The other day while reading quietly, I looked over in amazement at a small white mountain that had somehow appeared on my table. “Where did that come from?” said some part of my feverish mind. I realized with astonishment that it was pile of tissues that gradually accumulated over the past hour or so. It was the result of my trying to clear my head and lung congestion from a recent bout of the flu.

When you feel so miserable, what is the wise thing to do? Going to the doctor may help if you catch things early. Antiviral therapy can shorten the course of flu. Oh, and I wasn’t supposed to catch the flu after my high dose flu shot. Seems like people just kept coming in bringing me samples of it though. My immune system apparently said, “Enough.”

I was about 10 days into this slowly developing thing when my staff and colleagues chased me home from the office warning me, “Don’t come back too soon. You’ll make us all sick!” So much for my efforts to help humanity that week.

The day before, I had been coughing worse than the patients I was seeing. Not a good sign. My staff helpfully canceled all my patients without telling me so when I showed up Wednesday morning, there was no one on my calendar and I had no excuse not to go home. I even proudly showed them the lunch bag I had brought containing only a bottle of salt water to gargle with. “Follow your own advice,” they said rolling their eyes as I hastened to the back door.

So here I was a few days later after lots of sleep, salt water gargles, neti pot treatments, vitamin C, chicken soup, and about six boxes of tissue, making mountains out of mucus. Something had to give. I called my family doctor who matter-of-factly told me I must have the flu and to get some rest.

Surely there must be something that will work? Certainly there must be a prescription or something? This misery has to end.

Then I remembered an online resource called Choosing Wisely, and looked up “flu.”

“If you have a sore throat, cough, or sinus pain, you might expect to take antibiotics. After all, you feel bad, and you want to get better fast. But antibiotics don’t help most respiratory infections, and they can even be harmful.

Antibiotics fight infections caused by bacteria. But most respiratory infections are caused by viruses. Antibiotics can’t cure a virus.”

Well shucks, I had chosen wisely, but still had to send my wife to the store for another case of tissues.

Choosing Wisely is a resource developed by the American Board of Internal Medicine that has a goal of reducing unnecessary tests, procedures, and treatments. It contains over 500 evidence-based recommendations by 70 medical specialty societies. Choosing Wisely partners with community organizations and Consumer Reports to put out a user-friendly version.

In this day and age of self-diagnosis by internet, iatrogenesis, and escalating medical costs, I strongly recommend you familiarize yourself with this important decision-making tool. See their websiteabimfoundation.org/what-we-do/choosing-wisely and download the app. You’ll be happier, healthier and wiser for it.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.

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