The Importance of the Word “Allergic”

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

August 2nd, 2009 • Patient AdvocacyPrint Print

Someone just left a comment about her mother being in the hospital, doped up on drugs making her nutso and barely able to speak. I never got around to posting details about the dragged out battle I did with doctors who refused to take my mom off narcotics — despite the fact that my mom

  1. nearly fell out of bed, trying to make a break from the hospital
  2. refused to eat
  3. refused to take her meds
  4. refused to let me visit her
  5. otherwise endangered herself

because, as a result of tripping from narcotics, she was convinced everyone in the hospital was trying to kill both her and me. I had to strike a deal with the primary doctor that she would give my mom aspirin and ibuprofen first, then and only then go up the narcotics chain — lowest dose at a time, starting with codeine and working their way up.

It took a drawn out and extremely unpleasant conversation with the doctor — I believe about 15 minutes long (with the doctor eager to get rid of me and off the damn phone the entire time) — to reach that compromise. The doctor told me she was “uncomfortable” with the idea of not giving my mom narcotic drugs, because it would be “inhumane” not to administer them. She also told me that my mother most certainly would not be able to tolerate the pain on aspirin and ibuprofen alone.

Uncomfortable? You’re fucking uncomfortable? I wanted to shout. And let me tell you about inhumane: Making a woman completely out of her mind and absolutely terrified of everyone in her midst – that’s inhumane.

Because the doctor was the gatekeeper, however, I had to keep my voice level. And yet I had to stand my ground and be relentless in my demand to get my mother off narcotics. Whether intentionally or not, the doctor pulled all the psychological intimidation moves on me that she could. My mom’s life was at stake, though, and I had plenty of training through my own hellacious experience with the medical system, so I successfully refused to back down until I got my way.

At some point, it occurred to me to start using the word allergic, as in, “My mother is allergic to narcotics.” At which point doctors doing intake would ask, “What kind of reaction does she have?” To which I would respond, “a psychotic break.” Somehow, using the word “allergic” suddenly made it inhumane to give my mom the drugs.  

Anyhow, as it turned out, my mom didn’t need any narcotics. Ever again. Take that, Dr. KnowItAll. The aspirin and ibuprofin worked juuuuust fine. And as soon as my mom got off the damn narcotics, she started making real progress in her healing.


Linda D August 23rd, 2009

I can so identify with your experience with your mom.  My mom was seeing a new kidney doctor as she had just moved to my side of town.  He had to try his own choice of drugs, even though mom told him she got headaches from the medicine he was perscribing. He insisted and she still believes doctor knows best, so he gave her the drug, along with a pain reliever for the headache it was going to cause. Even though we told him she was allergic to codeine, the pain pill he perscribed had codeine.  Long story short, by that evening she was transported by ambulance to the hospital with such a severe headache, it took several doses of morphine to bring it to a tolerable level! This was followed by the apparent required 3 day stay in the hospital during which time her regular meds were not delivered on time or not at all.  Took nearly a month to get that all straightened out.  P.S. that new kidney doctor never came in to apologize and sent a partner to see her.  They are both history now and are probably releived there was no lawsuit filed!
More people need to understand as you do, that they do have a voice and demand it be heard!

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