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Antibiotics for a cold? Try a bit harder



‘I just want some antibiotics for my cold.’

Really? Did he really just say that?

The patient waits expectantly, with no look of irony on his face.

‘Sorry?’ I reply.

‘I’ve got a cold,’ he says, ‘So I just need some antibiotics.’

I’m not making this up. Blimey. Where has this bloke been for the last few years? Does he not watch TV, look at papers or read posters telling patients to sod off if they’re considering asking their GP for antibiotics for viruses?

I explore all of this and he maintains his poise of polite innocence. He has a cold and he truly believes he needs antibiotics.

‘You are aware, aren’t you,’ I ask, slowly, ‘That the Earth is not flat?’

He is. And he realises we’ve landed on the Moon, that all computers are hooked up to something called the Internet and that Maggie Thatcher is no longer prime minister, or, indeed, alive. I know, because I ask him.

But in terms of antibiotics, this is a man in serious need of education. Which, clearly, it’s my role to provide.

‘No GP on Earth – which we’ve established you understand is round – will give you antibiotics for a cold. Not even the crappiest, most profligate, most expedient, stressed out, burned out, clapped out, don’t-give-a-toss-because-I’m-retiring-soon, ‘next please’ doc would do that.

‘Oh,’ he says. ‘I didn’t realise that.’

I pause. Have I the energy to do the ‘Modification of help seeking behaviours’ bit? Yeah. Just about. ‘If you want antibiotics, you’ve got to up your game. You need to say you’ve got sinusitis. With terrible pain. Or a chest infection. With loads of green spit. Or something like that. See?’

There is a brief, slightly embarrassed pause. Then he says, slowly, more as a question than a statement, ‘OK, doctor, I think I’ve got sinusitis?’

I raise one eyebrow just a fraction. And he takes the cue, ‘Oh, yeah, with terrible pain.’

‘Excellent,’ I say, ‘You’re not allergic to anything, are you?’

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield