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About a month ago on a Wednesday evening, I noticed that my throat was sore.
Uh-oh, I thought. I really don’t have time to get sick right now. (When’s a better time? Oh, let’s schedule it in for, say, 2086 or so? Ahem.)
My colds always start out the same way: one day I start sneezing more than usual, the next day my throat is sore, and the next day I’m down for the count with a head full of snot and misery (Sidenote: It’s really nice to have that 24-48-hour “warning” to hit hard with natural remedies. I only became conscious of this pattern in the last few years as I’ve taken more of an active interest in my own health).
This time around, however, the sore throat came first, and I wasn’t really paying attention to the interruption in my usual pattern.
The next morning, my throat felt like I’d been swallowing knives all night long. I dragged my shell-shocked body out of bed to the mirror and shone a flashlight to confirm my fears: white spots on my hangy-ball thingie (also known as a uvula). I’ve been around this block a few times: I was pretty certain it was a throat infection.
First problem: throat infection
Now, I didn’t know if it was strep throat, or just a run-of-the-mill bacterial infection (a doctor’s visit and throat swab is needed to determine the exact strain of bacteria), but I decided to go ahead and try my usual remedy for a throat infection. I wrote a post about it here: The Ultimate Strep Throat Remedy (If You’re Brave Enough).
It uses cayenne pepper, which has been shown to have anti-bacterial properties. This study, published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, found direct evidence showing various types of chili peppers to have anti-microbial effects on various kinds of bacteria, including Streptococcus pyogenes (the bacteria that causes strep throat). The anti-microbial effects of cayenne are also discussed in a study published in the medical journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease in April 2010.
Image credit: John Winkelman via Flickr CC
In that post, I mention that I actually cured strep throat in myself that had been diagnosed by a doctor via a throat swab sent to the lab. I hit that infection hard that time, by gargling/spitting my cayenne concoction every 15 – 20 minutes for several hours straight before bed, then again the next day even though I was starting to feel better.
This time around, however, I wasn’t quite as disciplined. I gargled two or three times over the course of about 12 hours, and my sore throat slowly subsided. I slowly improved, and when my throat stopped feeling like knives, I basically just allowed the improvement to run its course as I resumed my daily activities.
My throat did feel completely better after a few days. I was tired still, but I chalked that up to my body recovering from fighting off the illness, as well as normal parents-of-small-children exhaustion. The glands in my neck were sort of tender, which is normal when the body is fighting off viruses or bacteria (the lymph nodes’ main function).
Everything I googled told me that tenderness was normal during and immediately following an illness, and that it would gradually subside.
Except that mine did not.
Second problem: a weird lump in my neck
About a week later, while sitting at my desk one afternoon, I found a strange, hard lump in my neck, about halfway between my jaw and my collarbone, on the left side. It felt a little tender, and I thought it was a little odd.
By the time the kids were in bed later that evening, I told Chris that it definitely felt painful. It was beyond just tender, and it was hurting a lot. I also found a second lump, about an inch away, lower down. More googling and researching. Much of what I read suggested again that swollen lymph nodes after an illness are normal, and will go away on their own. My intuition was blaring at me, however, that this was something different – this was beyond “tender and swollen”.
(At this point I began to suspect an infection in my lymph nodes, but I had no prior experience with it at all so I wasn’t sure.)
I went to bed in the half-hearted hopes that it was simply a lingering effect of the hard-working lymph nodes from the last few weeks and would be back to normal by morning.
When my brain stirred into consciousness the next morning, before I had even opened my eyes, I winced in pain. My neck was nearly immobile from the pain, and the lumps were large, hot, and extremely painful. There were also angry red streaks on that part of my neck.
I called the doctor’s office the minute they opened and asked if I could get in today. They said they were fully booked and could get me in tomorrow. I said I wasn’t sure if I should go to the walk-in clinic or if I should wait to see the doctor tomorrow. She asked what the issue was. I told her, and her response was simply:
“Can you make it here for 11am?”
