Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sleeping Pills

This post isn’t what you think it is.

I did try to take pills, once, but this is about a time when pills were forced on me.

I was generally very compliant in hospital, but one thing you learn quickly as a patient is to always check your medication. Your nurse will hand it to you in a little paper cup (like the kind you use to get your ration of ketchup at fast food places. I think ketchup costs them a lot more than the kind I buy. At least they’ve stopped handing it out in the tiny packages that hold a quarter teaspoon).

Anyhow, you get this little paper cup and the first thing you do is count the pills and look at the colours and shapes of them. You learn, for example, that a milligram of Clonazepam is tiny and reddish orange, while the half milligram is large, chalky and orange with a breaking line. Five milligrams of Loxapine is a lime green tablet with a breaking line. Lithium comes in a caplet – the ones with red are 100 milligrams, the half pink, half white ones are 300mg. And so on. You toss them back, and then the nurse makes you open your mouth to see if you swallowed everything.

One evening I spotted a tiny green tablet, only about two millimetres in diameter, hiding at the bottom of my cup. I hadn’t seen one of those before.

I stopped.

“What’s that? I’ve never taken this one before.”

The nurse picked up my chart (charts are gigantic binders, full of all sorts of notes, doctor’s orders, test results, etc. They don’t hang them on the end of your bed).

“It’s a sleeping pill,” she replied after a moment. “Your doctor ordered it this morning.”

“He never told me about it. He didn’t even ask how I was sleeping. I’m sleeping fine – you know that I am. I don’t want to take it.”

She looked concerned.

“Well, for some reason he decided you need it. Can you please just take it tonight?”

I held my ground. I never want to take medication that I don’t need.

“I’m sorry, Jodi, but I don’t need it and I won’t take a medication unless my doctor has talked to me about it.”

She frowned. “So, you’re refusing a medication the doctor ordered?”

“Yep,” I replied, folding my arms.

She was good. Instead of making a fuss, she made me do some paperwork.

I had to sign forms waiving the hospital and nursing staff of liability, and indicating that I was wilfully ignoring a doctor’s orders.

The next morning I saw my psychiatrist. “Why did you order sleeping medication for me?” I queried. I was a little upset.

“I just assumed you needed help sleeping, after all of the stress you’ve been through, especially going through seclusion.”

“Thanks anyways, but please don’t make assumptions. I’m sleeping fine.”

(I thought about that old aphorism – “You know what happens when you assume? You’re an idiot.” That’s my version, anyways).

During my stay, I discovered three more medication errors.

If you are ever hospitalized for anything (and I hope you aren’t), always check your own medications.

It’s better to know exactly what’s in that little paper cup than to not.

That’s why I’m so wary of fast-food ketchup.

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