I love antibiotics. I really do. Where would we be without them? Leeches and a prayer. No thanks.
But here’s the problem. Somewhere along the way, we got lazy. We were so impressed with how many previously fatal conditions were suddenly curable, we got cocky and started using them for everything. And not for nothing, they made us – the prescribers – feel super important and critical to one’s survival. I KNOW WHAT THIS NEEDS! AMOXICILLIN!
And so, here we are.
I’m not pointing fingers here. (not it.) It feels good to be needed. And we started to convince ourselves we were doing the right thing. You prescribe a few Z-Paks for a few colds, see them get better, and you start to think of antibiotics as rainbow sprinkles. It’s actually impossible to use too many rainbow sprinkles in too many places. It’s science.
But the science just isn’t there when it comes to using antibiotics for colds.
I know what you’re thinking: “I know that already. Don’t lecture me about colds. I would never ask for an antibiotic for a cold! HAHAHA utterly absurd. But let me tell you about my long and fascinating history of sinus infections and bronchitis….”
I think this is why whenever I utter the words “viral infection” to someone sitting in front of me making their best misery face, they look at me like I just punched them in the arm and called them a whiny baby. It speaks to the totally underestimated badassery of viral infections.
Viral infections can absolutely kick your ass. They can bring a super-healthy, yoga-practicing, marathon-training, macrobiotic-consuming, kombucha-drinking yuppie to his or her well-dressed knees. They can flatten a college student in a way that not even a full week of all nighters, binge drinking and weed can. We’re talking abject misery.
And yet they’re utterly common. Viruses don’t care about your GPA, or who your parents know, or whether you shave or wax. You, that housewife wearing velour track pants, that smelly toddler, and the spare change guy, all standing on the subway together, may go home with the exact same bug. It’s humbling.
So what do the strivers of the world do when they get sick? They try to call it something else. Something that sounds fancy, and requires a prescription, to both make it feel less common and more badass than the commonness of the common cold.
(They also try refusing to accept reality. “I CAN’T be sick right now.” Well now, that’s demonstrably untrue, isn’t it? Here you are, sitting in my exam room, taking up space in my schedule, looking pretty damn sick. You may wish it weren’t true, but wishing doesn’t make it so. It’s as futile as climate change denial. ZING!)
Which is why when I inform someone that they have a virus, it’s as if I insulted their personal fortitude and their station in life, all at once.
So here’s the thing. I’m not calling you a weenie for wanting to shed your sad, pale, snot-encrusted lesser self. I get it. It SUCKS to be sick (the all-caps emphasis is key).
But I’m also not prescribing an antibiotic just to legitimize your suffering. And you shouldn’t want me to.
So please stop asking.