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Herbs and antibiotics: can’t we all get along?

May 4, 2010

*This post is sponsored by penicillin*

I wish this post was sponsored by my big jar of osha root tincture—our beloved mountain anti-viral—which the whole family pried out of the ground last fall when cold and flu season loomed heavily like gray clouds on an outdoor wedding.

But alas, by the time my right tonsil morphed into a gargantuan labyrinth of fire-red folds coated with what the doctor later called “schmutz,” I knew this was no goofy spring virus. (My tonsil was so inflamed, the doctor got really excited in that white-coatish way: “Let me have another look at that mushrooming monstrosity!” she actually said while lunging at me with her tongue depressor). Incidentally, complications from strep throat killed my father’s sister, five years before he was born and eight years before penicillin was readily available. Can you imagine? Of course not. To go there would be like creaking a dull knife into your chest cavity and tossing your heart to the nearest pack of hungry dogs. Needless to say, I’m grateful for the drugs.

And honestly, mothering Col—my 25-week preemie—has kicked me off my soapbox of Alternative Medicine Cures All. Our family will always smooth some golden arnica salve on a nasty bruise, or steam up the kitchen while brewing Col’s herbal lung syrup, and we will also stand at the pharmacy each winter and slip a doctor’s Rx across the germy counter with relief and sadness tangled like a braid in our hearts.

When Col was not quite two and a mess of barky coughs—his ribs superimposed on his baby chest with each wheezy breath—I hopped on my soapbox and told a doctor I’d rather not give him antibiotics, citing overuse, superbugs, and the annihilation of beneficial bacteria.

The doctor sat me down with her stare. In diplomatic doctor-speak she told me I didn’t get to be a pharmaceutical-skeptic, herb-loving hippie in regards to Col. Because of Col’s prematurity, and consequent lung weakness, viruses quickly turn to secondary lung infections requiring antibiotics.

And damn, she was absolutely right.

And Col, who got diagnosed with strep throat and put on antibiotics one day after me, really is the picture of health for a boy born three and a half months early. In fact, just this morning at Col’s annual eye exam (preemies are at high risk for all sorts of vision problems), I choked back grateful tears while the ophthalmologist declared his eyes “amazingly perfect.”

Meanwhile Rose, who would love to get her paws on some syrupy, pink antibiotics, has never been the recipient of an illegibly scrawled doctor’s script. This is Col’s fourth round with antibiotics this winter (though I choose to focus on these times) while miraculously, Rose hasn’t missed one day of play. The girl has not been sick this winter. And I know uttering that is akin to ribbing airport security about the bomb in your diaper bag; why ask for trouble? But the funny thing is, the girl pines for these bugs that routinely knock her brother down. When my parents call to check on poor sick Col, Rose inserts: “I will pwobly start coughing soon.” While I’m blinking back the not-so-grateful variety of tears in the ER, Rose snatches Col’s oxygen mask, suctioning it to her own face. She’d down a shot of children’s tylenol with breakfast if I let her and I could bribe her every day with a single, Ricola cough drop.

Despite feeling like a small, spiked object was lodged in my throat all weekend, I did enjoy ducking out of chicken chores and sundry parenting duties. When I saw Rose sneaking off to the bathroom with a contraband bowl, muttering about getting her Ducky some tea, I tried to stop her but decided to save my voice and let Dan deal with the fall out. Mostly I lay around requesting (with my nice words) miso soup and my hot water bottle refilled (which Rose called my hot air balloon). I also finished this book and totally loved it (locals – come borrow it!). And though I’m the last of humanity to do so, I watched March of the Penguins, which was breathtakingly beautiful and sad all at once. And now that the tonsil has deflated and the fever burned away, I am truly looking forward to getting back to the lovely, lucky monotony that is parenthood.

Thanks for all your well wishes.

26 Comments leave one →
  1. May 4, 2010 7:56 am

    We too try to stay away from traditional drugs, but when I had strep throat last year and thought I was going to die, I raised the white flag and I could not believe how amazingly well penicillin worked. It is a magic drug, for sure. So glad you are feeling better.
    Beautifully written post btw… as usual. :-)

  2. May 4, 2010 8:19 am

    So glad your penicillin and hot air balloon did the trick (and that Col’s eyes are amazingly perfect and Rosie’s immune system is, too). =>

    Hurry up, Spring, and get thee to Colorado!

