstairs in the fridge, an inconvenience to my medication box packing that the company did not consider strongly enough when developing their product?! Have I taken today’s tablets? Did I take the right time, like did I take the morning tablets in the morning or did I not look closely enough and accidentally take the sedating night time doses in the morning? Did I remember that I must not have fizzy drinks within two hours of taking valproate because it will dissolve much more quickly and make me drowsy? Loads of questions and loads of answers, and it’s still tricky matching them up properly!!
The many faces of scripts, handwritten, computer generated and the pharmacy yellow slip. And yes, my doctors have terrible handwriting!
So here are my many systems.
A very short time into my Prep year, my teacher commented that I’d lose my head if it wasn’t screwed on! This wasn’t prophesy or prediction of how my life would turn out, but simply a comment on how I was then. I was only 5, but I remember it clearly. It was a kind of epiphany moment. She didn’t mean it maliciously, but it was a pretty apt saying at the time, and for quite a few years to come!
Being organised probably comes from my Dad’s side. Every week he would strip back his tradie van to the bare essentials, remove all the Coke bottles and get it stocked, clean and ready to go again. Of course a lot of his motivation was listening to a footy match on the radio on his own without noisy kids! He would come home at night and the messy house was a constant trial to his patience!! He would get up a head of steam and do a week’s worth of chores before dinner! We all just vanished into the paint work and let him get it done; making any kind of noise meant you might get a faceful of steam!! When I was in primary school, he taught me how to pack for a holiday systematically, starting from the feet and working all the way up to make sure you don’t miss anything. Shoes, socks, tights, skirts, tops, dresses, hair ties, hats etc. I used this for packing, but the rest of my life was less designed and more accidental. Rushing from place to place having too many things to physically fit into the hours of the day and accidents happening all over the place! That came from my mum. Surprisingly, since my mum’s mum is uber organized. Forgot my lunch, forgot my jumper, left my USB with my presentation at home, missed a deadline etc! None of this really taught me the life lesson you would think it should!
The real deal, all of my many tablet boxes and one bottle…and there’s one box in the fridge
Studying pharmacy was a revelation to me, and it really has gradually changed my approach to life. So has the last 12 years with my now-husband, who is very systematic and had taught me a lot about being organised. Pharmacists have to be so systematic that there is almost no possible way that an error can occur. Each of us has to work out our own system that doesn’t fail when curveballs come out of nowhere, but is a failsafe as much as possible. I’m not going to go through that because its tedious from the outside, but next time you’re waiting in a pharmacy, and they’ve told you the script is going to be 10 minutes even though that’s not possible, and you’re wondering what they’re doing, distract yourself wondering how that pharmacist is ensuring your health and safety.
Bag of medications disguised as something pink and desirable! Cunning
So my medication taking has become a system. It didn’t start that way, because at the start I was on one antidepressant. That doesn’t take a lot of managing apart from remembering to take it! Then I was on two antidepressants, one in the morning and one at night. That took a bit more remembering. Then the pivotal moment when I was diagnosed with bipolar and started on a mood stabilizer, and another one, and another one. It got too much to keep in my brain, so I took the old person option and got myself a medication box so that I could make up a week’s worth of pills at a time, and stay ahead of the game, instead of waking up in the morning to get ready for work, and finding I didn’t have any more of a tablet! Having to squeeze a trip to the pharmacy into my already tight getting-to-work schedule was essential, but stress-inducing!
Nearly done, got to visit the fridge and fold the silver squares
I have an up-to-date medication list that I’ve written on the back of the box, and that I keep a copy of in my handbag, and a copy of in the NPS Medicines app on my phone, and which I update after every doctor’s visit if any medication changes have happened. This is vital. If anything ever happens, the first thing your hospital pharmacist will ask for is your medication list. Having it up to date means increased safety for you. That’s the most important thing. We don’t want to give you something that will make you worse by allergic reaction or by interaction with your current meds or your medical conditions.
The ‘official’ medication list, updated every doctor’s visit…maybe I should type it out to make it look less made up!
Every week when there are only a couple of doses left in my box, I repack it according to my list. I cross check each tablet as I pack it, i.e. I take venlafaxine 450mg, which is 3 capsules of 150mg, so I check the list and pop out that many tablets. It sounds so easy, but an error right there could be catastrophic. Cross checking makes sure every prescribed medication ends up in the box, in the correct amount, at the correct time of day, every day. So I sit up on my bed and surround myself with boxes and strips and bottles, my list and my box. It’s actually a satisfying job, ticking each med off one by one and ending up with a neat and tidy box of lifesaving pills. I end up with a massive pile of rubbish, mostly in the form of popped out strips. Pharmacy isn’t exactly a green industry; the medications demand certain wrappings and changing that order would be unsafe.
Ready to go! Time to concentrate, accidents do happen but good idea if they don’t!
Unfortunately the names of the days have rubbed off the box and remembering the order wasn’t working so I had to relabel the medication spots. I ended up writing AM or PM as well, because a couple of times I’ve taken the morning medications at night and ended up not sleeping for hours, or taken the night meds in the morning and been doped out all day! That was because I started checking on autopilot and not really checking. So now reading the label of the dose reminds me, hopefully, whether I’m meant to take that dose or not.
System change #71! Always updating and changing to improve my safety
Forgetting is a big part of my life now. I start a story and can’t remember why I was telling it, I can never remember names, I forget a conversation from earlier that day, and many other things. Pity help me if I get to 80!! My husband will have gone mad by then! So I have alarms. I’ve always done this since I only had one med. First it was an alarm that you switched off. Then I’d forget all the same. So I changed my alarm to being able to be snoozed three times. I’d snooze it three times, and forget! Procrastination much?? So I found the NPS (National Prescribing Service) excellent Medicines app and put some alerts in there for the morning and night. These can be snoozed endlessly so I know that it won’t let me forget!
The cool app from the good folks at the National Prescribing Service – recommended!
When it’s time for my tablets, I go to the box and look for the day and the time. I tip out all the tablets, and take the foil off the valproate. I count the tablets against the mental dose list, or actual dose list if I can juggle the tablets in one hand and box in another. I check that each tablet for that time of day is there, and in the right dose then scull them! My husband hates this, he thinks that I should take them one at a time, but that would take forever! I’d rather just get them down as quick as possible.
I’ve developed a new system now. My alarms go off at 8.30am and 8pm. I’m meant to take my tablets when the alarm goes off, but however systematic I am I’m still a procrastinator. I know that my tablets are keeping me in the good life, and that without them I’d be in all kinds of awful, but there’s still that little part of me that doesn’t want the tablets, because it doesn’t want the illness! A small part of me that has the hopeful thought that maybe if I don’t take them everything will just go away. Of course that’s ridiculous! But it’s just how it is. So I snooze, and snooze, and snooze. Ridiculous and childish but there you have it! I can’t imagine how much more difficult it must be for people who don’t acknowledge their illness, are in denial, believe the medications are evil or unnecessary or poison, or are being medicated against their will.
My husband does a good job of asking me if I’ve taken my tablets, but my memory is absurd and I remember taking my morning tablets and say yes I’ve taken my night tablets. A couple of times I said yes yes, and I hadn’t taken them. So now, once I’ve taken them, the lid stays up, I don’t clip it down again, and so both of us at a glance can tell if I’ve taken them or not, no confusion.
Some are empty, some are closed and it helps me keep track and avoid slip ups
Well that’s about all my systems. I try to avoid anything that relies on memory, and try to have a clear, repeatable, systematic way of keeping well. At the end of the day, its fingers crossed and trust in all the steps that have been taken to take care of me.
Hope you enjoy the pretty pictures!