At first it's just a cold. I cough in the morning, I blow my nose a bit, it's nothing much. Then I have a day where all I want to do is lie on the couch. I create a doona cocoon and close my eyes, hoping for metamorphosis -- I am sure I will emerge healthy and brimming with energy.
I do not.
My face starts to hurt, mostly on the left side, above and below and behind my eye socket. I put up with the ache for three days, then decide that a hot water bottle compress will surely fix the sinus blockage.
One night the pain is so bad I cry. We only have children's paracetamol in the house, so my husband kindly calculates the correct dosage while I mop up my tears with his jumper. I go to bed and wonder if sinusitis can be fatal.
The next day I buy some saline nose spray from the chemist. The drowning sensation I get as I shoot it into my nostrils reminds me of childhood swimming lessons, but I'm almost sure it will cure me in a matter of hours.
Two days later it is 30 degrees and yet I can't get warm. I put my hoodie on and tell the kids they're going to have to make their own dinner.
See, here's the problem: I know how naughty it is to take antibiotics. I have watched science shows about superbugs, read articles about Australia's high rate of inappropriate antibiotic use, listened to radio interviews about antimicrobial resistance in the community. I am aware that viruses cannot be cured with medication.
But my face really hurts and I feel shivery and hot and tired, so I make an appointment to see a GP. After I explain my symptoms I add, quite forcefully: "But I don't want to have antibiotics unless it's absolutely necessary!" He tells me that old-fashioned steaming may be just as effective as antibiotics in treating blocked sinuses. I am pleased to hear this. Then he says: "However, if you do not notice a marked improvement in 48 hours you should take the penicillin." Then he measures my temperature and adds: "Maybe 36 hours."
I leave the medical centre with a plan.
1. Spray steroids up my nose twice a day.
2. Sit with my face over a bowl of steaming water as much as possible.
3. Keep using the saline.
I steam my face for 15 minutes every hour or so. I enjoy having my head under a towel -- it's like being in a tiny dark sauna -- and am able to use my sixth sense to detect if the kids are up to no good while I am indisposed. ("Do not throw that ball near the telly!" "Eat that apple in the kitchen!" "Go and wipe that melted chocolate off your face!")
The next day I imagine that I am feeling much better. I am almost certain that the steam is clearing my sinus cavities nicely. I try to ignore the fact that I am still shivery and hot and tired and in pain.
I sit on the back steps in the sunshine for a while. The dog -- usually keen for a belly scratch -- is nowhere to be seen, so I whistle for her. She appears, but can't come over to me because she's busy rubbing the side of her head on the concrete path.
'What's wrong, Dog?" I say. "Come here."
She scratches her paw across her left eye over and over again, then looks up and winks at me.
"Not you too," I say, giving my own left eye a rub.
Eventually she gives up scratching and comes and lies near my feet. I pat the top of her head and lean down to examine the winky eye. It doesn't look good.
The next day the dog and I are both worse. She has scratched off all the fur around her eye, and I have steamed all of the moisture out of my head -- to no avail. Resisting antibiotics to help fight antibiotic resistance suddenly seems quite difficult. Also, my mum sends me a text: GET THE DRUGS.
So I give in. I get a box of Amoxycillin capsules for myself and some Terramycin spray for the dog. My GP doesn't strike me as someone who would hand out antibiotic prescriptions willy-nilly. Nevertheless, I feel like a failure. And I can't help thinking: would my steam/saline/steroids treatment have worked eventually? Would a good dunk in the ocean have fixed the dog?
I press one capsule out of its packaging and imagine a future in which antibiotics no longer have any effect on infections. I fill a glass with water and imagine my own children having antibiotic-resistant illnesses. And then I take the drugs.
Twenty-four hours later I am no longer fevery and my sinus pain is significantly reduced. "I am going to make the tea tonight!" I announce. The kids look at me suspiciously. "Not lie on the couch with a hot water bottle on your head?" they say. "No! I am feeling almost fine!"
The dog does not enjoy getting Terramycin sprayed into her eye. She hides under the ute and won't come out, even for a biscuit. But she, too, gets swiftly better.
Antibiotics are amazing -- countless lives have been saved since penicillin was discovered. I truly hope that we don't ruin this treatment for future generations. But sometimes getting better quickly takes priority and resistance is impossible.Suggest a correction