  3. May 4, 2010 8:21 am

    Glad you are on the mend. Let’s hear it for modern medicine (in doses).

  4. May 4, 2010 8:30 am

    I do that dance with modern medicine and alternatives….sometimes I do it with grace and other times with a lot of reluctance and resentment. Although I have to admit that being faced with some health issues that require both has helped me become more tolerant of a lot of things. Less this is the right way, and that is the wrong way and more of choosing the most loving path for the moment. And it is interesting how that shifts.

    I’m glad that you are on the mend and back to tending your chickens and kiddos. be well!

  5. Ami permalink
    May 4, 2010 8:56 am

    You are a brave mama! Glad you are better! I love reading your words! :)

  6. May 4, 2010 10:16 am

    ummm…can i admit that instead of commenting on your illness and wishing you well, which clearly seems the appropriate response, i instead want to thank you for the absolutely delicious details in this peice.

    i just love your writing my friend!

    oh and…i’m glad you are feeling better and are getting back to tending chickens and kiddos and all that good stuff too! ;-)


  7. amy permalink
    May 4, 2010 4:00 pm

    Maybe its helps to keep in mind that most antibiotics are produced naturally by bacteria and fungi – their own naturally defenses against competing species. Fungi in the genus Penicillium and bacteria in the genus Streptomyces dominate the soil ecology and keep all the other microbes out of their turf by producing potent toxins that we have simply harnessed – different species within these genera produce different antibiotics, and new ones are discovered regularly by simply combing through the soil.

    Antibiotics are overused and abused for sure and bacteria can evolve resistance rapidly. But they do work when they work and if they ever have for you thank the microbes in your garden soil!

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      May 4, 2010 10:00 pm

      Thanks for breaking it down for us my biologist friend. So, do you mean to say that antibiotics are simply natural?

      > New comment on your post “Herbs and antibiotics: can’t we all > get along?” > Author : amy (IP: , > E-mail : > URL : > Whois :

      • amy permalink
        May 6, 2010 12:31 am

        The antibiotic compounds themselves, yes – 100% natural. As for the way they are extracted from the microbes, mass produced and packaged in to billions of doses, maybe thats up for interpretation.

  8. May 4, 2010 4:16 pm

    Glad you’re getting better.

    I know what you mean about the power of the plant. I am allergic to seven antibiotics because of my mom’s overuse on me as a wee babe. I couldn’t make it without my Naturopath’s basket of goodies during allergy season. But, mastitis and mono had me sucking down antibiotics last month. Almost to my shock, my breast milk didn’t turn into poison and I didn’t instantly combust.

    Pills have their place.

    Well wishes to you and your family.

  9. Melissa permalink
    May 4, 2010 5:09 pm

    even a big nasty bug can’t curb your amazing writing. glad you are on the up and up and thanks for speaking so beautifully about an issue that is big for a lot of parents . . .

    avi sounds like your rose. the kid is always telling me he “needs” tylenol and if i challenge him by asking “what hurts?” he’ll always come up with something. sigh. i keep telling him “medicine is not comida” (we have this weird spanglish thing–another story) but somehow it’s not sinking in.

    also glad your col had a good check up with the eye doctor. every time i try to imagine a 25 week baby i am just floored.

    i must say, at the end of the day, for me, a combination of eastern and western remedies works pretty well.

  10. abozza permalink
    May 4, 2010 6:58 pm

    So sorry to hear you haven’t been feeling well. Love the way you’ve described it all, but sorry to read about it. Rose is like my Julia…she just never gets sick. Made of steel, that one. Allergies get her, but sickness, never. Hope you all feel better!

  11. May 4, 2010 10:00 pm

    Oh that Rose. Makes her brother look like a super star doesn’t she! What a great little sis she is! My kiddos are obsessed with vitamins and homeopathic remedies, and Bella does the *cough cough* I’ve been couching a lot lately don’t you think mom? route. I just don’t get it. I used to despise any type of medicine as a kid. What’s up with these kids anywho? Glad to hear you’re feeling better. Get ready chicken poop!


  12. May 5, 2010 1:06 am

    Thank you for visiting my blog and for your kind comment on my Brain Child piece! I thought I’d pop over here and see what you’re up to and here I found that your son was a preemie too. Mine was a pound and a half 29 weeker, but also amazingly and remarkably healthy now (nearly 15!)

