Can a Spoonful of Sugar Really Help the Medicine Go Down?

by Belinda Munoz on February 8, 2010

sugarThis past week was anything but fun.  Or sweet.  The constant but cacophonous coughing by the little guy and myself, likely passing infectious bacteria back and forth, did nothing to instill a playful mood in my generally happy household.

It all started one night during a trip to the urgent care doctor.  She was tall, dressed hip, looked about my age and had an air of competence.  She examined my little guy as he sat in the clinic; shirtless, small and scared.  She asked him how he’s feeling.  He answered in between coughing fits and rapid breathing.

After a few days of questions about what’s wrong with him and pondering the what-ifs regarding his health and my ineptness as a parent, we went home that night, relieved that he had a diagnosis.

“A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…” so Mary Poppins croons convincingly in the movie.  Except, my little guy wasn’t convinced.  As big as his crush is on Julie Andrews who plays Mary Poppins, he summoned every ounce of energy to thwart all attempts to get the gooey, bubblegummy, pink, syrupy medicine down his throat.

It didn’t help that the urgent care doc misdiagnosed him.

After a couple more days, a seasoned pediatrician, a triple-digit co-pay, a chest x-ray, several syringes and numerous bottles and packages of medication, homeopathic and otherwise, he started getting better.  Whew.


Was I angry about the false diagnosis?  Yes.  Sure, I make mistakes, too, just like urgent care doc.  But, my son was actually in a much worse condition than the initial diagnosis.  Losing two days of his life to fevers and false and unscientific assumptions was a bitter pill to swallow and didn’t make mommy happy.  Not that my happiness should factor in to any licensed physician’s diagnosis of any patient.

I could be missing an opportunity to right the wrong here.  I could track down urgent care doc and tell her about her false diagnosis, but I don’t really want to.  It was one mistake.  Easy enough to forgive.

One could argue that this would make me a bad parent.  For the sake of other parents’ children, I should say something.  But what could I say to her?  Should I, not having gone to medical school, tell her how to do her job?  And would confronting her be more of a release for me than an actual helpful move to prevent any future misdiagnosis?


There are many instances in life when, no matter how many spoonfuls of sugar there are, the medicine just won’t go down, so to speak.  I can think of a thousand scenarios that would apply.  Perhaps you can, too.  Some scenarios we face, or are shielded from, or are in denial of daily, yes, some of those apply.  For one, the curious lack of public health care, not just for children but for human beings of all ages, leaves boatloads of putrid medicine unswallowed.

I could let this fact consume me, as it sometimes does in my down days.

But I won’t.  Not this time anyway.  Because the way I see it, I’m just one person.

And in my own little world, sweet substance or not, the questions about motherhood, about life, never seem to go away.  The what-ifs, at least in my mind, are here to stay.  My ineptness in one area or another shifts but doesn’t really go away.

So, rather than sucking up the bitterness that no spoonfuls of saccharin can mask, I’d much rather drink in the fun, the joy, the love.  Because, as I surmised recently, life is good.  And, because if I’m not having any fun, I’m probably missing the honest-to-goodness sweetness of the big picture.


Do you discuss your health with people other than your own doctor or healer?  If so, do you take medicine when you need to or do you wait for the symptoms to pass?  Have you ever had to deal with a false diagnosis?  Do you trust your doctor or healer?

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February 8, 2010 at 2:08 pm

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David - Zen Choices February 8, 2010 at 5:51 am

I’ve certainly been in that situation, where you feel like you are in a fog, trying to make decisions about medicines and deal with the exhaustion and suffering in the moment. I love Mary Poppins and the Sound of Music and so did my son – but he’s now 8. I think one lesson is in positive thinking.

You have to find ways to “handle it” and it takes everything you have. It’s a choice though. And when you can make a few good choices when things seem to be at their worse, it’s good for you and it’s a good model for your kiddo. Opportunities are always in obstacles.


2 ayo February 8, 2010 at 6:02 am

hi belinda,
i trust my gp beause he knows better but i make sure i use my common sense and as much as possible list all the complaints i or my kids have. There was a review last week in london stating parents know more about their childrens illnesses than the doctors. whilst that review was subject to a debate with positives and’s my belief that symptoms may sometimes be misleading with regards to ailments but thats why they should know better.
i have been knocked down with a flu this weekend and my 5mth old daughter cried each time she burped. our nhs services were fantastic when we called and the remedies proved effective.
regarding blaming any professional, i have to be convinced there was negligence on their part.
take care


3 Fr. Michael February 8, 2010 at 9:00 am

“So, rather than sucking up the bitterness that no spoonfuls of saccharin can mask, I’d much rather drink in the fun, the joy, the love. Because, as I surmised recently, life is good. And, because if I’m not having any fun, I’m probably missing the honest-to-goodness sweetness of the big picture.” That’s a great attitude to have, Belinda! It’s good for us to hear. I think your sentiments are similar to the video I posted on my blog concerning Macey’s story.
Please know that I’ll pray for your little guy!


