Dangerous medication mix-up
This is serious danger that I never thought about until it happened to me.
As most of you know, I have comorbid fibromyalgia. What you might not know is that for the first half of the year I was also fighting pneumonia and its ugly cousin, pleurisy. Because of all these health problems, I have been taking a lot of extra medications. Some have pretty serious side effects.
Like many of you, I have a weekly medicine tray that I refill each weekend. It contains all of my daily preventive medicines divided into morning and evening doses. I also have a PRN medicine tray. Each section contains a one week supply of each of my PRN medicines. I do this so I don’t take too many. Recently it has also contained some Norco. It is very unusual for me to take narcotics. However, failed fibromyalgia medicine and intense chest pain every time I took a breath convinced me I might need it for a short time.
I was starting to feel better and pushed it just a little too hard. So I had a lot of pain but did not want the drowsiness of the stronger medicines. So, I chose to take a single dose of Excedrin twice a day for 2 days until my pain resolved.
No big deal, right? Wrong. That’s where the trouble started.
In dim light Excedrin looks almost the same as Norco. Can you guess what I did? Yep, I took two Norco twice a day for two days. They are a strong dose at 7.5/325mg per pill. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t stay awake. Some of my medicines have drowsiness as a side effect, but I have long since adjusted to them. This was crazy!
Finally on the morning of the third day, just after I took the last dose, I confessed to my daughter that I didn’t think I could be alert enough to look after my granddaughter. Fortunately she was able to call in one of her emergency sitters to look after both of us.
That’s when I realized my mistake. I asked her to find the prescription bottle with the remaining Norco and compare it to what I thought was Excedrin. Sure enough, I’d been taking the wrong medicine for two days! Quickly, I asked her to remove all the Norco from my PRN pill box. I hadn’t done the math yet so I didn’t realize I had consumed 2,600 mg of acetaminophen in just over 24 hours. That’s a lot, but still well shy of the 4,000 mg needed to cause liver toxicity. I called my doctor anyway to ask if I needed to be seen. He assured me that I was not in any danger of liver toxicity from the acetaminophen, but to instruct my sitter to call 911 if I became unresponsive.
My head started to clear later that evening, but it took another 48 hours for me to feel fully alert. I got very lucky that the worst thing was a very long nap. I could have been seriously injured if I had continued down that path. It was a simple case of mistaken identity, but certainly one I will never repeat.
I took this photo of both Excedrin and Norco with the blank sides up. In the dark, in the middle of an attack, could you tell which is which?
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