    About antibiotics, my son got an infection when he was in NICU and I learned a hard lesson right then: that sometimes the doctors know more than me. Of course, sometimes they know a lot less than me too :) like when we finally took him home despite their dire warnings. But right then I had to allow them to treat him and grow him so that I could eventually get him.

  13. May 5, 2010 5:13 am

    I’ve found parenting to be a constant tug-of-war between my ideals and reality (with reality, of course, always coming out on top…and my standards sinking lower and lower). And who would want to go back to the bad old day pre-antibiotics? Yikes. Responsible use would be nice, though. Glad you’re on the mend and The Passion of the Hausfrau is awesome! Come to Maine and see the one-woman play.

  14. May 5, 2010 10:13 am

    Glad to hear you’re feeling better.

    My kids would take as much medicine as you’d let them — my younger one will bang his toe and then say, in a little, querulous voice, “Motrin?” We used to joke that our older one would take anything in a syringe, until we realized that might not be such a good thing to joke about.

    I’m starting to feel the same way about vaccinations as well — after agonizing and agonizing when my first child was a baby about Big Pharma and autism links and mercury, I seem to have done a 180 — now I’m wondering why I was so worried about something that is essentially homeopathic medicine: a tiny, weakened version of the disease that will help the kids’ bodies form their own immune systems. We still prefer to get the kids shots one at a time, spaced out over several months, and we do prefer to use antibiotics only as necessary and finish the full doses, but I can’t tell you how happy I’ve been when that pharmacy delivery guy shows up with some penicillin for a toddler ear infection or strep throat that feels like broken glass when you swallow.

    By the way, in terms of things to read, a library copy of Half-Broke Horses is now on my nightstand, and Lit it on order. Can’t wait!

  15. May 5, 2010 10:56 am

    Modern medicine is quite literally the only reason I am alive.

  16. May 5, 2010 1:59 pm

    Great post. I find myself conflicted over Western medicine as well, and it’s good to read this and keep in mind as I decide what’s best for Luna in the future should she come down with anything. My biggest current dilemma is vaccines … to vaccinate or not to vaccinate? My intuition tells me no, at least for now, but I’m not sure about later on down the road when she’s older. I might get a few vaccines eventually that have no preservatives or weird ingredients.

    It’s tough, and, since I’ve always had luck with Easter medicine, I’m biased. I lean toward alternative medicine A LOT and trust it a lot more than what doctors are prescribing these days.

  17. May 5, 2010 2:04 pm

    Glad you are on the mend. I wonder if every herb-lovin’, med-bashin’mama has that same realization at soxme point. I think yes. I am really glad that there is an east and a west. For the sun, for the culture and for the meds. They need each other.


  18. May 5, 2010 3:21 pm

    o man rach, it was STREP!!! egads. well, happy you are feeling better. hope to see you and yours at spring sing. we are so excited. and of course, i am filled with melancholy because i’ve equated it with my first baby’s preschool graduation;<)

  19. May 5, 2010 8:58 pm

    I grew up with an aunt who refused to believe in Western medicine; she died at age 59 of something that could’ve easily been managed by Western medication. Sorry for being morose, but it taught me to rely on both Western and alternative medicines, as I think they could both complement each other.

    I enjoyed this piece – your story-telling is masterful. Beautiful.

  20. ike permalink
    May 5, 2010 9:23 pm

    Lovely writing Rachel. Col’s recent eye exam reminds me of his eye exam checking for retinopathy in the NICU and how I held him praying all the time for a good outcome. We are so lucky and I am so grateful


  21. May 6, 2010 5:43 am

    There’s a place for both kinds of medicines for sure. I hope you’re feeling better! I’m glad the family stepped up to help a hard-working mama in need of rest. hugs, Kyndale

  22. May 6, 2010 8:13 am

    totally digging the new banner and glad you are feeling better…. those drugs are good stuff as long as we save them for when we need them :) though I also live with a house full of kids who covet honey herb ricola drops….. they disappear when not a cough was heard…. empty wrappers tucked here and there…. the forbidden fruit they are :)

  23. May 6, 2010 6:23 pm

    a wise approach! one area of life in which it’s probably a good thing to have a foot on both sides of the argument!

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