Drug Mistakes for Elders happen more often than you think

Dad goes to the rehab wing

Last summer I spent a couple of weeks caring for my aging parents, who then both lived with my sister. I described in a day in the life what taking care of them is like, both in the practical sense and in the emotional.

One thing I have learned is that elderly people can take a turn for the worse very quickly. A couple of weeks after I left, Dad developed even more weakness on his right side and needed assistance to get off the toilet. They took him to the hospital where it was declared that he had a urinary tract infection caused by scar tissue from a TURP operation he had 5 years ago to try to relieve issues with an aging and enlarged prostate.

While Dad was in the hospital receiving antibiotics for his infection, he suddenly seemed to lose the ability to walk. They didn't think that he had another stroke, and no one is sure why he suddenly quit walking. When his infection cleared up, they kicked him out of the hospital but he really was not in any shape to go home. So my sister found him a place in what seemed to be a nice nursing home. He wasn't even there for three days when they made a serious medication snafu. Instead of my Dad's normal high blood pressure med and baby aspirin, he got instead a cocktail meant for a hospice patient in the final stages of cancer. This woman was receiving palliative care.

Palliative care is when they no longer try to cure your illness and they no longer worry about damaging your vital organs with drug side effects. The one and only purpose of palliative care is to control pain and make it easier for these people to check out Palliative care cocktails are normally laced with heavy doses of narcotics, because, over time, patients build up a tolerance for them. If you google Oxycontin or Hydrocodone or any of these drugs you will see warnings that state that these drugs in high doses may be fatal to the newb who has not built up a tolerance for them.

My dad's condition is not causing him pain, and what is more, he has a known allergy to demerol. When my sister and my mom arrived one fine summer morning for their daily visit, they met an ambulance leaving the nursing home. Guess who was in it--yep, it was Dad. He had gone into respiratory arrest 15 minutes after taking the equivalent of about 10 Oxycontin, just as the people who gave out the meds were discovering their error.


What happened next

The nursing home owned their error. There would have been no point trying to cover it up. The hospital would have tested my dad's blood and found all those drugs that were not in his plan, and it would have been blown open anyway, and Dad might have died while they were trying to figure out what was wrong with him. So the nursing home informed the hospital, knowing that this error would have to be registered and it would automatically put them on probation. Trying to cover it up would have probably got them closed down. I assume that somebody rightfully lost their job on the spot. (Probably some barely literate aide who was making minimum wage and who should never have been dosing patients in the first place.) There was a syringe full of narcan (the antidote to narcotics) waiting for Dad in the ambulance. It probably saved his life.

Although he went through what Mom called the worst sickness she has ever seen anybody through, he pulled through. His doctor estimated that there was still some tread left in the old geezer. The nursing home paid for this hospitalization and they took him back after for free, for a while. Now why would we put him back in the place that nearly killed him? Mainly because there was no other choice. Many places will not take people who only have medicare. And all the ones that would have taken him were all full at that time.

Dad lived there for six weeks, and the determination was made that he is not making any progress at his rehab. So they wanted to move him to the other part of the facility--the part I call the old people storage unit. It is not nearly as nice as the rehab wing. The rooms are much smaller.

Meanwhile a bed opened in a facility closer to my sister's home. Dad moved there, even though it's a little more expensive. All the money Mom and Dad saved up will probably go to pay for long term care. None of us kids is losing any sleep over the money we won't inherit but It was always such a point of pride to my Dad that each of us was going to get a nice chunk of change when he and mom passed on. It's hard to tell where he is mentally because his communication skills are greatly diminished. Let's just hope that he is beyond that point of pride and is not sitting around all day fuming about it. I know he would have been if his nest egg had been sucked away in his younger days.

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Comments 5 comments

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Hot Dorkage, dosing someone with the wrong medication is completely unacceptable, no matter who they are or how old. You sound really tired and resigned about the whole situation. What do you think could be done to prevent this disheartening state of affairs in elder care? Have you made any plans for your own old age, when it comes, to make sure that you and your children don't have to go through what you and your siblings are going through with your parents?

hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 7 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

Hi Aya Katz, thanks for dropping by. Well my dad THOUGHT he had it covered... he had investments and such and up to a few years ago it was generating a tidy little income for them. Then the bottom fell out of this whole economic mess but the cost of eldercard didn't go down. I think if we just had some kind of national health this wouldn't happen. I am not so much tired and resigned but I am not the one making the day to day decisions because I live 1500 miles away. My husband and I THINK we have it covered, but the truth of the matter is that no one really knows what will happen. It seems like the super rich always have "friends" and "deals" and "lawyers" and "resources" and "contracts" and "regulations" and "red tape" to squeeze the middle class and the poor, and unless you are willing to do several things that the bible specifically warns will cost you your soul, you can't be one of them.

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

Hi Hot Dorkage,

This is a sad tale. Both my parents have passed on now, but we had a few years of hospitals and nursing homes before the end, and it's so tough seeing people you love getting sicker and weaker. I hope your Mum and Dad are comfortably settled now, and in a good environment that is meeting their needs well. Old age is so unfair. We can only look ahead and hope for the best.

hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 7 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

Yeah, Dad has spoken of offing himself but he's too weak and befuddled to do it properly and if anyone helped him and got caught they'd do hard time. He's not considered terminal, i.e. he doesn't have cancer that's rotting his liver out or anything We don't believe he really wants to die yet at the cellular level as he probably could have given it up during the poisoning episode if he had really wanted to. They say when old folks lose interest in food is when it happens and I've seen that w/ some of my friends' old folks. Dad still looks forward to his cinnamon rolls.

I've always thought I'd just take a walk in the mountains in winter, but the problem is while I'm able to do that on my own I probably wouldn't be ready to do it yet.

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

That sounds an awful lot like a Captain Oates solution! Let's hope it never comes to that! Personally a sudden fatal heart attack in my sleep sounds good, but I guess we'll have to make the best of whatever cards we're dealt!

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