Episode 48: Managing the Meds

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Do you feel the pressure that comes with being responsible for giving someone their medication?

At certain times my husband has needed for me to give him his medicine because he just wasn’t able to get out of bed. His thyroid cancer is not contained so he has had too many surgeries to count. Once he’s home after one of them I take over getting him his medication until he can handle it himself. 

There are some of you that do this all the time. I acknowledge that only having to do this for parts of the year is a luxury not all of you have. It’s nerve wracking. Making sure he gets what he needs at the times of the day that he needs it is a lot of pressure for me. It’s something that I don’t always have to take care of as a caregiver and it is almost always a task I have to assume when my level of caregiving stress is high.  

I look at medicine as two different categories. 

First, there’s the medication that he has to have all the time. It’s usually just once or twice a day. But it’s something that he always takes. That might seem like a no brainer to someone who hasn’t had to do it. But when we have to make sure someone we are taking care of gets their medicine when they’re supposed to have it, it is a task. It’s one more thing on top of all the other things that we are responsible for. It needs to be done in a timely manner and we can’t forget to do it.  

I know that when I bring my husband back from the hospital I’m tired. I probably haven’t slept much. There are a lot of follow up doctor’s visits that need to be coordinated. He’s usually in bed recovering so meals are all on me. Spending time with him and keeping him company is also high on my list while also attending to and supporting my daughter. Usually I am able to set things up ahead of time with my business so things can run on autopilot for a while because I know I will be stretched thin. 

On top of that, I have to remember the medicine. So before I tell you about how I remember to give everyday medicine at the right time I’d like to tell you about the other category of medicine - pain medication. 

Usually the operations my husband has are long and fairly complicated. So he is in a lot of pain for a while. This is where things get difficult. He’s usually sent home with a prescription pain reliever and instructions for acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Each need to be taken at a specific interval and also not too close to each other. Since, in the beginning, that means he’s taking something every two hours that means that I don’t get more than an hour of sleep. I am fully awake after giving him medicine and it takes me a half hour to fall asleep again and then my body starts to wake up before the alarm goes off again. 

After the first night I’m a hot mess!! I don’t know what it is about exhaustion but I can’t walk straight, I constantly bump into things, I’ll fall asleep anytime I rest my head on something, focussing goes out the door and remembering things is difficult. That’s not a good combination when having to give someone their medicine and goes to prove the point that we are freaking indispensable!!!  

Then… he starts feeling better by the day so his pain medicine schedule changes ALL THE FREAKING TIME!!!! Which means I have to start doing math!! I’m not good at math on a good day let alone when I can’t even think straight enough to make a phone call! So here I am with regular medicine that has to be taken at a certain time along with pain medicine that has to be coordinated all day long.  

I’ve done it all.  

I’ve taped labels to the pill bottles to check off when they were given. I’ve listed everything out on a pad of paper to make sure I have a way to verify that I gave the right medicine at the right time. I’ve made it overly complicated and way too simple. To tell you the truth no matter how it’s done I do have a day when all I do is walk around muttering that I’m not a nurse! SO I think I have it all figured out for now. And this is where you might want to chime in on the website. 

I treat each type of medication - everyday and pain as two different tasks.  

The everyday medicine now goes through a company that packages pills into separate bags with the date and time they should be taken. If I pull out the next bag and it has yesterday’s date on it then I know I messed up. There’s no question about if something was taken or not. I set an alarm on my phone to remind me that he needs his regular medication. I change the label of that alarm to Regular Meds. 

Good. Set. 

On to the pain medicine. I only schedule the pain medicine 12 hours at a time. I use a pill box that has a section for each day. Since most times he takes things every two hours I have enough for 12 hours of pills. I start the process when I give him the last pill in line. So if the last set of pills is Ibuprofen I know that I don’t start with Ibuprofen when I refill the box. Every pill has it’s section and the narcotic usually floats with a specific OTC Pain reliever. I put each one in its slot and then I relabel my alarms. On most phones you can set multiple alarms. Usually there is a plus sign somewhere that will let you add them to your list. Once I set them the first time then I don’t have to change the times I just need to change the label - moving one from Acetaminophen to Ibuprofen for example.  

So I set the alarms. I have the pill box filled. When the alarm goes off I open the next slot. Once it’s open I don’t close it until it’s refilled so there is no mistaking what comes next. I find in the middle of the night this works perfectly. I’m not trying to read a pill bottle. I know how many I’m giving him. And it gives us the opportunity to intelligently adjust to longer spans of time between pills as he begins to feel better. 

I hope this helps. I know it isn’t a very sexy topic but it’s something almost all of us have to handle at least once in a while if not all the time. 

If you have a system you like to use to organize pills I’d love to hear about it. Maybe you use an electronic pill box or an app on your phone. If so leave send me a message and tell me about it.

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