It was the spring of 2013 and my husband, Chris, and I were at Urgent Care with our 1 year-old daughter. She had started screaming inexplicably a little while earlier at a restaurant. Turns out, she had an ear infection. The doctor wanted to prescribe an antibiotic for her and I said no thank-you.
(Seven years ago, after eight months of ingesting antibiotics as an infant, my second child had tube surgery on his ears. I did a lot of research and decided that antibiotics aren’t the way I want to go for my kids. Unless they are at risk of death or severe injury, their immune system can fight off their ailments and get stronger. Antibiotics can actually interfere with immune system function.)
While our primary care physician would have been fine with it — and has even stated he wouldn’t initially give his own child antibiotics for an ear infection — my no thank-you wasn’t accepted by the urgent care doctor. He turned to me and said, “Well… in THIS country, we prescribe antibiotics for ear infections.” Not only was I assumed to be stupid because I didn’t want to use an antibiotic, but I was assumed to be a “stupid foreigner”. He looked at Chris, as if to reason with the only assumed-to-be intelligent person in the room and urge him to talk some sense into his “foreign” wife (who was actually born and raised in America). I was astounded. Chris agreed with my position (he doesn’t want our kids to have unnecessary antibiotics, either) and now we were both dummies in the eyes of this doctor. He continued to try to persuade us to use an antibiotic and we continued to refuse, saying we would give ibuprofen for pain and return if the ear infection did not clear up on its own.
The ear infection cleared up on its own without an antibiotic (as every other ear infection our four children have had for the past 7 years has), and I quickly forgot about being treated as a “stupid foreigner” (sheesh, I feel bad for those who are treated that way on a regular basis solely for being an actual foreigner).
Then last week my kids were exposed to strep throat during a play date at our house, so I took them all to Urgent Care for strep tests when I picked the older boys up from school. None of the kids had strep, but the youngest was diagnosed with an ear infection. I told the doctor I would give him some ibuprofen until it cleared up and I didn’t want an antibiotic. She told me that wasn’t possible and she was giving me a prescription. It went back and forth like this until it was an awkward argument, with her telling me I had no choice but to give the baby an antibiotic and me politely but adamantly refusing to do so. The awkwardness ended when the doctor said she was going to send a prescription to our pharmacy anyway, I replied that I would still not be picking up the antibiotic, and she left the room to move on to her next patient.
The baby’s ear infection cleared up on it’s own (I took him to our primary care physician to double check), however, the pharmacy’s automated service called and left messages on my phone for days that my prescription was waiting to be picked up, until I finally went to the pharmacy in person and explained the situation. They were fine about it, but it seemed like a whole lot of unnecessary action — on both the part of myself and the pharmacist — in order for me to refuse to administer an antibiotic, and I couldn’t help remembering the former urgent care doctor who treated me like a dummy for refusing an antibiotic.
I understand the pressure physicians are put under. Parents want immediate relief for their children and demand an antibiotic, hoping it will deliver that relief. Physicians were/are taught in medical school to prescribe antibiotics (many of those medical schools are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies) and medical treatment in the US is heavily drugs and surgery based. We all want a pill or procedure — we want our immediate fix, and don’t think about what we’re doing to our body’s natural ability to heal itself.
The overuse of antibiotics is getting a lot more attention than it used to, and that’s a really good thing. It’s great to be aware of other options. Our own kids seem to have developed really strong immune systems and we’re lucky they’re all healthy, but our second child does have pre-asthma/allergies. I can’t help wondering if all those antibiotics I administered to him as an infant are to blame (and thus feeling I am to blame for not doing my research). I’ll never know for sure. None of our other kids received heavy doses of antibiotics the way he did for such an extended time period.
If you choose to give antibiotics, be sure to give probiotics as well. They help restore the natural balance of bacteria in the intestines. And please don’t be afraid to make the decision to not administer an antibiotic. Most normal illnesses can be fought off by the immune system alone. Making the decision to keep our kids off antibiotics was the right decision for us.