Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
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Doctor? We Don't Need No Stinking Doctor... Do We?

This has been a somewhat contentious morning here at the Bielanko residence. We've all been sick for weeks. Henry was the first to fall. Although our man maintained his ever-present grin through a veil of snot, you could tell he wasn't feeling his best. Violet went next. Nose flowin' like Niagara, yo. "So many boogies, mommy. So many boogies." I was next to go.

The three of us were on the mend when Serge finally took to ailing. That was on Tuesday or Wednesday of last week. Same scene. Cold symptoms and now he's got a pretty severe cough. And that's what's causing all the contention. To see the doctor or not to see the doctor... Antibiotics or no? I posted a comment on my Facebook page that ignited some pretty interesting responses... Not the ones I'd have liked, but I figured I'd bring the conversation over here so I could vent and see what y'all think.

Here's the deal. Serge wants to go to the doctor and get antibiotics for his cough. I think it's wasted time and money. Now, this little outlook on doctors probably stems from our childhoods. He comes from a doctor loving people. Doctor knows best. Got a cold? Doctor'll fix it right up. That kind of thing. Me? Although my mom is a nurse, I tend to think a lot of Americans are pussies, running to the doctor with every little ailment, getting over-prescribed shit and taking shit for the wrong shit. Got a cold? If it's bad, medicate the symptoms as best you can and tough that shit out. Antibiotics? Waste. Best thing you get out of an antibiotic for a cold is a placebo effect. I ain't interested in paying a doctor for a placebo.

I've never been to the doctor for a cough in my life. A cough? Girl, please. Serge thinks this is ridiculous. Is certain antibiotics'll fix him up in a jiff! I say antibiotics can't help a seemingly "productive" cough that is the result of a cold. In fact, I'm suspicious of any doctor who will prescribe antibiotics for a cough. Want antiobiotics? I told Serge. Survive a gunshot wound and we'll get you some. But a cough? Say it with me: Girl, please.

As an attempt at mediation I went ahead and posted this question on Facebook:

Huge debate this morning chez Bielanko. Maybe you can help, internets. Do antiobiotics clear up coughs? Do doctors prescribe antibiotics for a cough verging on bronchitis or is a doctor visit a waste of money?

I was pretty disappointed with the results. Apparently I'm friends with a bunch of doctor loving, afraid of a couple days of hacking, antibiotic popping wussies. Kidding! Kind of. But listen. If antibiotics could help, I would be ALL about it. Believe you me (what the fuck does "believe you me" mean anyway?) I am no fan of the sounds emanating from him all day and ALL NIGHT AND ALL DAY AND ALL NIGHT... But it's a cough. It happens. No reason to pop antibiotics unless, you know, it lingers. But it hasn't even been a week.

So tell me... Am I being a hard ass? Are Serge and my supposed Facebook friends (traitors!) right? Where do you fall in the spectrum of colds and coughs and doctor visits and antibiotics?

Reader Comments (47)

Ok, I'm de-lurking to address this. Monica, I'm with you under most circumstances. For a regular cold, antibiotics would do nothing, because a cold is a virus, not a bacterial infection. In fact, rampant usage of antibiotics has a terrible effect on overall health, and is responsible for super germs like MRSA. Now, if Serge has a cough that isn't going away after maybe three weeks, and has some nasty colored snot along with it, it might be worth a trip to the doc. But I think you mentioned you don't have health insurance, so you bet your butt I wouldn't be spending big money to have someone check my cold. By the way, not sure if this is a factor in your experience, but my husband always thinks that his cold or illness is WAY worse than mine, even when we catch the exact same thing. Dude acts like he is DYING and I must not have it as bad as him cuz I'm still up taking care of shit like watching the kid or producing meals or whatnot.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkarly

I answered on FB, but I'll say it here as well: Bronchitis is not treated with antibiotics. It's a viral infection. Depending on the severity they may give you some steroids, cough syrup, and an inhaler.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjeneria

I'm with you. And my husband is like yours. We've been passing around colds here for two months now. My toddler has had some form of a runny nose non-stop since September. My daughter, who is 6 months old, is on her third cold. They're both in daycare (if you couldn't tell). I have had one or two colds so far and my husband now has one. He's very concerned that, "we are all always sick." He's a hypochondriac, so he worries about such things a lot.

I took both kids to the doctor a few weeks ago when they both seemed quite sick. Both had ear infections and a round of antibiotics. But now I think they've just got colds that they need to get over. It happens!

