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by Abigail Van Buren

Accurate Medical History Can Help Save Your Life

DEAR ABBY: I work in a hospital emergency department in a suburb of Cleveland. Because your column is printed in newspapers across the country and beyond, I thought it would be the best way to get an important message out to the public.

Many patients come to the ER because they're in pain, confused, unresponsive, or have been subject to serious injury. Sometimes patients come to the ER because of what they feel is a minor problem. Then, after testing and examination, we find a more complicated problem that requires hospitalization. Many times finding the cause of the patient's situation can be difficult because of inadequate information.

The three most common areas of misinformation are medications and dosages the patient takes, medication allergies and past medical history. Occasionally no identification can cause a problem. Taking medications like Coumadin, Lanoxin, Dilantin, Depakote, digoxin, theophylline, phenobarbital and others requires blood samples to check the amount of the drug in the bloodstream. These medications, among others, can be responsible for anything from severe bleeding to seizures, severe lethargy, weakness, fatigue, abnormal heart rhythm and blurred vision. Unfortunately, these can also be symptoms of problems like gastrointestinal bleeding, epilepsy, meningitis, strokes and lethal arrythmias.

Patients will say, "You have my records here." However, hospital records are not a reliable source of the patient's current medications, because the medications and/or dosages often change.

The bottom line is: Know your past medical history (i.e., appendix removed, heart attack, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.). Know what medicines you are allergic to. Know what medications you take and the dosages. Think of it as "H.A.M.D." -- History, Allergies, Medications, Dosages. And last, but not least, write your name, medical history, drug allergies, medications and dosages on two pieces of paper. Put one in your wallet or purse, and one on your refrigerator, kitchen counter or bathroom medicine cabinet. This way, you will have them with you -- or someplace a paramedic can find them -- in the worst situation. It's for your benefit. -- RICK GEISHEIMER, R.N., MENTOR, OHIO

DEAR RICK: Thank you for the potentially lifesaving reminder. For most of us, making such a list will take only a few minutes. Readers, do it now -- don't procrastinate!