Respect the potential wrath of a drug

I should be hard at work right now seeing patients in the office, and I would be if it weren’t for one little pill.

Have you ever been frustrated by a physician refusing to give you an antibiotic?  That very scenario occurs daily in primary care.

“It is only a virus.”

The arguments against taking an antibiotic (cost, side effects, allergic reaction) can seem less than convincing when you are feeling sick. Also, one little prescription is unlikely to have global impact on the antibiotic resistance of bacteria.  Watchful waiting is never what you go to the doctor seeking.

Recently, I was reminded why I must respect the potential wrath of a drug.

This morning I took my first dose of an antibiotic for a persistent sinus infection after weeks of watchful waiting.  I won’t name the drug, but it had never caused a problem for me before–no antibiotic had.  I did not think twice before taking it.

About an hour later, while trying to help a woman with a painful toe, I noticed that my upper teeth felt funny, almost numb.  By the next appointment I was itching all over and my face was so red that one could tell from across the room that something was amiss.  The development of hives confirmed my suspicion of an allergic reaction.

Fortunately, the reaction did not progress so fas as to require emergency treatment, but attending to my afternoon appointments was out of the question.  This experience has definitely been an inconvenience for me, as well as the ten people expecting to see me today.

It is not always crystal clear who should get an antibiotic, and who should not.  Physicians try to apply their experience and clinical judgement to decide whether the potential benefits outweigh the risks.

Believe me, there are indeed risks–I now have personal experience with one.

Stephen Meyers is a family physician who blogs at The Med Savings Blog.


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