The Truth About Bacterial Infections and “Universal” Healthcare

DaGoddess @ 00:02

I’ve had this conversation with Pam via email regarding my bladder/kidney infection and I feel I should take a moment to explain myself to everyone. The reason? Because in the last six months, I’ve had very similar conversations with many others.

I do appreciate everyone trying to come to my aid with a “natural” cure to what might be a bacterial infection. However, there is no “natural” cure for bacterial infections. This is where my education in nursing, biology, and microbiology pays off. Please know that I value your friendship and the kind words you offer, but science trumps non-science.

And for those who will continue to say that “natural” options are harmless, I worked with many patients who were proof that this is not the case. ANYTHING YOU PUT IN YOUR BODY MAY CAUSE YOU HARM. The word “natural” means nothing. Neither does “over-the-counter” mean okay for everyone. Each of us has different needs and different metabolisms. And this is why you don’t take anyone else’s medications. They can harm you. Even if you have the same symptoms, your body chemistry is not the same as someone else’s. You may be taking medications that are contraindicated with the medications they’re taking. Combining them can lead to organ failure or death. This is why you don’t share meds. This is why you consult real doctors and not the lady in the vitamin or herb store.

I respect your right to do what you will with your body, but please do not presume that this is medically safe for me, for your children (don’t even get me started on what I saw children go through because you will weep openly and for many hours), or even for yourself. Your doctor is the only one who can tell you for certain.

This is what I wrote to her after she shared a story about her friend who was “miraculously cured” by an herbal remedy:

UTIs cannot be cured with herbs. Only the right antibiotic can kill the bacteria. However, if you have a spastic bladder, the irritation and urgency can be helped by certain herbal remedies for some people. But not everyone can or should take them. There is no control over the herbal and naturopathic industry like there is over the drug industry. Batches of herbal “medicines” from the same manufacturer can vary widely in the amounts of active and inactive ingredients. And not everyone has the ability to process those remedies properly anyway. Unless you’re under a doctor’s care (someone who can monitor your kidney and liver function), you should not use “herbal or natural potions”.

(Pam mentioned a friend in her email: “Until my friend had a UTI for weeks… she’d gone through three or four rounds of antibiotics… even had blood in her urine. The pain, as you know with a kidney infection, is intolerable.

Finally a woman at work told her to go to a local herb store and the person there gave her something… a week later she was fine. No lie. Shocked the hell out of me. Ever since then I’ve treated my UTIs with herbs.”)

My guess is that your friend was being treated with drugs that weren’t very effective or weren’t quickly effective. Over time, she could have developed a resistant strain of bacteria from using the wrong antibiotics for that particular bacteria. It can take a while for cultures to come back with an effective treatment for someone who has been treated with antibiotics during that same infection. Unless you have a urine specimen from someone who has NOT received any sort of treatment, you’re left playing a guessing game. One medication may provide false-susceptibility results during the culturing period. Or they can obscure other necessary information. By the time the doctors got around to treating her effectively, she’d started her herbal treatment, and she equated feeling better with the herbs she was taking. That’s not hard science. If fact, it’s no science at all. That’s luck of the draw.

How do cultures work? Your specimen is placed on a petri dish(es) and spread out. Disks of various antibiotics are placed in different sections of each dish. Whether or not there is growth around these disks, and how much growth, will tell someone in the lab which antibiotic is most effective. Some are slightly effective, but not entirely. Others aren’t effective at all. And then there are the medications that prevent growth completely. That’s the antibiotic you want! You could use one of the other not-quite-as-effective meds, but you run the risk of not clearing your infection completely.

I don’t mean to be coming across as a big naysayer, but this is simple science (and I was high dean’s academic list in nursing school for this leg of the course).

There is no way to rid yourself naturally of bacteria in your bladder or kidney or anywhere else in your body. Trying to do so can actually lead to sepsis (been there, done that, almost died). By the time they find the culprit for your infection, you could be dead.

Does that clear up the whole “how to treat a bacterial infection question”? I hope so. I can go into more detail if needed.

