Check Your Pills: Griggsville woman's essay promotes awareness of pharmacy errors

Elizabeth Turnbull
Posted: May. 25, 2013 8:46 pm Updated: Jun. 8, 2013 11:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

GRIGGSVILLE, Ill. -- Elizabeth Turnbull did just what she was supposed to in taking her daily diabetes medicine.

Turns out it nearly killed her.

A pharmacy error gave Turnbull a blood thinner instead of her usual medicine.

"Statistically, I should not be here," Turnbull said.

In intense pain and unable to walk due to swollen limbs, Turnbull could barely even talk that night in May 2007 when she called for help. She spent four days in the intensive care unit, two weeks in the hospital and months afterward trying to recover from the physical issues and brain injury.

"My health is greatly changed," Turnbull said. "I'm disabled now."

Now she's on a mission to make sure others don't suffer the same fate by sharing her own experience -- starting with an essay entered in a contest sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Her essay heads to the national competition after taking the top prize in Illinois and the North Central Region. National winners will be announced in June at the organization's Continental Congress, its annual meeting.

Turnbull stresses the need for people to check their medications and to trust their instincts when something doesn't feel right.

"I knew my pills were different, had a different shape. I should have questioned them," she said. "I did it once living in Chicago (and was told) we change manufacturers frequently to get the lowest cost. I thought it was the same thing."

The essay contest sponsored by DAR's women's issues committee asked members to share experiences and challenges faced in relation to family, career and health. Turnbull shared her own experience with her essay, titled "Check Your Pills."

"The first paragraph was the biggest challenge. I probably thought about it, played around with it longer than the rest of it," she said. "The first two paragraphs sell it. I'm a theater major. I saw it as a play in my head. That's sort of how I described it."

In the essay, Turnbull described how she had moved from Chicago to Falls Church, Va., for a new job.

"Finally, my life seemed to be falling into place," she wrote. "In a blink of an eye, all was lost. I lost my mobility. I lost my intellect. I lost skills. I lost my job. I lost my career. I lost new friends. I lost my sense of self. I lost my apartment. I lost my place in the world."

She credits wonderful doctors and Brain Injury Services of Virginia for help in rebuilding herself physically and emotionally, from learning to walk again to moving back home to Griggsville to live with her father. She got involved in organizations, including DAR, and now in sharing her story to help others.

Turnbull plans to read her essay and promote awareness of pharmacy errors at upcoming programs in Liberty and for the Historical Society in Griggsville. Women's issues, including checking pills, and literary will be top priorities the next two years for Turnbull, recently elected regent of the Nancy Ross chapter of DAR.

"Your whole being can be changed, even with minor medication mishaps," she said.

"People need to check and recheck their medications," Turnbull wrote in her essay. "Fortunately, many pharmacies now have descriptive content labels on bottles. If manufacturers change, label alerts are in place. Even with safeguards, people need to be cautious and check it out. Errors continue to be made. People are human. Humans make mistakes."





The phone call was made. All there was left to do now was to wait. The knock on the door startled me. In an instant, my apartment was full of people in blue. I was poked and prodded as tubes were attached and belts wrapped around me. I watched as a blur of furniture was tossed about in all directions as if made of plastic. The blue ones were making room for my gurney, my transport into the unknown. My transformation had already started; my cells were floating in a foreign seas. I would return weeks later forever changed.

From "Check Your Pills," an essay by Elizabeth Turnbull