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Take a chill pill

On taking antibiotics

On taking antibiotics   | Photo Credit: Sreejith R. Kumar

When antibiotics become a bitter pill to swallow

Jimmiki kammal... has gone viral,” enthused my friend. “And my infection has gone bacterial,” I responded. “Do you know what that means?”

“You need to have antibiotics, I suppose,” she said, switching to a bored voice.

“Correct! Antibiotics yet again. For the third time, to be precise.” I sounded upbeat, as if I had won three prizes at the same lottery. “This time targeting an actual bacterial infection. It seems symptoms of viral infection could actually have been triggered by bacteria.” I gushed in admiration at the masquerading talents of the clever bacteria that had baffled doctors but my friend had stopped listening.

You can’t blame her. If you have an illness with a definite name and an element of exotica about it like dengue, swine flu, bird flu or even a fever without frills like plain flu or viral fever, people are concerned and give a sympathetic ear to your woes, but when it’s some vague infection that’s blighting your life and taking a long time over it, they aren’t impressed. They lose interest.

When a friend starts a conversation with the polite, “How are you?”, I respond automatically, “I’m fine,” and then remember that I’m not really fine. In fact, I haven’t been well for some time and I wish to come clean, tell the truth. As if I’m letting her in on a top secret, I say in a hushed tone, ‘Actually I have been sick. Cold, cough, slight fever, bad throat, hoarse voice...” I begin to sound like the riddle of the Sphinx — “I am not ill, but I’m unwell. I’m not confined to my bed but am not able to get about...’’ I warm up to my theme and end up talking to myself. Who wants to listen to an epic narrative describing hazy symptoms?

And when the status quo remains unchanged for several weeks, nobody cares any more. My enthusiasm at ingesting another course of antibiotics didn’t last long for this time I was prescribed an eight-hourly course. The twenty-four hourly course suited me perfectly, the twelve-hourly course didn’t throw life off gear, but the eight-hourly one turned out crazy.

Whoever came up with the eight-hourly course of antibiotics had a wicked sense of humour. How are you supposed to have the tablet at regular eight-hourly intervals especially when you are asked to take it with food? A decent lunch and dinner time meant an insanely early breakfast, a decent breakfast time meant a skewed lunch and dinner time.

After great planning and plotting that would have put war strategists to shame, I arrived at the most doable option — breakfast at 7 am, lunch at 3 pm and dinner at 11 pm.

“Dinner at eleven in the night?” Relatives doubling as health pundits shook their heads in disapproval. “Is it a midnight feast? Dinner must always be early, especially when you are ill. At least at eight.” Dinner at eight meant breakfast at 4 am! And lunch at 12 noon. “Whoever heard of breakfast so early? And who has lunch at 12? Settle for breakfast at six,” advised another bunch of health enthusiasts. “Then lunch is pretty decent, at 2 pm.”

These faddists also believed in the early dinner theory and when that couldn’t be reconciled with breakfast at six, they advised a change of antibiotics.

The way to antibiotic shenanigans is paved with good intentions. I set the alarm for six, leapt up to turn it off, overslept and downed my tablet with breakfast at eight. Hunger pangs made me disregard the proper time schedule. I had lunch at 2 pm and dinner at 9 pm. I decided to stick to this pattern.

Anyway, my doctor friend had told me that the support techniques — steam inhalation and saline gargle — are what really work in the long run.

I took heart from that and I took salt to heart, to my throat, my nose. My romance with salt began. I added salt to the water for steam inhalation, as I had been advised and took deep, noisy breaths like a bear having a nightmare. I gargled and gurgled thrice daily startling passers-by into believing some guttural language coaching was going on. I made nasal drops using warm water and salt and believe me, I felt better.

Who knows, like Jimmiki kammal... my infection could turn out to be viral after all, I consoled myself, in which case my irresponsible use of antibiotics wouldn’t matter and salt would do the trick.

A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academician and author of the Butterfingers series. The author can be contacted at khyrubutter@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 6:53:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/of-indefinite-illness-and-antibiotics/article19888765.ece

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