At 5 weeks old, my son, my first and only baby, had to have surgery to correct a minor medical condition. He would be put under anesthesia and they would be cutting into his body. Sure, the doctors said it was “minor.” The surgeon did a hundred or more of these surgeries every year. “It’s really no big deal,” the nurses said. “He’ll be back to himself the next morning.”
Yes, it was minor TO THEM. To me, they were operating on my baby! To me, he seemed so incredibly delicate. In spite of the fact that he was a hearty eater, round and strong, I was extremely careful with him, as I felt like he might break. He was my first child and it took me a while to really understand that children are a whole lot stronger than they look when they first arrive on the planet. (That happened when I tripped over our Labrador and we both landed on the floor, but that’s another blog post.)
We took him to the hospital at 6am. The surgical area was designed for adults, so my son seemed even smaller and more fragile. Ninety minutes or so later and we were on our way home with written instructions to give him Infant Tylenol® for the next few days, every 6 hours. Of course, I was worried about his pain level. He just got here for God’s sakes and we’re already cutting into him and causing him pain.
Fortunately, I’m into knowing the details about my son’s care, so I checked the label. Hmmm…it listed a maximum dosage of less than I would be giving him if I followed the hospital’s instructions. Yikes. I called the pharmacist at our local drugstore and decided to follow the dosing instructions on the bottle, instead of the hospital’s orders.
Had I been taking this pain reliever myself, I know I would have been less careful in taking them. After all, they sell them at the grocery store. They’re over-the-counter (OTC) so they’ve got to be safe, right?
After putting my son to bed that evening, I went online and did a little digging on Infant Tylenol and discovered the dangers of overdosing. Yikes. Common OTC pain killer medicines aren’t as safe as some of us may assume. When used in excessive doses or in combination, the dangers include liver damage, stomach ulcers and other gastro health problems.
I learned three really important things that day:
It’s important to read and follow label and dosing instructions on any and all pain relievers.
Now that I’m in my 50s – and my son is 15 – I’ve had some chronic pain that means I’m taking more pain relievers, either Acetaminophen or NSAIDs. Do I pay close attention to ensuring that I take a safe dosage? Sometimes. Other times, I’m running around with my hair on fire and grabbing something out of the medicine cabinet as I head out the door.
The American Gastroentrological Association (AGA) is committed to getting the word out about the importance of being mindful of our pain relief medications. If you’re taking them, pay attention to the instructions, avoid doubling up on more than one, and talk to a health care professional if you have any questions at all.
I’ll add this one to the list of bad habits I’m getting rid of – no more grabbing a few OTC pain pills without giving serious thought to the safety of doing so.
For more information, check out the AGA website here - Gut Check: Know Your Medicine - or this infographic: