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Anchors Aweigh… And Aweigh, And Aweigh…

, , , , , , , , | Healthy | June 26, 2021

I was a new sailor, getting ready to report to my first ship. My wife and I had driven all the way across the country to the base where my ship was home-ported, so we were totally unfamiliar with the area. We got a hotel room while we looked for apartments, but the next day I got really sick. Two of my teeth on my upper jaw hurt so much I couldn’t sleep, so we grabbed my medical and dental records — this was a long time ago, when sailors hand-carried their records between assignments — and managed to find our way to the local Navy hospital. I checked into the dental office, and they got me in very quickly because I was obviously in a lot of pain.

The dentist, a Navy Lieutenant, poked and prodded a bit, had an x-ray taken, and then told me there was nothing wrong with my teeth. She said I probably had a raging sinus infection and had one of the nurses take me to the emergency room on the ground floor.

An hour or so later, I was diagnosed with a sinus infection, given a paper prescription, and sent to the on-site pharmacy. I grabbed a number and waited, still dazed by the constant pain in my face from the infection. My wife had to tell me when they called my number, and she escorted me to the pharmacy window. The pharmacy tech rattled off a bunch of stuff about the medicines I wasn’t coherent enough to follow, but I did make out that I needed to start taking them right away.

Fine. No problem. We sat back down and I read the labels. The largest bottle said I had to take four pills right away. I staggered to the water fountain in the lobby and swallowed one of everything, plus four of the pills from the big bottle. I walked back to where my wife was sitting, and she started putting the bottles of pills in her purse, giving each bottle a quick look to see if any needed to be refrigerated. Then, she paused and said, “Oh, f***!”

She dragged me up to the prescription drop-off window and hollered for help. An older man came to see what was wrong, and my wife showed him the large bottle and my ID card. The pharmacy tech turned white as a sheet and said, “Oh, f***!”, and then called for a gurney and a doctor.

The next couple of hours were a blur of activity I don’t remember much about, ending with me admitted overnight for observation. It seems the pharmacy tech who’d handed me my pills had also grabbed a bottle intended for another patient — the large bottle. I had taken a quadruple dose of a major blood-pressure medication and my blood pressure was dangerously low by the time the ER managed to get me hooked up to an EKG.

Even in military medicine, almost killing the patients is generally contraindicated. I recovered fine, but there was a major investigation at the hospital, and the pharmacy tech who handed me the wrong pills ended up demoted or transferred someplace unpleasant — perhaps both. The pharmacy at that hospital changed their standard operating procedures to require careful verification of the name on every label and to cross-check every prescription issued with the patient’s medical record.

That’s how the US Navy nearly got me killed before I set foot aboard my first ship.

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