By Sara Ingram
Raising a child in today’s world can be very challenging. It is a world where we expect comfort and instant fixes. We have social media, TV, radio, and a whole list of things that bring comfort to us daily. These external stimuli build an illusion of a perfect life: instant fixes and comfort. Today’s society emphasizes how important good health is to our children. Sesame Street encourages exercise. Healthy food posters adorn school walls. As parents, we want good health for children. For my generation, a key instant fix for our health were antibiotics. Yet, our children are growing up in a world where antibiotic overuse is decreasing their effectiveness. We have treatment resistant “superbugs”; infections that modern medicine cannot cure.
Being a parent, when I hear “antibiotics” and “sick child” in the same sentence my mind quickly goes to “good health” and “happy child.” If I’m completely honest, I would say healthy child equals less stressed and worried parent. Exactly what I said. Comfort. Yet, comfort isn’t something I totally want anymore and here is why:
When my daughter Kaley was two months old she developed a nasty cough. Her brother and I had also been sick for several days so I decided to get us all checked out. I opted for convenience and took her to a nearby clinic instead of her primary doctor an hour’s drive away. After the doctor examined our family, she diagnosed us with a respiratory infection and prescribed antibiotics. Being a young mom at the time I rejoiced that my children and I would feel better in no time. An (almost) instant fix. However, as the day progressed and the next day came, I knew something was not right with Kaley. I could hear her breathing from across the room and had one of those “mom” feelings.
Nervous, I quickly loaded her and my son into our car and drove the hour to her primary doctor. At the clinic, they quickly checked her vital signs and oxygen levels. When they placed the lighted red oxygen reader on her toes, the nurse’s face sank. I knew immediately it wasn’t good. The doctor quickly made his way into the room, placed his stethoscope to her chest and then told me to take her to the hospital where she was going to be admitted.
The rest of the day was quite a blur. After a few tests they diagnosed her with RSV, Respiratory Syncytial Virus, an infection of the respiratory track. A virus.
Due to her age the virus progressed quickly in my daughter. Antibiotics would have not cured this, but in my head I still thought that there would be a “cure all”. I had little knowledge of the differences between a viral and a bacterial infection. But I learned all about viruses and bacteria during her Kaley’s hospital stay. Her pediatrician had a lot of convincing to do. Kaley was given steroids to strengthen her lungs and lots of oxygen treatments. We had to trust her body fight the virus. After five days of monitoring and direction from her doctors, Kaley was finally able to come home. Looking back on this, I’m so very thankful I followed my mother’s intuition.
Even though the first doctor misdiagnosed her and likely her brother and I too, I forgive her. Mistakes happen and she is only human. I don’t remember the conversation that took place during that appointment, I may very well have asked for antibiotics. I recently saw a segment on the “Doctor OZ Show” which highlighted studies demonstrating that if you go into a clinic asking for antibiotics you are more likely to receive them. Conversely, if you request that antibiotics not be prescribed unless they are completely necessary, you are less likely to be get them.
I know antibiotics save lives. But our children don’t need them for every illness. Our bodies contain a powerful immune system that is constantly fighting germs and keeping us well. When antibiotics are taken when not needed, our immune system can be compromised. This can leave to other infections or diseases. I am not a doctor and I don’t have a PhD. I am just an average mother that knows far too well the dangers of antibiotic over use, especially on healthy gut bacteria. My family learned first-hand how antibiotics can have adverse effects when Kaley was diagnosed with a C. diff infection at age 4. Our two-month fight against Kaley’s CDI began with her taking an antibiotic for an ear infection.
Yes, having a sick child is hard. Yes, it is stressful. Yes, they are miserable and you are too. And worried. But, too much medicine can be as dangerous as too little. Viruses pass. Follow your gut. If your child isn’t getting better, their symptoms worsen or new ones appear, have them seen by a medical doctor.
If the doctor says it’s a virus, ask for ways to comfort to your child and relieve their symptoms. Ask what a reasonable time frame in which your child should be better. Be patient. Reassure yourself. Arm yourself with good information. I encourage you to start by learning about the dangers of antibiotic overuse. I also encourage you to learn the differences between bacterial and viral infections. As a society and as parents, we must be proactive when it comes to our community health and the health of our children.
Sara Ingram is a member of PLF’s Advocates Council. She lives in Wyoming with her husband and their two children.