Editor’s note: Annie Lane is off this week. This column was originally published in 2018.
Dear Annie: My sister is 75 years old. She is a hoarder. She has lived at home her whole life and started accumulating junk soon after my dad died 10 years ago. If something comes into the house, it isn’t going out, as it is with most hoarders. So you can imagine what an appalling situation it has become.
My sister took care of my mom, who was in a wheelchair until she died two years ago at age 93. I spent thousands of dollars between the time when my mom became ill and when she died, driving a 50-mile round trip every day for six years to help my sister take care of her. And I continued to do so every other weekend after our mom died, bringing my grandsons to visit so my sister wouldn’t feel lonely.
Recently, I took a tumble at the dog park and fractured my kneecap. I asked my sister whether I could borrow one of Mom’s wheelchairs for a while. She told me to go look for one at Goodwill.
I figured that her mounds of precious junk must be more important to her than my many years of loyalty, and I don’t want to ever visit her again. And she can’t visit me because she can’t bear the thought of getting rid of her broken-down Buick to buy a new one.
Do you think she would get help with her problem if I stopped seeing her, or would she just be happy alone with her stuff?
— Snuffed Out by Stuff
Dear Snuffed Out by Stuff: Hoarding is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The disorder does not operate in the realm of logic. You can’t reason with it. And you shouldn’t take it personally — because as much as it might seem to you that your sister is choosing her stuff over you, she’s not really choosing anything at this point. She’s simply acting on compulsions.
If you want to stop visiting her for the sake of your own well-being, I applaud the boundary-setting. But it sounds as though you want to stop visiting her because you hope it would spur her to get help. If that’s the case, you want to control the uncontrollable, and you’d most likely end up even more frustrated. Instead of basing decisions on how they might or might not impact her hoarding behavior, base your decisions on what’s healthy for you.
Visit the hoarding section of the International OCD Foundation’s website (https://hoarding.iocdf.org) for information on what causes people to hoard and how you might be able to help.
Dear Annie: I recently filled a prescription for cough syrup that called for a 10-milliliter dosage. We do not use liters in this country. I had to go online to convert the amount to teaspoons. Could you give a shout to physicians, nurse practitioners and pharmacists to let them know how dangerous this practice is to the patient?
Dear Irked: I did some research to figure out why the pharmaceutical industry would use the metric system in the United States, where it might as well be Greek to many people. According to the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs, a nonprofit standards development organization, the International System of Units, known as SI, is better for designating dosages than the US customary system. The reason is consistency. While the US system has 300 different units, the SI has just seven base units. From the NCPDP: “The use of multiple volumetric units (e.g., teaspoons, tablespoons, droppersful) and multiple abbreviations ... (increases) the likelihood of dosing errors.”
That said, the most important thing is that the patient understands how to take the medication he or she is prescribed, and it’s health care providers’ job to see to that. The next time you pick up a prescription, ask your pharmacist for help with converting the dosage.
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