Throw in the towel

Antibiotics have their place in medicine. When they are needed, they can save lives and prevent significant morbidity. However, if used incorrectly, they can cause unnecessary side effects and spread resistance.

When patients have the common cold, antibiotics will not help. I usually explain to the parents that they will get better on their own and medicine is not necessary.

Unfortunately, a few families are not satisfied with my answer. One mother brought her child to the hospital four days this week for the same complaints of runny nose, cough, fever and a sore throat. Each time after I completed a thorough exam, I told the mother, “It is just a cold. She will get better over the next 1-2 weeks.”

After I finished the fourth visit, the mother was still not satisfied and pleaded, “I just want some antibiotics. Please!”

I just smiled and said, “Sure……which one would you like?”


2 Responses to “Throw in the towel”

  1. Adrianus Setiawan Says:

    Dear Dr. Carpenter,

    I was one of the student at Duke-NUS who came to know you when you lectured in our class last year.

    I happened to came over your blog about patients who insist on getting antibiotics for common cold. Our school had a volunteering trip to Indonesia last year, and is planning to do it again in 2 months. We see paediatrics patients, and almost 80% of our patients’ parents insisted on getting antibiotics for common cold, lost of weight, or poor appetite.

    I am interested in your response your patient. How did the mother respond to your question? Is it an effective way to deal with unnecessary request of antibiotics? Any other way to deal with patient’s ‘obsession’ to antibiotics?

    Thank you. We wish you all the best in your volunteering work.

    Kind regards,


    • chriscarpentermd Says:

      Hi Adrianus,

      Thanks for commenting. When I asked the mother about which antibiotic she wanted, she had an answer. Azithromycin was her favorite.

      My approach on this occasion was not an effective way to deal with a request of antibiotics. The best approach is educating the patient and maintaining a firm stance on antibiotic use only when necessary.

      The reason I posted this entry was because I failed in my patient education and I wanted people like you to think about and learn from my mistake. On the fourth visit, I was simply trying to please a paying customer.

      Take care,


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