Friday, December 26, 2008

The Nightmares Before Christmas

Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the night,
There were creatures a'stirring with a terrible fright.
The meds were all taken by my daughter with care,
In hopes that the illness soon wouldn't be there.

She sang that night in Handel's Messiah with dread,
While visions of a green haired, orange freak in a trench coat holding a chain saw danced in her head.

Hmm, that doesn't scan very well. I may need to work on it a bit.

(cc) Douglas Cootey ~ Amoxicillin HallucinationsMy ten year old daughter was recovering from Strep Throat two weekends ago. She was taking the antibiotic, Amoxicillin — a medicine she has been on many times before. In fact, she was improving and pushed to be allowed to sing in Handel's Messiah that night because of all her preparation. All seemed well in the world. The performance went magnificently, my daughter sang divinely, but she was keeping a secret.

Later that night she grabbed some color markers and put to paper her secret. She then shared the secret with her oldest sister, and then, at her oldest sister's encouragement, she came to me.

My daughter had apparently been hallucinating after the concert. In an empty hall the green haired figure as described above appeared before her. She saw him again later in a window, as well as a squat, ugly, orange dude. Because she was worried I would tell her it was just her imagination she turned to her big sister. Truth be told, she does indeed have a vibrant imagination. It's just usually confined to playtime. Her imagination has never crossed over into real life.

When she did confide in me I was bemused. Here was a little ten year old girl telling me about starting dates for taking a new medication and its possible side-effects. She had never related an experience like this before. Frankly, it didn't occur to me to doubt her. Her very being seemed to shout at me, "Please don't laugh."

After comforting her and giving her a father's blessing before sending her off to bed, I then looked up Amoxicillin and its side-effects. Imagine my lack of surprise to discover "hallucinations" as a rare side-effect, but one that has been reported in multiple cases.

Guess who's not taking Amoxicillin anymore?

This incident calls to mind my experience with Ambien. Yes, the night when I didn't know my own wife and told her that her face was sagging has made a mark upon my mind. The eyeball blinking at me from the ceiling didn't help either. Some people might call that a good time, but I'm not having any of it. Even though I didn't recognize my wife, I was able to stumble into the other room, boot up my computer, and research side-effects. "Well, that explains it," I thought to myself when seeing "hallucinations" in the long list of adverse Ambien experiences.

Of course, it is easy to make light of hallucinations as an adult. My psychiatrist at the time sure wasn't worried either. "Just take a smaller dosage," he sagely suggested. I had been prescribed 2mg taken daily. Ever cautious around new meds, I took only 1/4 that amount and saw the world in new and exciting ways. Did he imagine I would lick the pill as Alice in Wonderland had done in my quest for the perfect non-hallucinatory dosage?

Regardless, I was rational enough to know that there wasn't actually an eyeball in my ceiling. I can even laugh about the incident years later. For ten year olds, seeing homicidal clowns is no laughing matter. I'm rather grateful that I've trained my children to be on the lookout for side-effects. Well spotted, Big Sis.

Unfortunately, my little girl has developed a hypersensitivity to medicines just like her old man, including a penchant for the rarer side-effects. Once she stopped taking Amoxicillin she stopped hallucinating. We immediately had her on new medication, Cephalexin, and now her Strep Throat is gone without any more creepy clowns.

The important points to remember about this experience is the importance of educating your children. My girls live with the adverse affects of medicines every day. My ticking has grown progressively worse over the years and all thanks to Desoxyn. They know that the magic of modern medicine can come with a price. Another point to keep in mind is the importance of art therapy. This little girl was unable to express in words what she saw. Instead, she handed me an illustrated piece of paper then allowed me to ask questions about it. The third point I want to make is the importance of listening. I am so glad that I did.

That very night I woke her up and let her know it wasn't her fault — that the hallucinations were caused by the medicine. I told her she didn't have to take it anymore and that she wasn't crazy. I'm not sure I can express adequately with words how deeply she sighed in relief, as if her entire body sunk back to sleep weightless and free.

She sank into her pillow, and breathed out a sigh,
Away her fears flew as she shuttered each eye.
But to me she did trust; I ignored not her plight,
Happy Christmas, my friends, and to all a good fight!

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