Guest Post by Rachel Brummert, Executive Director and President of the Quinolone Vigilance Foundation (QVF)
No one wants to be in the hospital. Suddenly I found myself in one. The incessant beeping of a heart monitor, alarms going off when my breathing worsened, laying in sweat from fever, constant pain, being woken up for blood work and having my temperature taken. I knew it was the best place for me to be, but it was stressful nonetheless.
I just had major surgery, had a serious infection, and my organs were starting to fail. My doctors wanted to give me a fluoroquinolone antibiotic, like Cipro, Levaquin, or Avelox. However, I knew these drugs are dangerous. I have spent many years dealing with victims of this class of antibiotics, people who have suffered severe, disabling, permanent injuries, and even death, as a result of taking them. So I was aware that at some point, being prescribed one or more of these antibiotics was a real possibility, especially since I was in a life-threatening situation. Nevertheless, I still was not comfortable with the possibility. I made the doctor very aware of my concerns.
This class of antibiotics is meant for life-threatening infections. Fluoroquinolone antibiotics are broad spectrum, meaning that they can kill a wide variety of bacterial strains. These are the “Big Guns.” Most people would think that’s a good thing. After all, what harm can an antibiotic do? The bigger, the better, right?
Not only do they kill bad bacteria, they also kill good bacteria. The good bacteria are what battle against the bad ones. This opens the door to infections such as Clostridium difficile (C. diff), and Sepsis, both of which can be fatal.
Also, the antibiotics are dangerous in and of themselves. They cause horrific adverse reactions which disable and kill.
Doctors often rely on the pharmaceutical industry for information about the drugs they prescribe, and they can only spend so much time with a patient. They are often triple and quadruple booked for an appointment time, and more often than not they will write a prescription and don’t have the time to be educated about the risks. Writing a prescription for a strong broad spectrum antibiotic to “cover all bases” saves time. But they cost so much in terms of the damage they do and how they can kill.
At Quinolone Vigilance Foundation, we strive to educate patients and doctors alike. We hold conferences so that we can educate doctors and perhaps save some lives from being destroyed by these dangerous drugs. We educate patients so they can work with their doctor as a team and they can make an educated decision about their treatment. Sometimes it becomes necessary for a patient to be prescribed these antibiotics, but the patient should have a say in the decision and be able to explore other options.
Should you unfortunately find yourself in the hospital here are some tips:
- Always ask what antibiotic your doctor has ordered. If you are uncomfortable with it, speak up. Your doctor should be your teammate. Be polite and ask if there are other options.
- Always inform your nurses and doctors when your symptoms started, what they were, whether you had or have a fever, whether appetite was affected, and what over-the-counter and prescription medications you take. Be aware that the use of steroid medications in addition to fluoroquinolone antibiotics are even more danagerous.
- Ask for your infection to be cultured. Often, infections are viral, in which case, antibiotics would be useless. Only bacterial infections can be effectively treated by antibiotics.
- Ask for information about the antibiotic your doctor wants to prescribe. Is it strong? Can it be treated with something that is safer and less potent?
- If you are not comfortable with the treatments you are receiving, it’s okay to ask for another nurse or doctor.
- Inform your family of your wishes or include them in a Living Will. Sometimes patients are in a position of being so sick that they can’t speak for themselves and cannot ask the important questions about their treatment.