Just watch out

It’s always a good reminder for everyone, because you never know when you, your child, or someone else you love may end up in a hospital. (Of course, if you’re planning on giving birth in a hospital, then you do have advance warning for this.) Hospitals have a lot of things in them that aren’t in most other places — doctors, nurses, orderlies, drugs, patients, germs, equipment — whether for good or for bad, these things mix and mingle. Humans are prone to error; drugs may have different effects on different people; equipment can only do what it’s told to do (and it may be told something wrong by accident); and germs… well, germs are germs, and they are more likely to be super-bugs in hospitals, and since there are more people — some who are very sick — in a hospital than in many other places, you may be exposed to more potential of illness.

There are steps that some hospitals are taking now to reduce human errors — things like bar-codes and scanners to make sure the right drugs are delivered to the right patients — but not all hospitals have them, and they cannot work completely perfectly 100% of the time. Just impossible.

So watch out. Be alert. In light of the latest news on the… drug overdose… drug interaction — whatever it finally is proven to be — that killed Michael Jackson, it is imperative that you make sure that yourself or those you love are not overdosed, nor have any dangerous interactions. You can’t really do this since you haven’t been to pharmacy school to know how the drugs all act and interact; you don’t know how they’re typically dosed; you don’t know what an overdose or contraindication can be. But you can still be vigilant and be proactive. First, you can make sure that you understand what each drug is supposed to do and how it is supposed to be given. This is as simple as asking the nurse what the name of the drug is, what it’s being given for, and double-checking the dosage. You may be a pain in the butt, but you might be a live pain in the butt! Ideally, s/he should do this first, so you don’t even have to ask; but if not, remember that it may be a cliche, but it’s still accurate — “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” If you’re taking medication on a long-term basis, you need to understand that medication better than most doctors and at least as well as any pharmacist.

My sister’s nephew was rendered permanently disabled, practically a vegetative state (although you can tell he’s still “in there”… sort of), due to a medication error. He became very dehydrated, and instead of being given a glucose solution to rehydrate him, he was given a saline solution which dried him out even further. [Updated to include Pinky’s comment, that most saline solution given in the hospital by IV would be “normal saline” which would not do this. Don’t want anybody freaking out about normal saline (NS) in an IV.] He was a bright and active 10 month-old, saying words, understanding everything, even walking; and he became basically a vegetable. When I was there, if he was put in his room while others were in the house, he would register his disappointment(? anger? frustration?) at not being in the middle of the action. So he was obviously aware of his surroundings, but he couldn’t say anything more than moans and other incoherent forms of pre-speech — like what a 6-week-old baby might say. Because of a medication screw-up.

Rare, yes; but it can be made rarer. That will take more vigilance on the part of everyone (doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and patients [or parents]) because we’re all human, and we all make errors. So watch out to make sure you don’t end up on the wrong side of the error. Just be careful.

Update:

I just read this story about two women in the same hospital within hours of each other being mistakenly given Prostin (which induces labor, sometimes given after fetal demise to complete a miscarriage) instead of Progesterone (intended to prolong the pregnancy). One woman lost her pre-viable twins; the other woman’s baby suffered brain damage and — 11 months later — is hospitalized with health problems. This could have been so easily avoided — the first way that pops into my head is for the nurses administering the drugs to look at the patients’ charts to see why they’re in the hospital. Both were admitted for bed-rest to prolong their pregnancies, not for complications of a miscarriage! Although it’s possible that the nurses mistakenly grabbed the wrong drug thinking they had the right one, you’ve gotta double-check yourself on that! Oh, so sad!!

4 Responses

  1. Most saline solutions given in the hospital are called normal saline. The bottle/ bag would say 0.9% sodium chloride. This solution cannot dry your cells or swell your cells so it is pretty benign. Just wanted to add that so folks are not freaked out about the most usual IV fluid used.

    What was probably given to your Nephew was .45 saline which is a different story.

    I think it is good advice to know what you are getting and why. Also know what kind of medicatons you already are on and know how they look.

    Good post Kathy

  2. I agree it is best for everyone to be more vigilant. I am so sorry to hear of this very sad story about your sister’s nephew. My best wishes to him.

  3. So sorry to hear about your sister’s nephew.

  4. I’ve updated the post to refer to Pinky’s comment, as well as to add this sad story of two women on bed-rest being given Prostin instead of Progesterone. Heartbreaking!

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