Wednesday, December 28, 2011
By Susan Esther Barnes
I spent a couple of weeks this month looking at a certain area of my body that was a little red, a little irritated, a little swollen, but no big deal. “It will probably go away on its own, right?” I thought.
I don’t like to go to the doctor for every little thing. I’m not the type of person who seeks medical advice for a cold or flu. Plus, I hate antibiotics. They mess up my digestive system. And this looked suspiciously like a candidate for antibiotics, not of the topical ointment variety.
Finally, my husband (have I mentioned lately how wonderful he is?) talked me into making an appointment with my HMO. I was gratified that the nurse practitioner was somewhat stumped. The two things I least want to hear from a medical professional in a case like this are, “This is nothing. Why are you wasting my time?” and “This is serious. You obviously should have come to see me immediately when this appeared.”
She said she would consult with a doctor more knowledgeable in this area, and she’d call me later. That afternoon, I received a call from another nurse, telling me I need to take anitbiotics, an anti-inflammatory pill, use a warm compress on the area twice a day, and make an appointment for a follow up visit with my regular doctor in one week.
When I went to pick up my medication, the cashier asked me whether I would like to speak with the pharmacist. I said, “Yes.” I highly recommend speaking with the pharmacist any time you’re about to take a medication that you haven’t taken before, or haven’t taken in a long time.
I had no reason to believe the pharmacist would tell me anything helpful in this case. I can read the instructions that come with prescriptions, and I’m the kind of person who really does read them, including the list of possible side effects. Nevertheless, I said, “Yes, I would like to speak with the pharmacist.”
The pharmacist told me how often to take the medicine, which was clearly marked on the bottles. She also pointed out that the anti-inflammatory medication is supposed to be taken with food, and the antibiotic is not supposed to be taken with food, so I can’t take them both at the same time.
I mentioned that it’s too bad I can’t take the antibiotic with food, because antibiotics always make me nauseous. She said, “Well, I recommend you take it with a cracker or a piece of toast. That won’t hurt anything, and will help to protect your stomach.”
I said, “Thank you, that will help. But antibiotics really mess up my whole digestive system,” and I listed a couple of side effects we don’t need to go into here. So she said, “Eat one yogurt a day. That will help replace the good bacteria that are being killed by the antibiotic. But don’t eat the yogurt, or anything else with calcium, within two hours of taking the antibiotic, or the calcium will prevent at least some of the antibiotic from being absorbed.”
I replied, “I usually take a calcium supplement with dinner. Should I stop taking that while I’m on the antibiotic?”
“No,” she said, “As long as you don’t take the calcium within two hours of the antibiotic, you’ll be fine.”
To sum up, if I hadn’t talked with the pharmacist, I would have seen the warning about not taking calcium with the antibiotic, but I would have worried about the calcium supplement, and may have needlessly stopped taking it for a while.
Furthermore, I would have had no idea that it would be okay to eat a cracker or two with the antibiotic to protect my stomach. And it’s likely it wouldn’t have occurred to me to eat the yogurt to help with the good bacteria, and even if I did, I may have skipped it due to worries about the calcium. Talking with her was well worth my time.
So far, after two doses each of both medications, my stomach and digestive system feel fine. I know it’s still early, and things could go downhill later, but so far so good. Which is a new experience for me with antibiotics.
I know we’re all in a hurry, and it seems like we have better things to do than waiting in a line for a consultation when we just want to get our medicine and go home, but I highly recommend making the time. You never know what you’ll learn.