Viral Confessions of a Nurse Practitioner

January 11, 2015

I have been sick for 3 weeks. Yes, 3 very long, crummy weeks. The only positive is I bought myself a new pair of fleecy pajamas that have become my daily go-to and the Christmas slippers I thought wouldn’t get enough use are officially broken in and the best gift ever (thanks, Mom). I actually became that person standing in line at my grocery store pharmacy in pajamas and slippers, thinking, “it’s a good thing this doesn’t really look like pajamas and slippers!” It’s come to this folks. After going through the routine of zinc, antibiotics, breathing treatments, DayQuil, gagging on saline washes, NyQuil, more antibiotics (that didn’t work), and disgusting vicks vapor rub, my hypochondriac self has come to the conclusion that I either have the plague or a virus from hell. When I think logically and avoid Google searches, I probably do NOT indeed have the plague, so that leaves me suffering from my all-time arch-nemesis: the evil viral infection.

I have a confession to make.

As a nurse practitioner, I hate viruses as much as you do.

You know the kind of disdain towards viruses I’m talking about. That feeling that keeps you from going to your doctor’s office for days because “they’re just going to tell me I have a virus” and worse yet “there’s nothing they can do about it.” So instead, you stay at home miserably blowing your nose and praying for mercy. I know exactly what you’re feeling.

In fact, if we get really honest, I don’t like diagnosing viruses any more than you like having one. There is a small part of me that actually gets excited when I get a kid with a positive strep throat or an obvious ear infection, because I love snapping my fingers and fixing bacterial illness with antibiotics. I consider Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered the first antibiotic (penicillin) to be a hero. Antibiotics are essential in my toolkit to fix bacterial infections. When it comes down to it, I consider myself to be a type of engineer. I don’t build bridges and I can’t fix household broken items to save my life (thank you, husband!), but I do try my absolute hardest to fix little human bodies… But when it comes down to it, viral infections are far more common that bacterial infections, and at one point or another, we all unfortunately have to “wait out” our viral infection and do the best we can with supportive care.

However, not everyone takes to this news kindly. I have literally had parents storm out of my office shouting, “this was a complete waste of my time!” after I diagnosed their child with a common virus. So when your medical provider diagnoses your child or you with a virus, here’s what we would really like you to remember:

  1. We don’t like viruses any more than you do. Nobody does. I much prefer to magically fix things and make illness go away immediately, but it doesn’t usually work that way. For you trekkies out there, I’m still waiting to get my medical tricorder and scan health back into children, but it hasn’t happened yet.
  2. We have suffered through more viruses than you. Trust me, being in an environment caring for sick children all the time, it’s impossible not to be regularly sick. My medical comrades and I are sick ALL THE TIME. Which means…
  3. We do have empathy! We are not being calloused and heartless when we diagnose common viral infections and don’t immediately hand over antibiotics. We are trying to do what’s best for your child and you. Because we know that…
  4. Antibiotic resistance is becoming one of the world’s most pressing public health problems. The CDC reports that each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections. Can you imagine living in a world where we just have to “wait out” serious bacterial infections like we do with common viruses? I can’t. If we are not good stewards of antibiotics by only using them when necessary, this will become our reality. We can’t always give you antibiotics, but we can give you…
  5. Vaccines! If people wanted vaccines as much as they wanted antibiotics, it would make my heart really happy. Instead of your child getting a serious disease, how about skipping it all together? That’s the glory of vaccines. My vaccinated patients won’t have to “wait out” serious, sometimes deadly viral diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, rotavirus, polio, hepatitis A and B, influenza, varicella, and HPV. We even have vaccines with the capability of preventing serious, often deadly bacterial infections like pertussis, pneumococcal infections, Haemophilus Influenzae Type b infections, and bacterial meningitis.  In a monopolized world, that’s like moving directly to go and collecting $200. Make sure your children are up to date on their vaccines.
  6. One last note, we really don’t expect you to be able to tell the difference between a viral infection and a bacterial infection. That’s what we are here for! Your medical provider went through years of training to have that knowledge. If you or your child is sick, it’s always better to go see your medical provider. Knowledge is power and we are truly here to help.

So that’s the viral truth. If you need me, I’ll be in my pajamas and slippers waiting for this yucky virus to go away.

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