Susan’s Eye–and the death of common sense

Everyone knows that you shouldn’t put ear drops in your eye, right?  But what happens when your doctor prescribes ear drops for a nasty eye infection, then what do you do?

After 3 days of wondering why the tiny little muscles in my eye felt like they’d been doing bench presses I finally called my doctor.  She was out but another doctor in the clinic could see me right away.  Dr L performed the usual diagnostics, getting up close and personal to blind me with a penlight, poking and proding, and confirmed that I had an eye infection.  He prescribed drops.

Clutching the prescription (which I had not read) and 2 chocolate covered donuts I waited patiently outside of Timmy’s for my daughter Kelly to pick me up.  Without my contacts and in my useless coke bottle glasses I can’t see three feet ahead of me let alone to drive.  Kelly plucked me from the curb and we went to the Co-op pharmacy.  As I loitered behind the red line, ostensibly there to protect my privacy but really there to keep the hoi polloi from stampeding the pharmacist, I finally read the prescription.  “Instill 2 drops twice a day into the affected ear(s)”.  Ears???   

The pharmacist, a charming young woman, was convinced this was an error and called the doctor to sort it out.  Yes, I thought, it must be a mistake, the doctor was chatting with me when he entered the prescription into his computer and we all know that men are hopeless at multi-tasking.  But no, Dr L confirmed his original decision—he did indeed prescribe ear drops for my eye problem.  Hmmm.

The pharmacist gamely went about preparing the prescription while Kelly and I wandered through the deli picking up samosas for lunch and commenting on the old guy eating grapes straight out of the bag and putting it back.  Note to self:  never ever eat grapes without sterilizing them first.

Kelly and I were daring each other to stick an arm in the blood pressure cuff (it’s a machine, what if it won’t stop inflating and nips your arm right off) when the pharmacist called us over.  She carefully explained that she’d never heard of a doctor prescribing ear drops for an eye problem, she’d scoured the internet and found absolutely no examples of this usage, she warned me to be very careful because the Ph balance in ear drops is significantly stronger than what you’d find in eye drops, if I noticed any redness or irritation I should discontinue usage immediately.  All the while her eyes were saying “For god’s sake don’t put this stuff in your eye!”

Slightly unnerved I headed straight home and put that stuff in my eye.  When I regained consciousness…no, just kidding.  After 3 days of inflammation, oozing and goofy jokes from my co-workers—should I speak into your good eye?—I’d had enough.  I stopped using the drops and went to the Richmond Walk-In Clinic.  There I met the wonderful Dr K.  When I told him I’d been prescribed ear drops and actually used them for 3 days he looked at me as if I’d lost my mind.  He tossed the drops contemptuously into the trash and wrote out a new prescription for, you guessed it, eye drops for my eye problem.  I’m now on the mend.

Lessons learned:

  • The “white coat” syndrome is more powerful than gravity…you need to work very hard to overcome it when a situation is going off the rails.
  • Always read your prescription at the doctor’s office and make the doctor explain anything that doesn’t make sense.
  • Even if the explanation makes sense (sort of) pay close attention to your pharmacist, she may know more about medications and how they interact with your body than your physician.
  • When all else fails—use common sense and get a second opinion.

For heaven’s sake, everyone knows that you can’t treat an eye infection with ear drops!

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6 Responses to Susan’s Eye–and the death of common sense

  1. Linda says:

    You know, it is that sort of thing that scares me to death… no wonder I do not like going to the doctor (I would rather go to the dentist, what they do might be horrible, but a mistake will hardly kill you). What if it was a serious heart condition and they prescribed you another dose of your “skin condition” pills instead, or vice versa, and then sent you on your way … what if you just kept on taking the wrong medication, quietly wondering why it wasn’t working, until something even worse happened? You are a smart lady to question the doctor, some people might not have. You are also lucky you had a good pharmacist to caution you. There is an incredible amount of trust involved when dealing with some occupations and some occupations cannot have a “bad day” without serious consequences!

  2. Linda, thank you for your comment. Your observation about some professionals not being allowed to have a “bad day” is bang on. There aren’t many professionals who hold your life in their hands, but doctors and airline pilots rank right up there. The interesting thing about airline pilots is that unlike doctors, if an airline pilot screws up he’s going to crash land in a corn field with you; unfortunately doctors don’t have the same sense of urgency. Most doctors are wonderful, however for the sloppy few, it’s time for greater accountability.

  3. roy wright says:

    I agree that our society has placed doctors beyond reproach when it comes to medicine and it may offer comments after things go horribly wrong. The medical community has approached its discipline since WW 1 as one of being practitioner/scientists, which I thought was very noble (especially after some very bad decision making regarding the Spanish flu). However, I find the science of medicine more akin to the art of medicine…there is a lot of intuition and at times creative interpretations going on as not all symptoms present exactly the same way with all people. However, you as the patient, must also exercise some caution and when the doc tells you to do something that just does not seem right, you need to challenge or get a second opinion (which is not easy given how hard it is to find a good doctor) and as a last resort, ignore the medical advice. I admit I have followed some pretty silly medical advice in the past and your note just confirms that we should all be on the alert that medicine can be more of an art than a science at times and we should be aware of our own foibles when it comes to the “white coat syndrome”.

  4. Ah yes, the art of medicine. I’d lost sight of that (no pun intended). When you consider all the variables a doctor must take into account in order to arrive at the right diagnosis, you can see why it would be considered an art. Unfortunately not every physician is blessed with this skill and no amount of testing will get to the root of the problem if the doctor is going down the wrong path. So once again, it’s up to the patient to be accountable for his own wellbeing and request a second opinion if his treatment is not going well.

  5. Susan:
    I just caught up with this post.It is wonderful – scary but wonderful.
    If that had happenned when you were living in the USA, you would be able to buy a yacht with your insurance money!

  6. Very true. Of course I’d need to act fast given the speed with which the US is falling apart. It’s definately every man for himself at this point. Cash in before the money runs out!

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