Now, regarding Jenn’s comment about universal healthcare on that same post, I hesitate to comment on this, but then again, having worked in healthcare as long as I did, I feel I’m obligated to help educate people who haven’t worked in the field.

Believe me when I say this: we do not want universal or socialized healthcare. I’ve worked with nurses from Europe and Canada and every single one of them would rather die a lingering death than to be subjected to the disaster that is universal and/or socialized medicine. Actually, many of them could face a lingering death if subjected to the healthcare systems in their native countries. Canada is better than Europe and that’s really not much of a consolation when you consider the shortcomings of both systems.

The closest we get to that right now: California’s Work Comp system. The very system that has screwed with me for over four years. The very system that has prolonged the suffering of thousands of injured workers.

The simple fact is that our healthcare system isn’t nearly as screwed up as Michael Moore or anyone else would have you believe. The only real problem we have with healthcare is our current system of HMOs and the incompentent people they hire to approve or deny your treatments. It becomes about profit and the people who are hired and trained to deny claims are often people who have only a high school education, if even that.

We could never maintain our current level of healthcare access if funds were meted out by the government to cover everyone. As it is, we don’t get adequate reimbursement from the government now and that’s based on many fewer people they currently cover. Children’s Hospital became “Rady’s” Children Hospital because they needed big time funding since California and the feds started cutting reimbursement rates in the mid 90s; we’ve never recovered. Once you take money out of that system, it’s horribly difficult to get the funding back.

We can’t run our hospitals effectively right now without bond measures every election being passed to provide the necessary funding to maintain facilities, staffing ratios, and stay technologically current.

True story: my very first chat buddy ever was a young man from Scotland. We met via a John Denver fan club on Yahoo back in the days when Yahoo had “clubs” instead of groups. He’d hurt his back getting a pizza out of his oven. I know! Hey, when it happens, it happens. Anyhow, Ian was seen by a doctor within a week. He was given pain medication, anti-inflammatories, and told to go rest. Xrays were being scheduled. He didn’t couldn’t get in any sooner than three months from the date of his injury. His MRI? It took almost two years before he could have that done. It took him six years to get the surgery he needed. Six years. And during that time, he was in pain. His story has been repeated to me over and over again by nurses who have worked in those systems and also by patients who’ve had to suffer under those systems.

Are there people who don’t mind the wait or who really don’t care because they’re healthy? Yes. And for the healthy among us, the system will work. But for those who are in need of more direct care more frequently, these systems of healthcare delivery can be horrifying.

Socialized medicine and universal healthcare CENTRALIZE treatment centers and resources. There are fewer resources available to a larger number of people.

Do we need to change our healthcare system to help more people? Yes, for those who are uninsured or underinsured. Is that really something we need the government to do? Not really. We need to hold insurance companies responsible, purely and simply. They are the ones who drive up prices and make insurance more unaffordable for many companies (especially small ones) and individuals.

The overhaul cannot come in the form of government sponsorship or takeover. We can’t get the proper funding now and it won’t get better any time soon. The insurance companies are the ones that need to be revamped and until that happens, there’ll always be a huge gap between what we need and what we actually get.

And that, my friends, is this (pretty much former) nurse’s opinion and experience.


  1. Medicare causes a lot of price distortions in the market for medical care. Some sort of free-market reform is needed. So-called “universal” health care is just an egalitarian’s wish-fulfillment for everyone to get the same crappy health care as the poorest person can afford. Actually, worse, since even poor people in the United States can get better and more immediate care than rich people in “universal” care countries. See that actress who died skiing in Canada… No pet scans for anybody… sayonara.

    Comment by rob sama — 2009/04/22 @ 06:00

  2. Amen, preach it, Sister! My usual response to stupid people who say “Oh but it’s natural!” is to say, “So is strychnine.”

    There certainly are things that have natural anti-bacterial properties. However, you won’t get enough of that element from an herbal preparation to deal with a full blown infection. Or even a half-blown infection. There’s a reason that people used to die of simple infections before antibiotics, and it’s because herbs and “traditional” medicine don’t work. (And don’t even get me started on the idiocy that is “homeopathy” — that was quackery in the 18th century.)

