Liam Farrell: Trust me, antibiotics are very necessary

The lay reader of this column might conclude that (a) GPs are cold-hearted cynical bastards and, (b) that I am unreasonably obsessed with antibiotics; that's lay people for you, it shows how much they know.

The eternal struggle to avoid prescribing antibiotics reminds me of the Greek anti-hero Sisyphus, who blasphemed against Zeus and was condemned to Tartarus, the Greek version of hell.

Sisyphus' particular punishment was to push a huge boulder to the top of a hill, which maybe doesn't sound too bad, but there was a catch; each time he reached the top, the boulder would slip and roll all the way down to the bottom, from where he'd have to start all over again.

Our ultimately futile efforts are made ever more poignant by the knowledge that whenever a new superbug hits the front page, we will be blamed for prescribing antibiotics too freely.

'She's all snuffly,' said Mrs Magee, who reckons that because antibiotics were invented around about the same time as television, they must be a good thing.

'I can see that,' I said, my observational skills as finely tuned as ever; little Kylie was positively moist, a cascade of dribbly mucus coming from her nose.

'I don't like antibiotics,' continued Kylie's mother in her traditional and well-validated opening gambit.

'I can see that too,' I said. 'It's at least three weeks since her last one.'

'But her big sister is getting married at the weekend.'


'And she's supposed to be ...' she hesitated.

'Let me take a wild stab,' I said, 'she's supposed to be the flower girl.'


'And the colour of the flower girl's dress?' I asked, though I already knew the answer.


'The material?' The horror was dawning.


There was a long silence as we shared the nightmare vision of white taffeta festooned with ribbons of green mucus.

'You've convinced me,' I said, 'we'll try an antibiotic, and don't forget to send me a copy of the wedding video.'

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at

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