My friend texted me on my mobile today asking me what would be defined as an overdose. I have only met her in person three times, but have been messaging her on Facebook, so I knew quite a lot about what was going on with her, and likewise she knows quite a lot about what’s been going on with me. I know that she sees a psychiatrist, she has been hospitalised before, she self harms, she takes medication and she struggles with depression, anxiety and has recently found out that her psychiatrist has been treating her for biploar II. I got worried, as you would, and texted her back asking if she was okay. She said that she might’ve taken an OD, she slept for a good seventeen hours, but assured me she was now fine. I asked her to tell her psychiatrist what she took. She wouldn’t. I asked her to phone the Poisons Information Center and tell them what she took. She wouldn’t. I eventually got out of her exactly what type of pills and the amount that she took.
Armed with this information, I dialed the number for the Poisons Information Center again. That’s twice in a month. Might as well put their number on speed dial now. Then again, maybe not, considering how unhelpful they’ve been. They suposedly have all the latest and up-to-date information on drugs and poisonous substances. No point having this information though, if you’re not going to share it. The last time I told them what I took, they told me to go to a hospital, without revealing whether the amount I took was toxic or not. This time when I told them what my friend had taken, they told me to take her to hospital without revealing if what she took was toxic or not. This is basically what happens if you call up with any case of self harm. Very frustrating when all you want is a yes/no answer to ‘If this amount of pills was taken, is it going to be fatal?’
Yeah I get that it’s their policy. But really, not everyone is going to go to hospital on their recommendation. I didn’t. My friend won’t. I had a hard enough time trying to convince her to tell her psychiatrist what happened, let alone try to get her to go to a hospital.
Perhaps next time I shouldn’t say it was a case of self harm, they might give me a straight answer then. I’m curious actually, about their response if I called up and said that I took three paracetamol tablets in an attempt to self harm. Would they still refer me to a hospital then? Technically yes, it’s an overdose. You’re meant to take a maximum of two tablets every four hours. If someone took three though, they’re not going to die. Not that I’m recommending you do, but if you’re a grown adult, it’s not going to kill you.
So because I wasn’t going to get a straight answer from the experts, I had to depend on my own amateur knowledge. That’s reliable. With 33% on my last test, I am obviously such a good pharmacy student. Nevertheless, I consulted my textbook, the Australian Pharmaceutical Formulary. My friend took two types of medications. Seperately, they were under the maximum daily dosage, though the amount she took is more than what should be taken if you’ve never taken the medication before.
I concluded that she should be fine…though that’s possibly me trying to justify not doing more to help her. The best excuse I can give is that I don’t want to lose her trust and I don’t want her to feel like she can’t tell anyone if she does overdose again. The worst is that I’m too tentative to actually take any considerable action and I’ve become too accustomed to taking small overdoses to take it too seriously, though I do consider any overdose to be serious. I didn’t want to call an ambulance on her unless it was absolutely necessary. Perhaps that’s exactly why she chose to consult me. Having had an ambulance called on me just a month ago, I know what an unpleasant situation it can turn out to be. She too has had emergency services turn up on her doorstep, but instead of paramedics, she had the police.
I’m not naive enough to think that I gave her the idea of overdosing, but in hindsight it may not have been such a good idea to have revealed to her my history of overdosing on medication. I feel like I’m a bad influence.
There were some strong parallels, between this situation with my friend today, and my situation about a month ago. I felt a strange sense of deja vu, though I was on the other side of the fence this time. This time, I was the one trying to help the friend who had taken some pills, instead of being the one who had taken pills herself.
Firstly, with the actual amount and pills that she took. More than she should take, perhaps not quite an OD, or if so a small one, but enough to knock her out for seventeen hours. So similar to me, but in addition to the sedating medications, I also took paracetamol, and I was knocked out for eighteen hours, not seventeen.
Her reaction to someone trying to help. Her assurances that she was fine, despite the evidence pointing to the contrary. My assurances that I was fine, ‘Sorry, no need to worry about me,’ to be told by my friend that I was being stupid. It’s only now I realise how frustrating it must’ve been for my friends at the time trying to help me when I took the OD.
Then there’s her refusal to get checked out, to tell her psychiatrist about the pills that she took, despite my encouraging her to do so. Saying that what happened ‘isn’t important.’ I don’t blame her. My reaction would be exactly the same. But I know that the right thing to do would be to tell her psychiatrist, to make sure she is fine physically, and to make sure that she is kept safe in case she is tempted to try and harm herself again. And for the record, I have told professionals what had happened, post OD. I told my clinical psychologist when I took an OD last year, and I got checked out by a GP when I took an OD this year.
While there are all these similarities, the outcome has been different. While an ambulance was called for me, no course of action was taken for her. Should I have called an ambulance? I don’t know. Am I a terrible friend as a result? Yeah, probably. Maybe she is better off telling someone who doesn’t have experience with overdosing. Maybe she is better off telling someone who would freak out and actually do something about it, possibly call an ambulance for her.