My pediatrician said it was a particulatly bad fall so far for illnesses.

And, have you ever seen this one? Now when my husband has a cold, he tells me it's a man cold.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMJ

I'm married to a doctor, so I get half and half. Half the time he says, "There's no point, they can't do anything." The other half it's, "Definitely go in."

It depends. If I'm unsure I call my dr's office and ask the nurse.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

My mom is also a nurse, and basically always says things are fine, no need to go to doctor, etc. I wonder if that's because nurses either 1) see super seriously sick folks or 2) (in the case of my mom, a school nurse for much of her career) whimpy kids (or parents) who just need to have some chicken soup. That said, better to let your man take care of himself as he sees fit - my hubby sometimes waits until it's too late and then is useless to all of us for a while.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteradina

I'm with you, Monica. A cough has to be extraordinarily awful to warrant a trip to the doctor.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeah

If I have a cold that turns with cough, it invariably turns into a sinus infection with a side of bronchitis. When I resisted going to the doctor (between old insurance and new kicking in) I hacked and coughed for 8 weeks. 2 months of hacking misery. I have learned that of I get this type of sickness, I have to go to the doctor. Period. My body cannot fight some things off. Did I have too many antibiotics as a kid? Maybe, but I have tried to resist and body simply can't do it.

After two weeks of misery, I just went and got my cough syrup, antibiotic, inhaler, tesla pill combo that I need and now I'm better. I think it's all about knowing your body.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Can I give Serge some info that may change his life? I had cold symptoms that turned into a lingering cough that WOULD NOT go away. I coughed for weeks, stubbornly maintaining I was getting better because my snot was clear, I had no temp, and there was no sign of infection. FINALLY broke down and went to the doctor. In 30 seconds he diagnosed me with seasonal allergies and post-nasal drip, gave me an Rx for steroid nasal spray, and within two days of using that magic stuff my cough was GONE. Had I known how easy it would be, I would have happily skipped suffering through six weeks of coughing and misery.
Basically any version of Flo-Nase will do the trick. That plus saline spray/neti pot and you're fixed.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteremily

Men are such pussies. It's a cold, yo. They're 10-day suckers no matter what you do -- 3 days coming, 3 days staying, 3 days going. I'm with you, Monica -- treat the symptoms as best you can, just to make yourself a little less miserable.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusie

The FEEL of the cough matters some, to me at least. If I hack and hack and hack and feel so exhausted after I can barely move, then it might be doctor time. Trying to figure out if the "production" of a "productive" cough is from below (walking pneumonia, anyone?) or above (post-nasal drip, annoying, irritating, but not pneumonia). If from below, call the doc. I ended up last year having to do TWO rounds of different antibiotics and it was the first time I'd been sick in years. Usually I can just over-the-counter palliate. I second whoever above talked about the "man cold" though. That is true shit.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlison

I hardly ever go to the DR. But when the coughing started making me puke and a fever came along I had to go as I couldn't miss much time from work.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLori

As a nurse, I agree with you Monica. He probably has a cold that progressed to bronchitis (or perhaps still is just a cold, who knows). Ride it out. If the cough persists for three or more weeks accompanied by a fever and/or green mucus, then you can think about a doctor.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney K.

De-lurking also to chime in with the no-need-for-antibiotics people. A cough is probably a virus, and antibiotics won't do shit for a virus. And, as Karly already noted: the over-use of antibiotics has disastrous effects for public health, what with the superbugs and all. If you want to go to a doctor and have him tell you to go back to bed, or even prescribe some placebos, great. I have no problem with that. But for the love of all that is holy: don't take antibiotics for things that won't be killed by antibiotics! In the name of humanity: thank you.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

I just succumbed last night and made a trip to urgent care for a cough that would not quit - after 10 days. Was diagnosed with bronchitis that could --or could not -- be helped with antibiotics. Because I have insurance, I opted for adding the pills, and some inhalation therapy (to be substituted with a hot shower before bed). I was also told to take over-the counter antihistimine once a day (claritin), and mucinex (expectorant). So there's that. After 10 days.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjls

Also! Fill a big bowl with very hot water. Sit down with your face over the water and put a towel over your head and the bowl. Breathe the steam underneath the towel. (Be careful, it might be too hot at first.) Do this as needed to help decongest. And drink hot water with lemon juice, honey, and some ginger in it. That helps too.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlison

