Why The Pediatrician's Instructions Are Impossible To Follow

Originally Published: 

One of the hardest parts of parenting a small child is tending to them when they are ill or injured. And the hardest part of that is often administering the medications or the treatments they need. The directions you are given by medical professionals and the likelihood of those things happening are not always realistic.

When the pediatrician sends you to the pharmacy for antibiotics, the pharmacist drops a medicine spoon into the bag and gives you a pep talk. “This doesn’t taste too bad. You can put it in milk or juice if you like,” he says, “but make sure the child drinks it all if you choose to do that.”

What the bottle says: “Shake well. Administer one teaspoon three times a day for seven days.”

Reality: First you try the medicine spoon that friendly pharmacist provided. You carefully measure out the correct amount and cautiously sit the medicine spoon down at a slant so it will not spill. You sit your child up on your knee and explain that you have some lovely pink medicine for him. “It tastes like bubblegum!” you say. The child begins to squirm and whine and you try to coax his mouth open. After several minutes, things escalate and you find yourself trying to jam the plastic spoon in between clenched teeth. Who knew a preschooler’s jaw muscles could be that strong? By now he’s wiggled out of your lap; he is screaming, but you still have a grip. In the struggle, the medicine spills. You take a break so everyone can change clothes. You decide to try putting the antibiotics in juice. Your kid takes one swig and throws the cup. You try milk and he won’t even try a sip. You mix it up in his favorite pudding. He tries a bite and spits it all over you. It is time for another change of clothes. You call the pediatrician’s office for advice. The nurse acts like you are the only parent who has ever had this trouble. You get out the medicine spoon again. This time when you shake the bottle, the cap you forgot to tighten comes loose, and you get to change your shirt again. In the last clean shirt you have, you sneak up on the kid and grab him from behind. You force that spoon in his mouth and hold his tongue down with your finger. The kid is biting down on your finger and for the second time you wonder at the strength of your kid’s jaw. The medicine is swallowed and you release your hold. And then he throws up all over the floor. You call the pediatrician again to tell them you are going to need a second bottle because you are on day one and the bottle is almost empty.

When your youngster has swimmer’s ear and you bring home the drops that will help her, good luck.

What the bottle says: “Place 3 drops in affected ear(s) four times daily for seven days. Remain lying on side for five to ten minutes, allowing drops to remain in ear canal.”

Reality: You turn the television on to your child’s favorite show and sit beside her, gently rubbing her back. You explain that you need to put some magical drops into the ear that has been hurting so the pain will stop. When the child bolts, you chase her down and start over. You try to speak calmly above the screaming and flailing arms and legs. You squeeze drops out that never make it into the ear. You give up. That night when the child falls asleep, you squeeze the bottle in the dark room and hope some of the drops landed in the ear. You tiptoe out of the room with fingers crossed. Perhaps one time a day will do the trick.

When your child has pinkeye and the doctor prescribes the drops that will clear that right up, don’t plan on things going smoothly.

What the bottle says: “Instill one or two drops into the affected eye(s) every two to three hours for seven to ten days.”

Reality: You are smart enough to enlist the help of another adult before you even attempt this. You explain to your child that the nice doctor got you some wonderful drops for her pink eyes. You talk the child into lying on her back on the couch. As you gently place your fingers near the child’s eye and attempt to squeeze drops into the first eye, the flailing of arms and legs begins and the head begins to be tossed wildly from side to side. Your backup adult is there for you and can help with those flailing limbs, but the tossing head is going to be the toughest part. You start over. You get under the child and cradle that tossing head, but by this time the child is screaming and you are sweating. Your backup adult is laughing but still somewhat effective at keeping the arms and legs immobile. You give up the cooing and gentle touch and grip the thrashing head firmly. You pry open an eye and hit the target. The second eye cannot be forced open at all because your fingers are slick from all the tears, medicine, and your own sweat. You put three drops on top of the closed eye and go get everyone a bowl of ice cream. Your friend says they need to be going and you beg them to come back over in two to three hours because you know you won’t be able to do it all again alone.

When your child comes to you with a splinter in his foot. It is a very small splinter, and you are sure you can handle that without a trip to a doctor’s office, but don’t be so sure.

You gather your supplies: tape, tweezers, alcohol, antibiotic salve, a needle, and a colorful bandage. You sterilize the tweezers and the needle just in case, but you hope to lift the splinter with the tape.

Reality: You sit your child up on the kitchen counter and stand right in front of him. You stick the tape onto the tiny end of the splinter that protrudes from your precious child’s skin. The child screams as if you are torturing him. You lift the tape but the splinter stays firmly embedded. You reach for the tweezers. Your child stares at you with wide eyes and begins questioning you as if you had just picked up an ax and were going to remove his foot. Your child begins to wiggle and firmly covers the area you need access to with both his hands. You convince him to let you try with the tweezers, promising him it won’t hurt. You try gently to take hold of the tiny end of the splinter over and over while your child sits amazingly still and holding his breath. After many tries you tell your child you have one more thing you can try. You try to put yourself between the splinter and your child’s eyes, hiding the needle completely, but your child is squirming and beginning to cry. You are able to try one time to remove the splinter with the needle before the child begins screaming at the top of his lungs. He’s telling you over and over the splinter doesn’t even hurt anymore and he likes it now. He wants to keep it forever. You give up and put salve and the bandage over the splinter. You tell yourself the splinter will work its way out eventually. But as you watch your child limp away, you pick up the phone to call the doctor’s office.

As the mother of seven, I have seen my fair share of viruses, stings, splinters, stitches, sprains, and bruises. No one prepared me for just how hard it is to give a toddler medication or remove a splinter from the foot of a preschooler. Looking back, I can smile about all the spilled medication, the drops that did not hit the intended target, and the trips to the doctor’s office for butterfly tape or stitches. Perhaps the best advice a doctor or pharmacist could give a young parent is, “Hang on to your sense of humor.”

This article was originally published on