Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday

Heather du Plessis-Allan: Take to your bed and stay there

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I took myself off to the most expensive GP visit of my life. More than $300 later ($330, to be exact) I had strep throat and a bag of antibiotics. Photo / Getty Images
I took myself off to the most expensive GP visit of my life. More than $300 later ($330, to be exact) I had strep throat and a bag of antibiotics. Photo / Getty Images

It was the most expensive cold I've ever had. It might also prove to be the most auspicious.

It started in Washington as a bit of a sore throat, but who lets a sore throat get in the way? In a place like Washington there's always another monument to visit, another drink to have with long-distance friends, another late night.

By the time I got to New York, the sore throat had done what every sore throat does. It left me exposed to catching bronchitis. At least, that's what I thought.

I took myself off to the most expensive GP visit of my life. More than $300 later ($330, to be exact) I had strep throat and a bag of antibiotics.

That's when a friend from Moldova told me she'd only taken antibiotics three times in her life. Three times. I'd already taken them three times in the past year.

I couldn't count how many times I'd taken antibiotics in the past 30-odd years.

I began to fret over how many - or how few - prescriptions I could still take over my life. I worried I was only a handful of winters away from complete physical resistance to antibiotics.

So, I resolved this pill-popping has to stop. I will henceforth reserve antibiotics for life-and-death situations only. And possibly UTIs. Don't Google that if you don't know what it is.

But, how has Liliana from Moldova managed to survive three decades of winter colds on only three doses of antibiotics? Good question.

In a frustratingly matter-of-fact way, Liliana told me she leaves work as soon as she feels the start of a cold. She puts herself to bed and self-medicates on ginger, honey and various other natural helpers.

When was the last time you put yourself to bed because of a cold? In the past fortnight I've counted three colleagues slowly sneezing themselves to death but determined to stay in front of their computers.

My Story co-host Duncan Garner struggled through one week of a head cold only to lose his weekend to it. Another congested colleague planned to keep working until I told him about Liliana. He stayed home the next day and found out he had a chest infection. You're welcome, mate.

But, there's good reason my colleague didn't take his cold home. We only have five sick days a year. He just used up two of them, so here's hoping he doesn't get the flu later this winter. What's more, he is lucky he has been at his job for more than six months otherwise the law says he's not allowed to get sick days at all.

That's the very reason Liliana can put herself to bed as soon as her throat starts to tingle: Moldova has three weeks' sick leave annually. Liliana can rack up two flus and a couple of colds and still be in the black.

After using Moldova as an example of working utopia, I wish I could report that Moldovans have less resistance to antibiotics than we do, but the truth is they are in a far worse position than we are. Maybe that's why Liliana doesn't take antibiotics. Maybe it's too hard for her to get her hands on them.

Of course the Government should legislate for more sick days, but it won't. It's the same Government that six years ago tried to pass a law to make us justify even one day of sick leave with a doctor's certificate.

So, it's up to us. There's no honour in working yourself into bronchitis, infecting your colleagues, and all of us ending up immune to pills designed to save our lives. Let's look after each other. And ourselves.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday

Heather du Plessis-Allan is a thirty-something trying very hard to avoid growing up. So far it’s working, except for the husband, the mortgage and the proper job. She lives between Auckland and Wellington. When she’s not writing for the Herald on Sunday, she co-hosts TV3’s 7pm current affairs programme Story.

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