Two bottles

Code 2 for back pain.

A woman in her 50s is sitting on her bed and crying. Her family is there. She has had back pain for a week and was prescribed Oxycodone and Ibuprofen 4 days ago.

“I want her to go to the hospital to get a shot.”

It always amuses me that so many people think getting “a shot” is the answer to everything. Hypervents and anxiety attacks demand “shots” all the time too.

Already guessing what’s happening here, I make a half-hearted – because I know it’s vain – attempt to guide them to a better way to care for themselves.

“She didn’t take any of the medications she was prescribed, did she?”

“Just one.”

“You know they prescribe the medications so you have a chance at managing the pain at home. If you don’t even use it, then why even get the prescriptions filled?”

“So should we go get a shot?”


I hold up the Oxycodone, which feels full, “This stuff is pretty strong. You know, some people would kill you for it. Has she taken any of this?”

“No, she thinks it upsets her stomach.”

“So she didn’t even try it?”


“So how does she know if it’s going to upset her stomach?”


Moving on…

“How about this – the Ibuprofen?”

I’m holding this bottle she was prescribed in my left hand.


“She took one of those but it upset her stomach, so she stopped.”

“Sometimes there are side effects, but the point is to manage the pain.”

“She just can’t take this one. She’s been taking a few of these instead. Here.”

He hands me a bottle. I receive it with my right hand.


I’m having a hard time believing what just happened. I look at my left hand. I look at my right hand. THEY’RE BOTH FUCKING IBUPROFEN!

“Sir, they’re the same,” I manage to force out without including words that would get me fired.

“Look, that one’s 600 and this one’s 200.”

“Yeah, but you just told me she’s been taking a few of the 200s.”


“That’s it. I’m done talking here. What hospital?”

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