They were fortunate. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices warns against taking someone else's medication, saying it could interact with your own medication or cause an allergic reaction.
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The evening of the presentation, I went early to the convention hall for a final rehearsal with the boss and last-minute editing of his remarks.
My wife was to join us after she had gone back to the hotel to change.
She had a headache and went looking for aspirin in my pill case, which is packed with the pills, vitamins, fish oil and the like that my doctor has me taking as preventatives for heart disease. She took two white pills and caught a cab.
In the taxi, she thought her skin had caught fire. Hundreds of needles seemed to be pricking her skin, which was turning red. Worry increased her pulse. She wondered if she was having a heart attack.
My wife's antidote for panic is talking. She detailed her symptoms to the cabby and asked him to find me if she passed out. She declined his offer to take her to a hospital.
At the convention center, the cabby took her fare and wished her well. She found me and described what was happening.
"It will pass," I said. "Drink some water."
"I'm dying and you tell me to drink water?" she replied.
"You're not dying," I said. "You just took a couple of hundred milligrams of my niacin and now have the 'niacin flush.' "
I am still not sure what her look meant, and I couldn't tell if she was embarrassed because her face was still red from the pills.
Just to be on the safe side, she called her doctor, who told her everything was fine.
A year later, we were back in New York for another event, and this time we had invited my wife's parents to join us from their home in South Carolina. We booked them an adjoining room, made sure the door between the rooms was unlocked, and headed off to our afternoon meetings.
They went for a walk in Central Park, returning when my mother-in-law developed a headache. Not having any aspirin, she came into our room to see if we did.
She found my pill case. We returned to the hotel room to find her burning up.
She told us the story of needing pain reliever. My wife and I began laughing. We told her about her daughter's experience, and my father-in-law laughed too. Mom gave us all an it's-not-that-funny look, then called her doctor.
He reassured her and then asked, "Didn't you teach your children not to take other people's medications?"
Mother and daughter survived their misadventures, and everyone learned a lesson about taking pills that were not meant for them -- a lesson we should all remember.
John Dreyer is a communications consultant and writer who lives in La Cañada Flintridge.