Ask the Nurse: Check the labels!

In ALDA Archives Newsletter, Ask The Nurse by ALDA News

by Anne Marie Killilea, MSN, RN

It is no wonder that the lasting effects of COVID-19 continue to wreak havoc in all areas of our lives. Two years of social distancing and wearing masks, along with living in fear of contracting the disease or subset of it, have caused problems in the workforce. Throughout our country, we see countless signs of “We’re Hiring!” hung over many doors to once thriving businesses. Realizing that their current job was not the best for them, workers quit their jobs in search of other employment opportunities that would give them better benefits, hours of work, or even just for an  atmosphere of appreciation. The vacancies in many businesses have caused complications such as delays in production, shipping, and even stocking. Another business to be aware of is pharmaceutical companies which directly sell prescription drugs to customers.

Pharmacies are not immune to employee resignations and as a result, their productivity has also been affected from the vacancies. Even though the people left behind are fully capable and work hard to provide services for everyone, each customer needs to be savvy and read the labels on all of their medications for their own safety.

Since 2020 when I had the COVID-19 virus, I just never felt well. I have been short of breath and extremely tired. Chest x-rays never provided any information about why I was so tired. Some people who contracted the COVID-19 virus are now reporting symptoms of “Long COVID”,  demonstrating a long list of ailments which they suffer from after the initial infection period. Doctors are just beginning to understand the ramifications of just how devastating this disease is, and this list is very long. For me, after a year and a half of feeling lousy, I have been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. My old asthma medications do not work well enough to keep my lungs open. I am on a new medication, but the physician’s order is a bit complicated. Here is where the need to read every line on the pharmacy label and the doctor’s order to make sure that both match up correctly. Without being astute and consumer savvy, you could be given the right medication with the wrong dose, or even worse.

In my case, I was given a new inhaler which contains three medications. These three medications are divided up into two pills; two medications in one pill, and one in the other. Each time I turn the lever, the container crushes the two pills to inhale this in the morning. So, each container contains 60 pills. I checked to see how many days this new prescription would cover and the pharmacy label wrote “60 days”. This is wrong! If the container crushes up two pills each day I will only have enough medication for 30 days, not 60! 60/2=30. I went back to the pharmacy and spoke to a pharmacy technician. There was only one person manning the register and answering questions. He politely said it was a “computer error” and immediately corrected the number of days this container of medication would cover. 

Other inhalers have also proven to be difficult when calculating how many days each prescription will last. My inhaled asthma medication contains 124 puffs per container.  To purge the inhaler, I must push four puffs out into the air to activate the inhaler. So, I am left with 120 puffs in the inhaler. My doctor’s order stated: 3 puffs in the morning and evening time. According to the label from the pharmacy, the number of days this prescription would last was 40. Again, this is wrong! The computer read only the 3 puffs in the morning and could not interpret the additional 3 puffs in the evening, which was also part of the physician’s order. 120/6=20. My prescription was only going to cover 20 days, not the 40 written by the computer. Again, I had to go back to the pharmacy and talk with a pharmacy technician or pharmacist to make sure that the number of days that this inhaler would provide medication was in fact 20 days, not the 40 originally written.  

Another problem I have not only experienced for myself but witnessed with other customers is when the pill form of the medication has been changed. For instance, the diuretic Lasix is made in several pill forms. Some are small and yellow; some are white and oval shaped. Some have numbers on them, and some do not. Depending upon insurance and where the pharmacy purchases their supply, the pill form can change. Any time medication is purchased, it is imperative to check the customer’s name on it, the name of the medication, the dose, and the physician’s orders.

Make sure it belongs to you.

In addition, make sure that if there is a change in the pill form, that you question this change to make sure that the medication you have bought does belong to you. Sometimes the new preparations also need to be taken differently: maybe on an empty stomach, maybe with food, or maybe in the afternoon. Regardless if they are busy, take the time to ask questions of those working in the pharmacy. Ask questions all the time.

Because we live with our hearing loss, communicating in a busy pharmacy store can be problematic. Make sure you let others know you cannot hear well in busy areas and request to move to a quieter area to talk. If this cannot be done at this time, try to make an appointment with the pharmaceutical representative when they are not as busy to make sure you understand all the answers to your questions. Try to make the appointment in the morning when you are not so tired. Make sure you are provided a safe area where you can ask questions and you can hear the answers. Take notes to refer back to later on when you are at home. Bring someone with you if you feel this will help. Take the time to teach others how to talk to customers who have a hearing loss. You would be surprised at how little others know about how to talk to D/deaf people.

Each time I return to the pharmacy, I see less and less people working. The shelves are bare. Items I used to see in abundance are missing or are in short supply. Some of the pharmacy employees have left. Those who remain try to keep up with the demand and supply; it is hard for them. But, nevertheless, if I have questions, I set aside time to ask them politely. Check your medication you are purchasing, and if it looks different make time to ask questions. Be kind! I have heard other people scream at the pharmacy technicians and pharmacists. They are not to blame. 

By taking the time to check your medications thoroughly you will ensure that you are receiving the right medication for you. Never feel you are infringing upon the time of the pharmacist by asking questions! Sometimes by noticing an error on my medication I have helped the pharmacist correct computer errors. In other situations, I have taught them how to communicate to those of us with hearing loss. When you teach those how to communicate to you with a hearing loss, you will be teaching them a valuable lesson which will help other D/deaf customers in the future. 

Be safe! Be savvy! Always check the labels on your medication!

ALDA cares about YOU! 

Happy Spring!

Anne Marie Killilea