Staying Safe While Staying Healthy: Tales from the Pharmacy

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If it happened to me, it can happen to you.

It was late in the evening, and I was filling my pill pack when it flipped over. As luck has it, everything happens late in the evening when the pharmacy is closed, the world is sleeping, and you can’t read the pills’ tiny print. My mind was scrambling to remember which color was for which time of day, and though the empty bottles could’ve been useful, they have the smallest print and their contents are scattered among the pill packs now lining my floor.

Scarlett, tomorrow is another day.

I had all night to think about what to do, so I went with a clear but time-consuming method: breaking out the divider of an old school notebook and individually listing each pill’s characteristics and identifiable markings. A little work now saves a lot of trouble down the line, and now I was ready for the next catastrophe.

Part of the issue is the size of some pills. When you're filling your pill pack, it's so easy for them to fall to the ground unnoticed. Why in the world do they make a vitamin tablet big enough for a horse and isn’t a big deal if you skip, but something as important as a blood thinner (Xarelto) is a tiny little pill? I asked a cardiologist if a patient who has had heart surgery could stop taking their blood thinner, and he said, "Only if you want to have a stroke or a heart attack." Wow, what happened to bedside manner?

I know the pharmacy offers to organize your pill packs for you, but I don't want anyone handling my medications but me. If there's a mistake, I want to be the one to make it.

I can't stress enough how important it is to use only one pharmacy, and make your pharmacist your friend! Know their name. So if you're going to ask the pharmacist for the tenth time if you can eat grapefruit with statins, it helps if you have a friendly relationship. Always ask about interactions between medications, prescriptions and over-the-counter. 

My pharmacist is quick to point out that a good pharmacy checks out each new medication for interactions before they fill it. If you use only one pharmacy for everything, they are aware of all your medications. They also give you easy-to-understand information of how to take a certain pill (with water, with food, before bed, etc.). You could also read the thick pamphlet with small print they give you, but who has time or the eye strength?

You can never be too careful with prescription interactions. Did you know you don't take Tums within two hours before or after taking a pill for high cholesterol? And grapefruit and statins don’t mix? These examples are relevant to me, but you should of course talk to your pharmacist and make sure everything works within your body in harmony. Your pharmacist knows a lot more than the generic print on the pill bottle.

A good pharmacy doesn't give you the wrong meds, but it's up to you to check them out. My friend had a high potassium blood test, and they gave her a new medication. Not having taken it before, she checked it out on the Internet. The quick search warned that this particular pill would raise her potassium. Imagine her surprise; her potassium was already high. 

The errors were fixed in the end, but it’s true that you can never be too vigilant. You can never ask your pharmacist too many questions.

It's really important to keep a written log of what you take and when. My short-term memory isn’t what it used to be. I don't want to have to stop to wonder what I took and when. This could be for your pill pack, but it’s vital for any short-term medication that could easily slip your mind.

The costs of all these different pills can truly add up. I was in the pharmacy when a woman didn't get what she needed because she couldn't afford the high co-pay. I told her about different online tools (GoodRx, HelpRx, and ScriptHero) to get discounted prices on some of these egregiously priced pills. She found a coupon of sorts that saved her $31 just like that. By comparing prices and employing a bit of Internet sleuthing, she was able to get a better deal and – most importantly – the prescription she needed.

Lastly, say you have one of the following conditions: inactivity, type 2 diabetes, gout, or a heart problem. If your doctor tells you you’re dehydrated, but you can’t stomach chugging down seven glasses of water a day, get creative. Obviously you don’t want caffeine, carbonation, or sweeteners that could exacerbate your conditions, so I found a simple recipe that I was shocked I didn’t think of. Make your own fruit water with organic herbs and fruits that you probably have in your kitchen already. Fill some canning jars with herbs followed by smashed ice, your fruit of choice (I like pineapple), and – of course – water. Smash the fruit to extract its juice, and once it’s all mixed up and strained, this keeps in the fridge for a couple days, but you’ll be hydrated in no time. Who says only kids should have tasty fruit drinks?

All in all, resources like pharmacists as well as the Internet are available to help you. Of course, be careful of where you look, but there’s no shame in double or triple-checking that your health is not in jeopardy.