Totally agree with Alison about the steam bath and hot lemon drink. I'd add that a couple of drops of eucalyptus oil in the steam bath really helps break up mucus. Just make sure to close your eyes while your head is under the towel! It stings if it gets in your eyes. When hubby or I are sick, we do this two or three times a day as we notice congestion building up. It's very soothing.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMers

Have him Google "Bronchitis and Antibiotics." It will back up what most people have said above. I also almost never go to the doctor, certainly not for a cold. Several years ago, though, I wound up with a horrible cough. I was coughing so much during the night that after several nights, my husband decided to sleep in the guest room. That very night, I had a horrible coughing fit. It sounded so awful that it woke up my husband and he came running in about 20 seconds after it started. I coughed uncontrollably for 10 minutes, during which time I couldn't say a word. Then it eased up, but I coughed for another 5 minutes, but less horribly. Robitussin was clearly doing nothing. I went to the doctor the next day. She prescribed a very, very strong cough syrup that allowed me to sleep. Being able to sleep, I think, is what allowed my body to heal. So, if it lingers for more than the usual run of a cold and/or causes such uncontrollable coughing that you either (a) suddenly require adult diapers or (b) are hallucinating all day due to lack of sleep...see a doctor.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristin

"I tend to think a lot of Americans are pussies, running to the doctor with every little ailment, getting over-prescribed shit and taking shit for the wrong shit. Got a cold? If it's bad, medicate the symptoms as best you can and tough that shit out. "

I have never agreed with a statement of yours more! (and I agree with A LOT) of your statements!
My husband is the same way and he also comes from doctor lovin' people. I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I've been to the doctor in the last 10 years. The best thing a doctor can probably do for him, as someone stated above, is prescribe a kick ass cough syrup with something that lets him sleep. But if you are paying out of pocket I say screw that! And tell him to stop contributing to the pussification of America!! ;)

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLolaK

Serge needs to man up. He'll be fine. He just needs to deal with the discomforts of a nasty cough and cold. Men in general, when it comes to health issues, are just big fat pussies who whine and whine when they don't feel good.
Plus they tend to want a lot of sympathy. I'm pretty sure that is why women carry a child for nine months and then give birth. Men couldn't do it.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDona

I'm British, so my health care is FREE.
I never go to the doctor for a cough.
I buy a simple linctus over the counter at the pharmacy (you call that a drugstore)

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersaz

If the cough produces yellow (or worse green) phlegm then go to the doctor. If it's clear, it'll clear up on its own. I used to get bronchitis ALL the time back when I was a smoker. That's how I guaged whether I needed antibiotics or not. Also, with bronchitis you have a fever and feel like doo doo.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanet

I am a nurse. Your mother is right. Go see a doctor if the cold/the cough doesn´t get better in a week, or if your temperature is above 102. Otherwise, hot tea, chicken soup, Vit C etc. will do. Antibiotics are useful only if the target is bacterial, not a virus, and if it is identified - a swab has been taken and the prescription is based on a microbiological lab report naming both the bacteria and the antibiotics they´re sensitive to. Uncritical use of antibiotics has done a lot of harm in the world (see this or that or that).

But what do we know. After all, women aren´t ever attacked by those horrible deadly male colds, are they?

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermidnightingale

Antibiotics are such a last resort in our family, sure they have a place... recently my hubby cut his finger really bad and it got infected... he had to be injected with antibiotics plus take tablets. It healed his wound but killed his immune system, so when our little cherub came home from school with the flue and he caught it.... boy was he sick. No immune system to fight it off, broke out in a severe viral rash. BUT he did need the drugs to fix the cut. Nice. Anyway, there's no way in hell i would take antibiotics for a cough/cold/flue. When i was little, the slightest sniff had my Mum taking me to the doctors for antibiotics. Crazy. Now I just tough it out :)

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBelinda

Antibiotics are for infections - colds are viral right? Waste of money and time. When he starts coughing up a lung - brochitis or pneumonia - yeah, I can see it.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKris

I agree with you, Monica. If the cough lingers, and he goes 10 days+ without getting better, then a trip to the doctor is in order. Colds and coughs SUCK, but if it hasn't turned into a difficult infection, I don't think antibiotics should be used.

Speaking of insurance... I worry about you guys. I HAVE insurance, and was recently in a bicycle accident in downtown SF and will probably end up paying $3,000 for a ambulance trip to the ER for 13 stitches in my face. My insurance is geared towards 'wellness' and apparently sucks when it comes to emergencies.

