Watching Election Returns Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

11/07/00    Portland, Ore.

While Al Gore and George W. Bush may think this is a stressful time, but all the election excitement could have landed one Parkrose resident in the hospital.

Alvin Batiste, 78, a retired management consultant, accidentally took a handful of his wife's high blood pressure and diabetes medicine instead of his vitamins because he was trying to watch the Florida recount on TV.

Batiste was busy sorting out his vitamins and his wife's prescription medication at the kitchen counter when he made the mistake.

"I got so engrossed in this election, trying to listen and see the TV in the living room. I have some white and pink vitamins and my wife has some white and pink pills, too. I glanced down and wondered what am I doing? Instead of taking my vitamins, I took her evening medication," Batiste said.

He was very concerned because he has low blood pressure and he had just swallowed his wife Cecelia's pills for high blood pressure. Batiste wasn't sure what the diabetic pills to lower blood sugar would do to his normal sugar levels.

"Everything was going in the wrong direction. Talk about a train wreck. It made me a little nervous," Batiste said.

As a Kaiser Permanente member he immediately called a Kaiser Permanente advise nurse who referred him to Oregon Health Sciences University's Oregon Poison Center hot line.

An OHSU registered nurse, specially trained as a poison information specialist, promptly answered his call. An assessment was made to determine Batiste's risk. It was recommended that Batiste monitor his blood sugar and blood pressure at home every two to four hours. He also was directed to eat plenty of carbohydrates. A nurse called back every two to four hours to check on his condition.

His blood pressure and sugar levels dropped for several hours. Batiste ate potatoes, bread, cookies and drank lots of fluids. Finally by 11 p.m. the nurse told him he was out of danger.

"It was an experience I'll always remember. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have been looking at TV. But there I was looking at those crazy up and down roller coaster election returns. I thanked the poison center people. They were really very, very efficient and very, very professional," Batiste said.

Batiste's call was one of almost 55,000 calls a year, or 150 calls per day, to the OPC. Of those, 29 percent are from adults. Pharmaceutical products are the most frequently taken substances, said Sandy Giffin, R.N., B.S.N., M.S., department director.

"As our population ages, and the more medication a person is on, the risks increase for taking the wrong medicine or the wrong amount," she said. About 80 percent of the OPC calls are home managed, which helps keep health care costs down, Giffin said. Besides responding to crisis calls, OPC also is involved in preventative education programs to the public. Giffin said she would like to be able to expand these education programs to all communities in Oregon.

"I feel we need to spend even more energy on public education," Giffin said. The poison center is staffed 24 hours a day, every day. There are 18 specially trained registered nurses and eight physicians who support the center. It operates on a budget of $1,095,956 in 1998-99, the bulk of which is paid for by OHSU, Giffin said. The center provides poison education and information throughout Oregon and northern Nevada.

Editors: OHSU's Oregon Poison Center can be reached in Portland at: 503 494-8968; outside of Portland at 1 800 452-7165.