Being sick is not always abnormal

“You can’t afford to be sick!”

I hate these ads.

You’ve seen them. They’re in newspapers and regional magazines across the country. Some smiling mom and her cute kid. It’s an ad for some local clinic, always with a tagline like “You can’t afford to be sick!” or “You don’t have time to be sick!”

And they list things they treat, like headache, sore throat, ankle sprain, runny nose, and skinned knees. They make no mention of heart attack. Or accidental amputation. Or arrow through the head.

It’s so comically misleading. As if there’s something abnormal about being sick. Face it. The germs outnumber us. Being sick is part of the price of doing business of Earth. We all catch the crud here and there. And we all trip and fall, spraining this and scraping that.

These ads give the impression that it’s horribly abnormal to catch some mild illness or suffer a minor injury. Better yet, they make it sound like they can magically fix you, like they’re going to wave a wand, and the germs will suddenly vanish or you’ll grow new skin immediately.

All they do is give you Sudafed, Tylenol, or a band-aid, (which you could have bought yourself) and bill your insurance.

What really peeves me is that this enforces a cultural dependency on medical care. Yes, I’m a doctor. Medical care is how I earn a living. And there are certainly many conditions where you absolutely, positively, should see a medical professional. And I know sometimes it’s hard to know what’s what.

But did your Mom send you to the doctor for every little thing? Probably not. She sent you to bed, gave you some Tylenol, and told the school you were out. Or she gave you Tylenol and sent you to school.

And I’m willing to bet you felt a hell of a lot sicker at some point in college, after toga night at McBarfy’s house of cheap beer. And you didn’t see a doctor for that, either.

We have a lot of treatments in medicine. But the majority of things you get in your everyday life will get better with or without a doctor.

“The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”

Voltaire wrote that around 250 years ago. And, for the most part, I won’t argue with him.

Doctor Grumpy is a neurologist who blogs at Doctor Grumpy in the House.

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  • jsmith

    I see Dr. G. is a neurologist. Spending a few hrs in a family med clinic might be illuminating for him. It’s nuts in my world. I saw a pt recently who had a URI but who was worried she had Crypto gatii, so I caved and gave her some IV amphotericin B (just kidding).
    Just sayin’ that seeing people who don’t really need to be seen is part of the deal in primary care.

  • Dennis (Investigator/Negotiator)

    In moderation, Doc, I agree with you. Everyone gets sick now and then. Most of us occasionally get so sick that our choices are stay home or come to work looking like (perhaps being) a walking virus factory. And, sure, in those cases, staying home in bed, pushing fluids, dropping NSAIDs is probably the best choice.

    The problem with moderation is that one man’s moderation is another’s malingering. If you’re in a competitive workplace, every day you miss can endanger your career growth, possibly even your future. This situation is made worse if either your supervisor or any of your competition happen to be one of those people who seem to be immune to everything. Like Roger Maris, those guys never miss a day’s work.

    If I miss a flu shot, I end up in bed with a 102+F fever, chills, ague, gastrointestinal distress, and all the jolly crew of symptoms. To make matters worse, a fever over 100F typically makes me–well, kinda stupid. I can’t think straight. Half the time, I don’t know whether I’m awake or asleep. Then, after the requisite week to ten days, I recover and come back to work.

    And the local Maris? He tells me he missed his flu shot, too. He had to come to work with the sniffles for two whole days. Poor baby.

    So, while I understand your peevedness, I also understand the attraction of those ads. If I feel a cold creeping up on me and I’ve already missed a week’s work come June, I’m going to start wondering if, hey, maybe I should try that Dayquil stuff.

  • Sarah

    I totally agree with you! I see my Dr. yearly for my annual physical and then that’s pretty much it. If I have a cold I drink fluid and sleep alot, it works wonders! Because I don’t run to her with every little thing I have a GREAT relationship with my doctor. When I do call her with a real concern she knows it’s serious and I’m not exaggerating.

    She also doesn’t push meds, which I love. There have been a couple times over the last 6 years when she considered prescribing antibiotics for various things, but we both agreed to wait and see if whatever it is clears up on it’s own, and if it’s looking worse she has me call for the script.

    The only time I’ve needed to call back and get it was with some strange bite/wound on my abdomen. The day I went in to see her it was VERY sore and weeping but I didn’t have a fever. A day or so after that it doubled in size and I had a temp of 103, so then we did doxy for 30 days, because we had some concerns it might be a really nasty tick bite.

    It’s nice to have some flexibility and to know that your doctor believes you and is willing to work together to come up with a plan. Plus if you call her, she ALWAYS calls back the same day.

    SO my point is, I agree, we should encourage people to tolerate some discomfort around colds, it might even improve their relationship with their doctor……

  • AnnR

    No, my Mom didn’t cart me off the doctor very often.
    But my Mom also didn’t work.

    It is different when you are working. Working Moms don’t get a pass on attendance just because their kids are sick. They use up their leave, if they ever got any in the first place, they get bypassed for better assignments because they’re unreliable and they get threatened with things like being dropped to part-time status because they aren’t toeing the line on hours. If they work by the hour then the check is short at the end of the month and the landlord doesn’t really care if it’s because their kid was sick.

    Daycare won’t take sick kids and they won’t dispense even Tylenol without a note from a doctor – so maybe that’s why those ads are aimed at moms.

    When I see those ads I’m reminded of those days, and how stressful it was to be juggling a sick kid and my job, and how my husband who traveled frequently on business never seemed to be around when all this was happening.

    It is tough to be a working mom and nobody should forget that!

  • stay at home mom

    Working or not, it’s tough to be a mother (and a father…married or single). No reminders nor sympathy needed. It is our responsibility as parents to use our best judgement when our children get sick – regardless of outside circumstances.

    Anyway, I agree with the article.

    -former working mom