PS bike helmet saved my life, yo.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

My hubs will go to the doctor in a minute, I like to tough it out. So what if I'm sick for two weeks and you were well in one. I got better with a little help from Nyquil and Halls Cough Drops, you spent 10x as much as I did.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDawn

Less than week, no way. Who has that kind of time?

My hubs and I rarely see the doctor. We're too lazy to go in.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCharity

colds are viruses. antibiotics treat bacterial infections. end of discussion, imho.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterwindylou

I'm with you on this, I was raised on a farm in the midwest.
One time I'd stepped on a rusty nail and when I started to get red streaks going up my calf, was it serious enough for a doctor? Hell no !
It's just blood poisioning, get out GreatGrandma's poultice receipe and soak the foot in that.
Damn it worked and I'm still kickin' 50 years later.
One time they did take me to a country doctor, I had a bad appendicitis attack. The doctor poked me in the stomach and said does it hurt? I said yeah ! He told my parents to bring me back when it hurt without being poked ! WTF
I think we have all turned into Wussies these days !

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterUtah L

Honestly?... Our pediatrician plainly told us last winter that unless my kids were running a fever or stayed sick for more than a week or two, that taking them to the doctor was a major waste. Not only THAT but at my pediatricians office, the sick kids and well kids are all in the same waiting room. Who's to say that my kid only having a tiny cold won't catch something worse like the flu or massive blowout diarrhea (is that contagious?)....

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterApril

If he doesn't have a fever, tell him to get tough! And if he ends up with a fever and icky sputum...well, maybe then he should go to a doctor. But try to find one who will culture the stuff - the color is an indicator of bacterial infection but is no where near a 100% indicator...and a culture is the only way to tell if it bacterial or not FOR SURE. I am SO against taking antibiotics unless absolutely necessary - yeast infection, anyone??

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHanni

I usually agree with you, but you are being kind off a hard ass. My son has brought home every cold, sniffle, and cough home from daycare for the last 8wks. Or maybe it's because he can now crawl and has discovered that the bottoms of our shoes are delicious - whatever the reason he's made all three of us in the household sick. He toughed it out and got better, so did my husband, but my cough wouldn't go away. As I was getting tired of waking up all night from coughing spells, I went to the doctor. Turns out the cold I got from my son caused a double ear infection that then went into my throat and lungs. And my ears felt fine at the time. Until I started the antibiotics, at which point I'd be sitting on the couch, the pressure in my ears being released so loudly that my husband could hear it. So my advice? Go to the doctor.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSara

Honey and lemon with a glug of brandy is good for chesty coughs.
Is he smoking with this nasty cough?

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter(London) Amanda

I live in a wonderous place where all that shit is free, and I still wouldn't waste the trip for a cough after a cold unless it had been going on for awhile longer or had started to go really nasty. I'm all for not putting things I don't need in my body. I'm also all for leaving the antibiotics to fight off the big nasty stuff that can kill us instead of wasting them on life's little discomforts.

And I also understand that a cold is a virus and can't be helped at all by antibiotics, which I believe is the most important point of all!

I think what Sara up above me is describing is a great reason to go to the doctor - but the majority of people do not have these problems or symptoms or a need for antibiotics after a simple cold.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

I pretty much never go to the doctor for a cold. And I'm Canadian. It's totally free for me to go. And although we have never had coverage for prescriptions (although I do now, thank-you military) my doctor was super awesome in trying very hard to get us samples for free whenever possible. In other words it's not about the money. But I still almost never go for a COUGH. I've got a pretty nasty one right now, the 3rd one in a row. No plans on going. The only time I've ever been for a cold has been when I was coughing non-stop 'round the clock. Like literally, coughing so badly people were terrified of sitting next to me, and I was getting NO sleep (neither was my mother, whom I still lived with, she'd be up with me). In this circumstance you CANNOT get better. Your body needs sleep to heal. Even those few times though I usually didn't get any antibiotics, my kickass doctor prescribed codine to stop the cough and knock me out long enough to get a little sleep here and there. My body then (magically!) was able to heal, I got better.

November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterD

You are right. Colds can sometimes turn into respiratory tract infections and other things though, so see a doctor if he develops a fever.

November 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterevanderz

I loooooove me some doctor and medicines, but I personally need a fever/body aches in addition to the cough to hit up the MDs.