4 Patty - Why Not Start Now? February 8, 2010 at 9:53 am

Hi Belinda – I’m so glad your little guy, and you, are on the mend. I think your post strikes just the right chord; yes, you were frustrated, but no, you’re not going to hunt down the doctor who made the mistake. The thing is, we all talk about forgiving ourselves for the mistakes we make; seems like we have to do the same for others too. The doctor is human, like the rest of us. I’ve been there myself, had a few challenges with doctors and the like. But ultimately, I think we do have to trust, because without that we get bitter and start looking around every corner for people to fail us. That said, I also think we need to be good consumers of healthcare and educate ourselves as best as possible. Thanks for another terrific post!


5 Kristen @ Motherese February 8, 2010 at 10:29 am

Hi Belinda,

I’m sorry to hear that your son’s illness was complicated by a medical misdiagnosis. In general, I do put quite a bit of faith in the medical establishment, but, since being pregnant and breastfeeding and eschewing medication to the extent possible, I have been better about being an advocate for my own health: seeking out simple solutions (gargling, saline nasal spray, etc.) whenever possible and listening to my own body and its reactions to treatment. There is no worse feeling, though, than trying in vain to help your sick child. Your son is lucky to have a mother who was not easily satisfied by an incorrect solution offered by a professional. I think he is also lucky to have a mother who models understanding and forgiveness.


6 BK February 8, 2010 at 5:31 pm

I am grateful that I am having good health for more than 15 years now. The most recent medicine which I had were some Anti-biotic and painkiller for my wisdom tooth extraction. I took the Anti-biotic to help me to recover faster but I totally skipped the painkiller. As far as I am concern, I will try not to take in any medication and let my body heals itself. But of course in the process, I need to provide it with proper nutrients and rest.

Misdiagnosed? Not yet so far. In a same recent experience of my wisdom tooth extraction, the dentist who was supposed to remove the stitches did not do a good job and left stitches in my mouth. I have to go back not once but twice to remove the stitches. Those stitches won’t kill me but I was shocked. I did make an issue about it, not for myself but to get the dentists involved in my case to be more careful in the future and to prevent others from going through similar experience like mine.


7 Wilma Ham February 8, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Hi Belinda.
I love how you make use of choosing. Your choice was not to complain, you followed through with your choice and got on with life. That is great.
Too often we choose something halfheartedly and keep going backwards and forwards, without moving on.
There is a another great point that I am getting and Patty also mentions it.
Take responsibility and be aware of what is going on. All too often we give our own responsibility away to overworked and not well informed professionals. Knowing that doctors, teachers and everybody is NOT beyond mistakes, means we have to be alert and do our part.
In that way we will not be victims but partners with people who look after us.


8 Amit Sodha - The Power Of Choice February 9, 2010 at 5:51 am

Hey Belinda,

I’m of the similar mindset to BK when it comes to myself, I don’t take pain killers or anti biotics for small things. I only recently had some pain killers as I had a terrible tooth ache but aside from that it’s been years. I prefer to let my body heal naturally as much as is possible. When caring for others, especially your children you have to do what is best for them as the parent and so you in essence did do what’s best for your little one. In choosing not to let the urgent care doc about it, it’s just one of those things, you either do or don’t and there’s not right or wrong, you just have to go with your flow!


9 Mark February 9, 2010 at 9:25 am

You choice the right path to allow this to go without going back to the first doctor. Personally I do not like to go to doctors and I have to be pretty much dying before I will. Many are too quick to diagnose an illness and too quick to dispense medicine for many ailments which will cure themselves with a little bit of care. When is the last time a doctor told someone they were normal and didn’t need anything to fix them, find that doctor and you will probably find they are in a court room being sued by a healthy person. This is a crazy time to be a doctor and not a great time to be a patient.


10 Sara February 10, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Belinda — I’m pleased that you and your son are recovering:~) I never had something like that happen to one of my children, but I confess I would have been very upset about the misdiagnosis. At least you were smart and when your son did not get better, you took him to a different doctor. Good for you:~)

My dad was a doctor and didn’t believe in any alternative medicines. I don’t feel the same as he did. I will often step outside traditional medicine to treat “what ails me.” I try to do this in an educated way and check herbal medicines out as best I can. In my case, I’ve found that herbal and other non-traditional medical treatments can be very successful and sometimes even better than traditional medicine:~)


11 schmabes February 10, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Hey Belinda,

I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your story. I am so happy that the little one is doing better. My heart was leaping as I read this story. I too had a bout with the health care system recently. I was hospitalized with pneumonia but only after two other Doctors sent me home saying that all I had was a chest cold. It brings up a lot of doubt and fear within when something like that happens: should I have known; did I choose the wrong Dr.; am I eating the right or wrong things. The mind always second guesses and looks to place blame.

Once I recovered all I wanted to focus on was the joy in my life. The simple pleasures and connecting with friends. But also learning to listen to what I call spirit–that voice that tells you that something isn’t right or makes you question someone else’s opinion.

Again thank you.



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