I was feeling pretty yucky, but not horrible, so I drove myself to the doctor’s office while hubs stayed home with the kids. I was a little nervous about going by myself, but I figured it was fine – my neck was stiff and sore, but I could still move it enough to drive safely and I wasn’t running a fever (yet).
I made it to the office, they took me in right away, the doc took one look at me and asked a few questions – and before I could even blink I had a prescription in hand for an antibiotic. He said that the throat infection from a week or two prior had likely not healed completely, and had traveled down my neck to settle in my lymph nodes as a secondary infection.
Image credit: Kev_Shine via Flickr CC
When I called Chris to tell him the verdict, he and I decided together that I would fill the prescription and decide when I got home if I would take it. Not gonna lie: I was relieved and feeling emotional because the terrible worry of cancer had been heavy on my mind since finding that first lump. (I knew chances were slim, but the fear was there nonetheless.)
I drove myself home and stopped at the pharmacy on the way. I was feeling worse and worse as the minutes ticked by, and by the time my prescription was ready I knew I had to get myself home as quickly as possible before it progressed any more, or I wouldn’t be able to drive at all. I could actually feel the infection spreading – every hour or so I’d notice that the burning pain had crept even further down into my neck, around my collarbone area, and further up the back of my neck and into the base of the back of my head, resulting in a terrible blinding headache as well.
Surrendering to antibiotics
I was barely coherent by this point, and decided that the time had come to give in to the antibiotics. I don’t know if there is any real basis to this fear, but hubby was insistent that he was very uncomfortable with the idea of an infection so close to my head, and urged me to take the antibiotic.
I felt way too awful to even think about protesting, took my first dose, then ran a hot bath to sit and rest. I tried to keep my mind off the pain by watching a TV show online, but it was challenging. I got out of the bath and laid down in my bed, and tried to sleep. I laid there for an hour with hot tears stinging the corners of my eyes – it was so painful that I couldn’t fall asleep at all.
My fever began to rise at this point as well, and was above 102. My head and neck felt like they were on fire, so I asked Chris to bring me a tylenol to take the edge off the pain. I tried to lift my head to sip water from a straw, but the pain made me weep.
I got the tylenol into my system, along with a second dose of the antibiotic, and by that evening I had turned the corner. I saw rapid improvements in the next 24 hours, and the neck pain had completely subsided by day 5 or 6. I finished the 10-day round of antibiotics, and am back to 100% health now (and on a daily dose of a high-quality probiotic to help restore my damaged gut bacteria!).
A few surprising regrets
I don’t regret taking the antibiotic. I think it was time. Perhaps this could have been healed with natural remedies – I do believe that there are some powerful solutions in nature that can be just as effective as pharmaceutical antibiotics – but for me, in this case, I chose to take the drugs. I followed my intuition and I don’t regret it at all. I am doing a few specific things to be mindful of restoring my gut health now that the antibiotic is finished.
What I do regret, however, is not taking the first infection seriously enough. While secondary infections can occur even in those taking pharmaceutical antibiotics, my intuition tells me that part of the reason in my case was that I did not do enough to hit the first infection hard with a variety of natural remedies. I gargled to get rid of the bacteria in that small, localized area to relieve the intense pain, but I left it at that. That was definitely a mistake on my part.
I made a few other significant mistakes with this case, and there are now some specific points that I feel quite strongly about when it comes to treating a bacterial infection with natural remedies, so I will be posting a follow-up to this post shortly, called Using Natural Remedies to Beat Bacterial Infections: 5 Important Things You Should Know.
This post will include a list of natural remedies that have been used to treat infections of various kinds, and will include links to other sources of information and experience. I will also delve a little deeper to what I would have done differently this time around.
(I expect to have it posted by Monday at the very latest, and I’ll update this post with a link when it’s live.)
Have you ever used natural remedies to treat a bacterial infection? Was it successful?
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*Disclaimer: Please remember I am not a doctor, and this post should not be taken as medical advice. Please do the research on these issues and decide for yourself what is best for you and your family. I assume no responsibility for your own usage of the remedies I’ve discussed.