Believe me, I know how to put a kid in a headlock. When my oldest was 3, a positive rapid strep test sent me to the pharmacy to pick up amoxicillin. This was going to be easy, I thought. It tastes decent, the volume is small enough, and it’s only twice a day. My daughter was a precocious sort, easily engaged and reasoned with. But twice a day, for ten days, we would have a conversation that went something like this:
Me: It’s time for your medicine. We can do this the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is you take your medicine and then get a spoonful of ice cream. The hard way is we put you in a headlock and force it down.
Her: Hard way.
Me: Are you sure? You didn’t really like the hard way last time.
Her: I’m sure. Hard way.
So, twice a day for ten days, my husband and/or I would put my daughter in a headlock and force the syringe of pink bubble gum-flavored antibiotic into her mouth. We would hold and she would squirm and cry and scream, and somewhere after 2 cc’s or so she would yell – Stop! I’m ready for the easy way! And then she would calmly drink the rest and have a spoonful of ice cream. We did this 20 times.
Fast-forward 6 years. My son is 3 and now he has strep. But he’s … different. He doesn’t understand the easy/hard conversation the way his sister did. His tantrums are louder, and longer. He does not recover from them as easily, and they can ruin his entire day. My son is not officially on “the spectrum”; there’s no label to why is he how he is. We are still in the process of figuring out how his (different) (amazing) (beautiful) brain works. The journey is both frustrating and heartwarming, and there is so much unknown. But one thing is clear: the headlock isn’t working.
I text my pediatrician and ask if she will administer intramuscular bicillin. She agrees, but doesn’t have it in the office. I call around and find a compounding pharmacy 45 minutes away that has it in stock. She calls in the prescription, my husband drives out with all the kids to pick it up (I am in the hospital on service of course), and then drives back to the pediatrician, who gives my son the shot. He cries a little, and we’re done.
As a pediatric hospitalist, I spend a lot of time teaching residents about prescribing antibiotics. We talk about cultures and sensitivities, about side effect profiles. We talk about mg/kg, a lot. The residents all know that liquid clindamycin tastes gross and that augmentin ES causes less diarrhea than the original. But one thing many of them still don’t understand is why any parent in their right mind would subject their poor innocent child to an injection (a shot!) when the same medication can be given orally. What I try to teach them, to illustrate to them, is that sometimes it’s actually the kinder choice.
It’s not the right call for every kid every time. For my son, I am confident that we made the right choice, the kinder choice. But every child is different. I encourage my residents to think creatively about their patients, to use the biopsychosocial model to help guide their management decisions, to be flexible in their thought processes and to always, always show compassion.
The great thing about kids, though, is that they grow. My daughter who had strep when she was 3? Well, she’s 9 now, and she just had strep again along with her little brother. And she squirted her own amoxicillin into her mouth every time, no ice cream required.