    Comment by Jan — 2009/04/22 @ 06:48

  3. Totally with you on the antibiotics and herbal remedies (I’m a Pharmacy Tech).

    I’m still not convinced on the health care. I have seen people receive some excellent health care on Medi-Cal. The answer is probably some combination of public/private. Yes, Worker’s Comp is a shambles.

    Comment by Jenn @ Juggling Life — 2009/04/22 @ 08:32

  4. Jenn, some people do receive great care. But that is due to the doctor. Certain insurance companies are also better than others. again the real change we need to make is in how the insurance companies are run and the quality of coverage. Medi-Cal is hit and miss. Yes, it does give those in need coverage, but it is not great by any means.

    Jan, so is anthrax.

    Rob, don’t even get me started. Oh, wait…too late.

    Comment by DaGoddess — 2009/04/22 @ 08:38

  5. Also, remember the old adage: you get what you pay for.

    In other words, if you pay nothing (it’s free! the government pays for it all!), you’re likely to get screwed.

    I should probably bring my friend Eric in on this. He can enlighten everyone better than I can.

    Comment by DaGoddess — 2009/04/22 @ 08:42

  6. In the category of every medicine is not for everyone… let me tell you about a call I got from my sister a couple of weeks ago.

    She is seldom sick and seldom takes any type of medication. Well, she got a cold. Of course during the worst of the cold she couldn’t sleep so she took some Nyquil. (over the counter… will make a new person out of you if you believe the ads!). She felt if she could just sleep she’d get better faster.

    A few days later she called me and said “My head is splitting, I never get headaches, do you think I have a sinus infection? Should I go to the doctor? Do I need antibiotics?”

    After much questioning by me, I told her. “Stop taking the Nyquil.” If you have ibuprofen take one or two of those (anti-inflammatory). It could be something in the Nyquil is causing rebound headaches. IF that doesn’t work after 2 days, THEN go to the doctor.

    I had determined from what she said that she had no real symptoms of an infection but it was always possible she had a sneaky one. However that was all it took.

    Two days later she felt 100% better. All because she stopped taking a medication that did not agree with her.

    Comment by Teresa — 2009/04/22 @ 15:37

  7. Teresa, I’d have sent her to the doctor regardless. Know why? Because if she were truly having an adverse reaction to Nyquil, she would have needed further intervention. As well, sometimes ibuprofen can make a bad situation worse. It thins blood, can cause intestinal ulcerations, and in extreme cases, Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. The likelihood of SJS occurring increases with the number of meds one takes and the worse one’s immune system is compromised.

    Comment by DaGoddess — 2009/04/22 @ 20:09

  8. Sorry, but I beg to differ. It is NOT insurance companies that are responsible for expensive care; it is tort law that allows doctors to be sued for more money than they could possibly earn in a lifetime for accidental death. Insurance companies have to pay these outrageous judgements. All made possible by tort law that CONGRESS refuses to fix. Instead congesss is using these judgements to force everyone under the control of governemt bureaucrats that cannot be fired.
    You may as well blame the doctors for the high costs as to blame the insurance companies. It is the tort law and your congress that are responsible for the high price of health care. If congress would address the galaxy sized settlements allowed by current tort law then everyones health care costs would drop like a lead pipe. But then congress would not own your health care and would not have the power of life and death over you that they crave. So rather than simply fix the tort law congress will take over health care and force you to play along.

    Comment by Steve In Tulsa — 2009/04/27 @ 10:45

  9. Ah, but who pushed for such laws?

    It’s the health insurance lobby that pushes legislation in favor of the the insurance industry. They get away with denying claims that should be paid, for charging outrageous sums for procedures but not reimbursing doctors and hospitals.

    I know, I worked in the healthcare field for more than 10 years. I’ve worked almost every aspect of it, too. From billing to providing direct patient care.

    Comment by DaGoddess — 2009/04/27 @ 10:54

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