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I was talking to my daughter and she mentioned that the days of pouring antibiotics into kids at the first cough are over. Today’s parents have my sympathy.

Here’s how we did it back then…(Originally published in my column for Champaign Urbana News-Gazette, November, 1991)

Rx pediatric antibiotics


About halfway there, I noticed two things. The first was my son gasping for breath. The second was the smoke pouring from under the hood of my ancient Volvo wagon..


People often ask me if the things I write about really happened. The sad truth is these columns aren’t fiction: this is my life. Of course, everything doesn’t happen at once. Well, actually my kids are on antibiotics right now, but not the same ones.

They all used to take the same medicine for their ear infections. In the interests of efficiency, each child got a new infection ten days after finishing up their last prescription of Pink Stuff. (Feeding your children Pink Stuff, an antibiotic made from powdered platinum, is only slightly more expensive than mounting your own space program.)

My own kids, who think antibiotics are one of the basic food groups, have consumed enough Pink Stuff to send the children of several Pharmaceuticals-R-Us executives through Ivy League colleges. But I’m not complaining: I like diseases that can be cured by Pink Stuff. In fact, strep throat is my favorite illness — 24 hours of Pink Stuff, the B-52 of antibiotics, and the kids are back in school where they belong.

A few years ago, my husband had to make a business trip to another continent, but I wasn’t worried about handling things without him. Our house was on the market, the dog had developed a mysterious compulsion to perform unnatural acts involving the cow manure in the pasture behind our house, and all three kids were on Pink Stuff — in other words, things were pretty normal.

There is a clause in my wifehood contract which states that in such circumstances, I (the wife of the first part) shall be permitted to complain to him (the husband of the last possible part) that mothers never have conventions involving beaches on foreign coasts. Such complaints are not to exceed the number of times I draw breath, up to and including the moment said husband boards his plane.

I have added a rider which states that said husband must also say to me at least once, “I wish you could go to my conference being held at a resort in an exotic foreign country and I could stay here with the kids.” If he chokes on the words, he has to start over. My husband, however, is a professional. He managed to look sad as he said how much he would miss us, and (in a remarkable demonstration of iron-willed self-control) avoided sprinting up the ramp to his plane.

By the next morning , my two-year-old son had developed an all-body rash. Our pediatrician was baffled. Exhaustive allergy testing had earlier revealed the two-year-old was not allergic to anything except air, food, plants, animals, and of course his siblings. In hours, his joints were swollen to the size of softballs, and the rash had colonized his entire skin surface. His sisters were very impressed.

The pediatrician referred us to the allergist, who asked if I could bring him immediately. Since this only meant loading three sick kids and a dog into a non-air-conditioned car for a ninety-minute drive on mountain roads in 95-degree weather, I said we’d be right over. About halfway there, I noticed two things. The first was my son gasping for breath. The second was the smoke pouring from under the hood of my ancient Volvo wagon.

I did what anybody with my extensive knowledge of car maintenance and repair would have done: ignored the smoke and drove on.

By the time I made it into Roanoke, I had the freeway to myself. A few drivers assumed I just hadn’t noticed the smoke cheerily steaming from my engine. Bravely, they pulled up alongside, honking and pointing frantically at the hood. Nodding and smiling like the Queen of Valium, I waved them on—nothing to worry about, it always does this…

My son only had to spend one day in the hospital, which none of us minded because it was air-conditioned. Unfortunately, the car also survived and was repaired by the time he was ready to go home.

But the real tragedy was that the cause of all his trouble was Pink Stuff. Now when he gets an ear-infection on his ten-day cycle, we have to use inferior scud-antibiotics instead of sending in the carpet-bombing Pink Stuff.

The rest of my husband’s absence passed smoothly. (No, we don’t need to go into how I gave myself a concussion when I decided to repaint the kitchen cabinets. I recovered before he got back and didn’t even need any Pink Stuff.)