My husband, Jay, was out cold for three full days because of a dose of a drug that was mistakenly given him by a pharmacist at Gristede’s Pharmacy in Scarsdale.
Ordinarily, neither he or nor I would have allowed such a mistake to happen, but the events leading to his semi-conscious state, caused by the wrong medicine were quick and without forethought.
Jay needed a cardiac stress test—a procedure he’s had before— and one that has terrified him every time. Not only was he afraid of the outcome, but he was phobic about the apparatus in which he was required to lay under for twenty minutes, or more. Jay is about as claustrophobic as a person can be. Put him in an elevator for longer than fifteen seconds, and he’s in a total flop sweat.
So when he got to the portion of the test that required some degree of what he felt was “entrapment,” his heart started to race and he made every effort to climb out of the apparatus.
The doctor who was administering the test suggested that he take a mild sedative—one that he could melt under his tongue—before he attempted to complete the test.
Jay, by this point, was telling me that sedative or not, he was done for the day. But the doctor insisted he continue and he wrote a prescription for lorazepam, a benzodiazepine, that Jay had taken before, with success. It would be the only way the test could be completed.
So it fell to me to go to the nearest pharmacy, which was located in Gristede’s in the Golden Horseshoe Shopping Center of Scarsdale.
With script in hand, I rushed into the store, knowing my husband and the doctor were impatiently waiting for me to return with the sedative, and I gave it to the pharmacist on duty that day. It was a simple prescription to fill. It only required that the pharmacist count out six common generic pills, put them in a pill vial, charge me far more than they were worth, since I didn’t have my husband’s health insurance card with me, and let me return to the medical center.
My mistake was that I didn’t look in the bottle before I left the store. Under ordinary circumstances, even at the pharmacy I regularly use in our own town, I look at the medicine in the vial to ensure that I have the correct prescription. But haste forced me to run back to my car, race to Scarsdale Medical and give the pills to my husband to melt under his tongue for several minutes in order to get him calm enough to get through the test.
The staff led him away and into the testing area where they said he lay still and visibly comfortable as they completed the test. The problem became apparent when we tried to get him to walk away from the testing device and out the door of the medical center.
Some would have called his condition, “groggy,” others would have said he was just a bit “over sedated;” I saw a man who was not remotely functional, semi-comatose and it scared me half to death.
What was in those meds? This time, I looked at the remaining pills in the bottle and saw that they didn’t remotely look like the lorazepam that he had taken before, and I didn’t have a clue as to what they were.
Now the trick was to get him home. Jay’s a big man, who at that point, was dead weight. I had to get him in and out of our car, up the concrete steps to our front door, up the stairs to our bedroom and into bed. At any point, he could have collapsed on me and decimated us both.
I, with great good fortune, pulled off a miracle and got him into bed so I could get into my computer and compare the oval blue pill with what I’d find on a pharmaceutical website.
Within minutes, I identified the name of the pill that Jay had been mistakenly given, and my anger grew exponentially. Jay had been given a high dose of Zanax, which has a far more potent effect on most people, and is used for those who are in a much greater state of distress than Jay. Lorazepam would have done what the doctor needed it to do, if the pharmacist would have filled the written prescription properly.
So, day followed night and Jay could not rise from our bed by himself for 72 hours. By Monday morning, he was back on his feet and I was able to go over to Scarsdale Medical, where Jay’s doctor, who I had notified on Friday, informed Gristede’s management that what they may have seen as an oversight was a huge problem to him and to us. He told them what we ALL know is true: When a doctor writes a prescription, it is for the welfare of the patient. If the pharmacist creates a monstrous mistake, everyone pays. And from what I heard, Gristede’s would pay for their error with the fact that the doctor would advise his patients to stay away from that pharmacy and that more information about the incident was likely to show up in the local papers.
So here we are, days later. Jay is doing well. His cardiac function test came back with acceptable results, and we are both hoping that he doesn’t need more tests that make him feel like a trapped animal for a long time to come.
For all intents and purposes, Jay has far less to worry about than those of us who dealt with the potential danger of the pharmaceutical mistake, if he had fallen and hurt himself or others who helped him during that time.
As his wife, I have been cautious about every medicine he’s been given since he has familial cardiac and pulmonary disease, and up till now, we’ve handled it all with the best doctors we know. But this time, I feel as though I messed up my part of the deal in our marriage, in which we promised to watch over each other, as promised, more than 40 years ago.
Jay doesn’t blame me for a thing, but I’d like that pharmacist to know that as much responsibility as I hold for my husband’s welfare, is far less than his “casual” mistake, could have made to our lifelong marriage. An even more potent pill—casually overlooked like the Zanax, could have created a total loss for me.