Winter is Coming… and Colds Are Not Optional

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Each year, the United States alone suffers from 500 million cases of the common cold. While the cold can certainly be miserable, there is no cure other than waiting it out for a week or so. A pediatrician in the US turned to their SERMO peers to commiserate over a common predicament for doctors:

You would think that informing a worried mamma that her child has nothing more serious than a cold would bring a sigh of relief and a “thank you doctor.” But in my experience, it increasingly generates dissatisfaction and even anger based around:

1) Why did MY child get this cold! A sense of outrage. Colds should not happen in the 21st century. So inconvenient.

2) Upset that the doctor cannot instantly “cure” the cold or immediately relieve the symptoms.

 Other SERMO doctors chimed with advice and their own cold-season related woes:

“It’s not just kids, also adults. The phrases of “I have to go on vacation and i cannot be sick so you need to make this go away now”. It’s a virus. I wish I had magical powers to banish it away, but I don’t.” – General Practice

“Curious indeed. You go to a mechanic and tell him your car is making a funny noise. He looks it over and tells you that the noise will go away by itself (or with the application of some store-bought lubricant to the door hinges) and there’s nothing to worry about. He gets praised for being a sterling character who did not try to rip you off. A doctor who does the equivalent is condemned for being an incompetent time-waster who “did nothing..” – Emergency Medicine

 “I don’t know how many times a day I have to repeat that there is no cure for the common cold.” – Pediatrics

 “The issue is that people really do feel miserable when they are sick. If they have never been truly sick, to them this could be the worst they have ever felt. That is usually how I feel. I forget how I felt 2 years ago with a cold and this one feels so much worse.

“From our perspective, we have all seen lots of seriously ill people (need to be hospitalized, in the ICU, etc). So to us we know that this particular patient has a minor illness that will get better on its own. So to us it is no big deal.” – Ophthalmology

“I will sometimes say, “the good news is that it will get better on its own, and the bad news is that it will get better on its own” – trying to emphasize that Yay! You don’t need medication, but also recognizing that its a bummer that I don’t have anything that can make it get better faster.” – Pediatrics

 “So often the most valuable and most difficult thing a doctor can do is an expert Nothing.” – Psychiatry

So if you’re a patient, remember to wash your hand this winter and how dangerous it is to ask your doctor for antibiotics when you have a cold. Rest up, stay hydrated, and try to remain kind to your doctor (even when you’re feeling crummy)!

Are you a physician? Join SERMO to join the conversation with other doctors from around the world.

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