Yesterday, I had my regular monthly ultrasound. I am cynical of the medical establishment, but at the same time eternally grateful to and in awe of it. One of my sisters has Systemic Lupus Erythematosis (SLE). She was diagnosed in late childhood/early teens, and I have witnessed the godlike power of doctors for decades. My father was diagnosed with cancer three years ago, and his doctors saved his life.
When I talk about my cynicism, it’s not so much the doctors I’m cynical of. It’s the “system.” It reminds me of the national hatred for teachers that has sprung up in these hard economic times. The problem is not “teachers” or “teaching,” although there are bad teachers, of course. The problem is the Educational System. The only way to make money off of public education is to be a publisher. Publishers produce textbooks and mandated tests. Schools must buy them with government dollars. So, to get rich and stay rich, those publishing companies need to make sure that their lobbyists get assurances from politicians to emphasize those stupid fucking tests over everything else, and then hold TEACHERS accountable when students do not “perform.” The public rarely asks, “Well, wait a minute. Who wrote these tests? What’s on them? Who stands to gain from students even taking them in the first place?” No. All they hear on the news is that schools are “underperforming.”
But I didn’t mean to get off on one of my teacher rants. I’ll save that for another time. Or, I’ll just suppress my rage and get cancer. We shall see.
In the medical biz, it’s the insurance companies and pharmaceutical monoliths that get rich off of the peasantry. Because I am of “advanced maternal age,” my insurance covers the monthly ultrasounds my perinatologist has ordered to check my daughter’s growth. Baby V was growth restricted late in my pregnancy, and I had to go on modified bed rest. Because of that “history,” they are being extra cautious with this child. A trait of this doctor that led my OB’s nurse to refer to him as “Doctor Doom.”
So there is the fear of litigation, of course, which drives many medical decisions. What if THIS baby were growth restricted, and my doctor hadn’t taken proper precautions? What if I wanted to SUE?
I trust this doctor, though, and his expertise is greatly appreciated. He’s one of the “top guys,” as my dad would say, in fetal diagnostic medicine. Yesterday, in his posh office, where we had to suffer through Mark McGrath’s horrific karaoke show, a young woman (and I mean YOUNG, she couldn’t have been more than 20), came out of the office crying, sat in the waiting room and started texting furiously through her tears. I caught her eye and tried to give her an encouraging smile. I felt sort of like a coward for not offering her more comfort, or asking her if she was okay, but I’m not good at that stuff. Just this week, I was saying to my friend at work that a student came into my classroom and burst into tears, and my first thought was, “Oh, God, please don’t do this to me…” In my defense, it was my break and I’d been holding in my pee for an hour.
This doctor’s office is the place where pregnant ladies mostly get reassured, but sometimes get devastating news. A few days ago, I decided to read what Kelle Hampton had to say on National Down Syndrome Day, and was surprised to read her recollection of a dinner wherein she told her girlfriends (all 35 of them stunningly dressed, no doubt) that they had recently “ruled out” Down Syndrome. Oh, the irony, right? And then she talked briefly about her baby having no “extra fold” or something, so I assume she must have meant that she’d had the nuchal translucency test pregnant women get at 12 weeks. The doctor measures the thickness of the back of the baby’s neck, checks for the presence of the nasal bone, and measures the baby’s length. All of this information goes into a computer along with the mother’s age and weight, and then combined with some blood test results, the computer spits out a risk assessment number. Mine was 1:53, meaning a one in fifty-three chance of having a baby with Down Syndrome. I’m not sure what Kelle Hampton’s doctor told her, or what she heard, but this test does not “rule out” Down Syndrome for anyone. Only two tests do that: CVS and amniocentesis. Knowing what I know about the medical profession’s terror of litigation, I doubt anyone said to her that she could “rule out” DS.
I also once had a commenter tell me that HER doctor told her there was “no way” her child had DS because she had a number like 1:4000 and the baby looked “gorgeous” on the ultrasound. Well, that doctor should be smacked then, if s/he REALLY said that. Because the “one” in that 1:4000 number means there IS a chance. And like my doctor told me, for every 100 babies with Down Syndrome he sees on an ultrasound, he misses two, because sometimes they look completely typical. Even though he has given me a 98% chance that my baby does not have this abnormality, I do not go around telling people that it has been ruled out. Because it hasn’t. If you take 53 women my age who are pregnant and put us in a room, one of us is going to have a baby with Down Syndrome. It could be me.
I am not bashing KH, here. I am saying that if her doctor said that to her, then her doctor fucked up. But if she interpreted her doctor’s news that way, then she was not properly educated about what a “screening test” is.
I am happy to report that the ultrasound shows that my little Pringles is growing normally. That she has hair on her little head, weighs a little over a pound, and looks just like Baby V did. Odie’s genes win out again! Her heart is developing normally, as are her kidneys. All of this news is great relief, which is what these tests are meant for. And even as I feel relieved and grateful, I remember that two out of every hundred babies WITH Down Syndrome he sees look as healthy and typical as Pringles, and I try not to feel smug. And the ultrasound can’t see autism, or schizophrenia, or cerebral palsy, or drug/alcohol addiction, or any of the shit that keeps parents awake at night. No prenatal test can tell you what the future holds.
I’m sure Charlie Sheen was a perfectly healthy, delightful little baby.