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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Prescription Drugs: A ‘Perfect Storm' That Almost Became a Killer

Published October 29, 2009 3:10 PM by Valerie Newitt

My mother, despite her 92 years of age, maintains the mind of a brilliant, life-loving 30-year-old. Unfortunately, her physical self never sipped from the fountain of youth. Her sight has dimmed, her mobility is nil, and she's done battle with cancer, gall bladder disease, vertigo, hypertension, insomnia and muscular and joint pain as far back as I can remember.

Lately, however, something was going wrong "upstairs." Mother was uncharacteristically depressed, tired, confused. I chalked it up to old age, and assumed, with resignation and personal heartbreak, the end was closing in.

Was This The End?

One day about 3 weeks ago, she showed a small sign of rallying by asking me to take her out - anywhere. I suggested lunch and a wheelchair tour through a dress shop, something she'd always enjoyed. And we were off...

Lunch was, well, thankless as Mother rearranged the food on her plate, uninterested in her order. The dress shop showed a little more promise at first, but after 5 minutes, Mom started to slump in her chair. Next she mumbled she had to lay her head down, bending over at the waist as if to place her head on the floor. Beads of sweat broke out on her forehead and she became less responsive. Her skin drained of color and she seemed to be sinking into some life-draining quicksand.

I frantically cried out to shoppers, "Call 9-1-1! I think my mother is having a stroke!" Sales staff came to my aid, as did a physical therapy student, talking to my mother while trying to calm me.

Exercise in Eternity

Waiting for an ambulance when you think your sainted mother is dying is an exercise in eternity. When the paramedics did arrive, Mother's "high blood pressure" was 78/34, and she was barely conscious.

She was taken to an ED where she remained from 2 p.m. to midnight; then she was admitted. Any guesses?

Mother had suffered a syncope brought on by a nearly lethal interaction of drugs she paid dearly for and obediently ingested at the behest of her primary care physician. There was Valium for the vertigo, antidepressant Trozodone to counteract insomnia, Diazide and Benicar for her high blood pressure, potassium tablets, Darvocet and Relafen for pain, and over-the-counter Benedryl for food allergies.

Back From Beyond

Blessings come in strange packages, even in near-misses. Mother has since been taken off every drug except  occasional Tylenol, taken judiciously for pain. Her blood pressure is holding its own at about 120/75 without a hint of hypertension medicine. An Epi-pen is kept at the ready in case of an extreme food allergy attack. Not only is Mom's appetite back, but her bank account is putting on a little weight these days too. Most important of all, Mother's life-affirming attitude has resurfaced.

On Saturday, I'm taking Mother on a cruise to Bermuda. It's the least I can do, considering she almost took a trip to the great beyond. The Bermuda Triangle has nothing on that perfect storm created by doctor-prescribed drugs in frightening combinations. Besides, Mom's got a few good miles left.



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