Here's the thing though - if you wait too long with a chest infection it can get really bad. I was lackadaisical about treating one last fall and ended up with pneumonia and scarring in my lungs. Not saying Serge is this bad, but chest stuff shouldn't be taken lightly.

One more point - if you've all had a virus, it makes you more susceptible to a bacterial infection so keep an eye out for worsening symptoms or fevers in anyone.

November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJaida

Another nurse here and I am Team Monica all the way! Antibiotics are over-prescribed and at this point, it sounds as if Serge's symptoms would NOT warrant a trip to the doctor and the ensuing antibiotics.

Honey (pure honey) works wonders for a cough...have him try it!

November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFanannie

team monica on this one ; o )

November 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterhilary

I have to agree with you, Monica. Unless there is an accompanying fever for more than three days - there is nothing to worry about and you have to let nature takes its course. Your Facebook friends must all be pansies!

November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnn from St. Peter Mn

My opinion: He's a grown-ass man. If he want's to go to the doctor, he gets to go to the doctor. Maybe it'll be effective, maybe it won't. Maybe the doctor will prescribe something, maybe they won't. Point is, you don't know any more than he does. Just because you got sick and toughed it out doesn't mean he has to shun doctors if he doesn't want to. By the way, this doesn't make me "Team Serge." I'm on "Team Adults Get to Make Adult Decisions for Their Own Adult Bodies Even If the Other Adults Around Them Think They're Being Big Babies."

November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterR

Here's a really interesting article about the use of antibiotics and the lifetime negative consequences of using them:

November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreenInOC

Same story at our house. The outcomes? Husband: Problem with prescription drugs, and I'm not talking about antibiotics. The wife (me): heart valve regurgitation because I wasn't diagnosed with strep throat. Shit story. Can't win.

November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey

Chiming in with my two cents:
I come from a family who hates going to the dr. and my dad's adive would always be "toughen up and it'll go away eventually". I followed his advice a couple of years ago when I had a nasty cold and waited around for about three weeks, and it wouldn't get better. Dad said it looked like influenza, to take some tea, alleviate the symptoms, etc. After almost a month, when I felt my throat closing up and lots of difficulty swallowing, I finally surrendered and went to the Doc. Turns out I had a monster tonsillitis, with one of the sides about to become an abscess. They had to inject some antibiotics and give me some pretty strong stuff, which cleared it right off. I'm all for self diagnosis and self medication, so be sure to confirm that, in fact, it is a virus (no antibiotics) or a bacterial infection (yes to antibiotics!) check for white spots in his throat or tonsils, and put your ear on his back when he coughs (near the lung area, about halfway down the back. If it sounds like clear air is coming in and out, don't worry, if it sounds mucusy, or like bubbly, get him to the doctor´s. Good luck!

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteranother monica

The worst is when it's about whether or not to take the kids to the doctor. I hate going because they ALWAYS give antibiotics regardless of the diagnosis and when I tell my husband I am not giving them to my three year old he gets super upset and throws back "are you going to take responsibility when it gets worse and she has to be hospitaized on the verge of death?" or some shit like that. Last time we took her the doctor said she was fine but prescribed antibiotics as a PRECAUTION against future infections! Drives me crazy. I guess the issue is that one per cent chance it's NOT just a cold, right? If Serge ends up being the one per cent that just happens to have something bad and it gets worse, treatment could gt much more expensive. BUT since all four of you got it and none of you have persistent fevers (I'm assuming), i'm sure it's a virus.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

I think you give it a few days, maybe a week or two, without anything but over the counter medicine.
If after that it hasn't improved or anything, then maybe go to the Doctors.

I had a cough that lasted for weeks. Typically, it went away as soon as I booked a Doctors appointment.
I'm with you, I think I have been to the Doctors twice in 5 years. Strong as an ox!

November 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterA

I have a fab doctor who I called a few years ago with a bad cough and only yellow phlegm. She said: Mucinex. Take it for four days and if it's not better call me again. Didn't need to call her back.

I had never taken Mucinex before, and now it is my magic cough-cold eradication elixir.

It comes in syrup or tabs, and many different symptom combinations. It still takes a lot of time for the cold/cough to go away, but when you cough, at least you are coughing up something.

Same doc refuses to prescribe antibiotics unless there has been a culture, as described above, to confirm the presence of a bacterial infection. She's good people.

November 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkajey

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