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Growing Up

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Outlander and Antibiotics

To follow: a sad commentary on the state of basic medicine as well as the state of my bedtime reading. Taking the latter problem first, I confess to purchasing (and devouring) the first four books of the Outlander series. I had steadfastly resisted picking up the books in the past, for mysterious reasons related to stubborn pride and lack of time, but Rob got me started on the TV series and from there my capitulation was complete.

I find the series to be diverting and non-anxiety producing. Author Diana Gabaldon makes me laugh, invites me to ponder the advances of the twenty-first century, and never creates nightmares (just the lurid fantasy or two). I'm astounded by the characters and predicaments that Gabaldon conjures. Currently, the main female character, Claire, attempts to reproduce penicillin in her rural frame house by using beef broth and stale bread as petri dishes for mold.

What Claire, a 21st-century doctor, knows about living in the boonies in 1770 is that antibiotics are magic. Without penicillin and its kin, infection can kill an individual after a minor injury or bacterial illness. Though I admire Claire's gumption in recreating Alexander Fleming's 1929 experiment, I'm truly thankful that antibiotics already exist in our time. We now have a new problem, which is the overuse of these magical meds.

When I was in my teens, I took an oral antibiotic for acne. This went on for years, and my family thought nothing of it. It worked, my dad was on a similar med for a similar reason, and scientists either didn't know about the dangers of evolving, drug-resistant bacteria, or they just weren't telling.  Fast forward three decades: I can't take antibiotics any longer without producing a head-to-toe yeast infection (including thrush, stomach, intestinal, etc.) which then requires strong and prolonged doses of anti-fungal meds.

I'm the teensiest bit irritated about this predicament, especially when I see Facebook videos on the amazing ability of bacteria to adapt and resist ever-stronger doses of antibiotics. But what really steams my pores is the continued use of antibiotics to fight acne. I went to the dermatologist on Monday with one of the kids, to ask what might be done to alleviate teenage acne. We explained the dietary changes made, the extremely careful cleansing and moisturizing rituals, the washing of pillowcases and special face cloths.  Upon conclusion of our litany, doctor said, "well, you're a candidate for oral antibiotics."  

WTF?  Thirty years later, that's all we have?  I explained that people aren't even supposed to eat chicken that was raised on antibiotics, let alone take it daily for years upon years, and the doctor shrugged. On the way home, as I ranted (calmly - I was in rush-hour traffic), my child noted, "why would they change? they're still making money on the same old stuff."  We've come so far, but - somewhere along the way - we threw common sense out with the moldy bread.

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