Thursday night I was drawing up Hana’s medicines for that night and the next day. I was a little distracted because I was setting up the evening meds so my mom could easily give them. I was also in a slight hurry because Paul and I were going out to dinner. I grabbed the Omeprazole (to treat Hana’s stomach while on some harsh meds) and the Amlodipine (a calcium channel blocker used for high blood pressure) out of our medicine refrigerator. They are in the same size bottle and virtually the same color. I drew up 5mL of Amlodipine and two syringes of 1.5 mL each of Omeprazole. The problem was that it should have been opposite. Hana gets 5mL of Omeprazole and twice a day she gets 1.5mL of Amlodipine.
That night my mom unknowingly gave Hana 1.5mL of Omeprazole. The next morning I always start with Omeprazole as Hana’s first medicine. It always makes her gag and is more volume than other meds and I don’t want her throwing up her other meds from gagging, so I give it first. She didn’t even flinch when she got the 5mL of medicine. Then I have her the Tacrolimus (anti-rejection med). Then I waited about 20 minutes and gave her Valcyte (to prevent cytomegalovirus), diltiazem (protect coronary arteries, lower blood pressure), and then I picked up what was supposed to be Amlodipine and I thought it looked a tiny bit yellowish. When I gave it to Hana she gagged and then I knew I had made a mistake. I knew it was a big mistake as I knew Hana was already on the highest dose of Amlodipine she could get. I also know that too much of a blood pressure lowering medication is a dangerous thing.
I immediately called Stanford. They started discussing what to do and had me take another blood pressure (100/62). Then they asked me to call Poison Control to find out how much was a toxic level. So I called Poison Control (and was glad the number was already programmed into my phone) and they said they send people to the ER if it’s 0.3mg per kg (that’s about two times Hana’s dose) and Hana got 0.45mg/kg. I was already gathering stuff to go to the emergency room at Kaiser while the pharmacist finished talking to me. He did say she would probably be fine but I needed to go in. Then one of the doctors from Stanford called me back to discuss the plan.
My mom and dad are visiting but Paul was not at home and had the car, so we hurried out the door with Hana to walk to the ER. It’s only five blocks (but a few uphill) but it was pouring rain. I kind of ran and pushed the stroller and I arrived at the emergency department drenched and out of breath. Paul had gotten there a minute before us. Hana was just fine through all of it. My mom and dad arrived a few minutes later just as they were taking us back.
They got Hana set up in a code room and took her vitals. Everything looked great. Hana was not happy about being there but adjusted like the little champ she is. The doctor got all his info and went to call Stanford. They decided to monitor her in the ED a bit longer and then move her up to the pediatric ward until 8pm that night. They decided against transferring her to Stanford because it just didn’t seem necessary. They brought in a dose of atropine (the antidote) in case they needed it. Of course they wanted to get an IV started in case they needed it and I requested the pediatric team to come and start that. While we waited, the attending physician from the pediatric ward walked in and that’s when we got the greatest, serendipitous surprise.
In walked the doctor who said, “you probably don’t remember me …” but I said, “Of course I do!” I turned to my mom who was next to me and said, “This is Katherine Herz. She is the one who ordered the first chest x-ray that showed Hana’s enlarged heart!” I wrote about Dr. Herz in “The First Thank You“. She seemed excited to have the opportunity to care for Hana again and had been following her progress. It seems that the first incident with Hana also made a big impact on her and she said she used Hana’s case all the time as a teaching tool. I was very glad to have the opportunity to thank her in person. I don’t think a week has gone by where I haven’t thought about trying to send her a meaningful thank you note, but she was hard to track down.
We chatted a little bit about how Hana was doing and what was going on. I asked her what made her order a chest x-ray because so many doctors told me that most pediatrcians would not have done so. She told me (humbly, I might add, saying it was the great training she got at UCSF) that it was February and she had seen sick kid after sick kid. Then Hana came in with a persistent cough and a little vomiting, just like lots of sick kids, but the first red flag was that Hana didn’t have any other symptoms (runny nose, sneezing) and was nursing so little that I had to pump afterwards. She said something wasn’t adding up. The second red flag was when she listened to her heart it sounded “distant” and she couldn’t hear anything on the left side at all. That’s when she was worried it was something pretty serious. We are grateful to her, who knows how badly Hana would have gotten before she was treated. If it had gotten much worse Hana might have had a stroke or even worse.
Then a bunch of nurses showed up to start the IV, which was the worst part of the day. It ended up not being the pediatric picc nurses (their first try failed) but our fantastic ED nurse who got the IV started. Unfortunately it was in Hana’s foot so she wasn’t allowed to stand the rest of the day. Then Hana got transferred upstairs to the pediatric ward where we waited out the rest of the day. They kept Hana hooked up to the monitor for O2, heart rate, respiration rate. They took her blood pressure every 30 minutes. I was able to give Hana the rest of her anti-rejection meds but they held her enalapril (of course, it’s another blood pressure med), lasix, diltiazem, and other non-essential meds (about five more). Nothing significant happened. Her blood pressure never got below 91/52 (which is actually the range they want her in).
The rest of the day we ate hospital food, played with Hana, watched cartoons. Paul worked. Dr. Herz came by again to chat some more. The resident checked in with the doctor at Stanford at 7pm and finalized the discharge instructions. At 8:20, 12 hours after the accidental overdose, we were walking out of the hospital.
One of the NPs from Stanford called me right before discharge to see how I was doing. I thought that was great. Not one person I encountered had even a hint of criticism towards me. Everyone makes mistakes and has made mistakes. At least I caught it so early. As for my own reaction, I was so focused on getting the situation treated that I didn’t have room to feel bad. Later, I did feel bad, especially when Hana was getting her IV and was crying and screaming. I felt bad my parents had to spend a whole day of their visit in a hospital. But I was surprised how little I felt bad. I kind of felt guilty for not feeling more guilty. But I think, by far, the main feeling I experienced was Alarm. I was very alarmed, even frightened, that I would make such an error. I think most people who know me would say I am always on top of these things and I’m very responsible and cautious. But even I make mistakes. So the real lesson is humility. Be kind to others who make mistakes, be kind to yourself and come up with methods to prevent making future mistakes.
We are grateful to the great team of people at Kaiser and Stanford looking out for us! It was really great to see Dr. Herz, the silver lining in all of this!