When was the last time you cleaned out your medicine cabinet? I’m willing to bet the answer falls somewhere between ‘ummmm…’ and ‘not since I moved into my place.’ Because let’s be honest — between work, family and trying to maintain a social life, who really has the time to regularly spring clean their medicine cabinet?
I used to think it was no big deal. What’s the worst that can happen — you accidentally take some old medicine and it doesn’t work as well? But as I found out two weeks ago, when expired medication nearly claimed my Nan’s life, the worst case scenario is far more terrifying.
It all started when my grandma, Kathleen, came down with a bladder infection. At 79 years old, she doesn’t drive and was too proud to ask one of us to take her to the doctor. So, she rummaged through her medicine cabinet and found some antibiotics she’d been prescribed a few years ago for the same condition. Figuring they’d do the trick, she started taking them.
But a week later, she realised she wasn’t getting any better. In fact, she was feeling much worse. It got to the point where she got stuck in the middle of the shopping centre because she was in so much pain she couldn’t walk. The poor thing was mortified. It all came to a head on a Saturday afternoon when she started bleeding. She called me on the verge of tears and said she needed to go to the hospital. I dropped what I was doing and drove her there right away.
Nan showed the doctor the antibiotics she’d been taking. “This is more than a year out of date,” the doctor pointed out. He explained that the antibiotics were doing nothing to heal the infection, which is why her symptoms were getting worse. If we hadn’t gone in to the hospital when we did, the infection could have spread to her kidneys. He also told us that certain expired medications are at risk of bacterial growth, which can lead to more serious health issues. But the scariest part was that if Nan had accidentally taken expired painkillers, it could have been fatal.