Monthly Archives: April 2012

I’m done! I’mdoneI’mdoneI’mdoneI’mdone!!

Yesterday I completed my last day as a medical student at a rotation site. That was the last time I will ever have to introduce myself as a medical student to a patient! My last day in a short white coat!

It was a great day. I was shadowing an ob/gyn at a community health center. I really, really love women’s health in an outpatient setting. We had obstetrical visits, gyn consults for cervical dysplasia, an endometrial biopsy, an infertility consult, a follow up for results of imaging for pelvic pain…there is such a great variety. 

I am going to really miss it during my next year doing a traditional rotating internship in a hospital. I am sure I will learn a lot, which should make me feel more comfortable with handling the multitude of general medical issues that can crop up in women’s health and eventually make me a better, more well rounded physician.

Anyway, WOOHOOOOOO! I’m done!

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My post on reporting abuse on KevinMD

My recent post on mandatory reporting of intimate partner abuse being possibly more of an emotional response for the caregiver rather than good care for the victim has been republished at KevinMD:

Should every case of domestic abuse be reported?

Go check it out. There are some great comments there, as there were here.

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Heavy music

Despite my hippy crunch tendencies and tie-dye banner, believe it or not, I don’t listen to a lot of classic rock anymore. I got supersaturated with it in my youth, and have heard just about every classic rock song enough times already to last me forever. But, today I had reasons to want to listen to two moldy oldy favorites of mine, both about carrying a heavy load.

Levon Helm of The Band died. My favorite song of theirs is “The Weight”:

And, Molly at First the Egg published her birth playlist, which contains a lot of songs I like. It includes another of my favorite older songs, a version of George Harrison’s “Give Me Love”:

It’s been a hard month. Hell, it’s been a hard couple of years. These songs are great because I love them, and I guess I kind of need them right now.

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Mommy wars, revisited

I am sure you have heard or read about the recent kerfuffle over a comment made by a Democratic party lobbyist and strategist Hilary Rosen on Anderson Cooper. She opined, very validly, in my opinion, that Ann Romney may not be the best person for Mitt Romney to be consulting about the plight of the typical American woman. This is covered well here. Hilary Rosen was, I think, obviously referring to Ann Romney being way too privileged to understand what economic issues most American women care about. But, when she said Ann Romney has “never worked a day in her life”, that got seized as being anti-stay at home mom. My Facebook got cluttered with many people who already ideologically agree with the Romneys using this as a relished opportunity to say “Look! Something right about Romney and women!! Something about Democrats hating moms!!”

I do think Hilary Rosen did need to apologize and clarify what she meant. She did provide context to her statement immediately, when she said “She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school and how do we — why do we worry about their future?” She could have been more precise, and said she has never worked at a paying job outside the home. This can be a very sensitive topic. However, she was pretty clear with her follow up explanation. And, she does not work for Obama, and does not represent the Democratic party. She is one working mother who was discussing a very sensitive topic with some imprecise language that was hardly the worst I have ever heard.

I think all motherhood is work. The Romneys had to claim five housekeepers on their 2010 tax return. I think some moms work harder than others. I respect mothers who stay at home. I was happy to get to work from home with my second son, and wish I had more time at home with my first. I was lucky to get to take him with me to work. I happen to find work outside the home very fulfilling, and those two scenarios may have been the best of all possible worlds for me. Financially, my family could not have afforded my taking any more unpaid leave than than the six weeks I took after my older son, and the four weeks I took after my second son. Both of my maternity leaves were completely unpaid.

I also think Mitt Romney should explain why women with two year old children need to know the “dignity” of going to work, but only if they are below a certain income.

Anyway, as this is being discussed in many, many arenas, I think it is a good time to post a link to my New Improved Mommy Wars Bingo. Feel free to play along when this is being discussed on the news, twitter, Facebook, blogosphere, etc. I’ve already managed to fill in quite a few squares.

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Reply turned post, Trisomy 18 and mental masturbation style

I can get really frustrated by people who enter into philosophical arguments about serious medical ethics questions online. Many of these people have a definite agenda, often controlling access to abortion, but try to couch it as some sort of intellectual exercise. Many of these commenters are men who toss around large words like “autonomy” and “qualitative determination.” This happens all over the interwebs, and I know better than to spend my time hunting down every blowhard that litters a comment section with his ideas on viability and fetal rights.

However, I clicked through a link on my Washington Post headline newsletter on Trisomy 18, since it is a topic that genuinely interests me. Presidential candidate and notorious crusader against contraception and abortion Rick Santorum has a daughter with Trisomy 18, one who is questionably lucky to have survived the few years she has, and has been hospitalized yet again. I was generally pleased with the accuracy and tone of the article. I hesitantly stumbled into the comments section, and then happened upon a perfect example of what I like to refer to as mental masturbation, from a commenter named “johnbmadwis”, which he wrote in response to a comment drawing the logical connection between the suffering and medical expense of Santorum’s daughter, and his position on the ability of other families to choose this road for themselves:

But haven’t you just made Santorum’s point and fueled the fire of the pro-life proponents? That is, the pro life advocate’s long held belief that abortion rights advocates are not really talking about rape and incest, but rather personal evaluations of the quality of life of the fetus or externalities such as heartache and expense. Regardless of the condition of the fetus, pro life advocates would say society has a moral interest, they’d say imperative, in preserving the life of such a fetus from individuals such as yourself, who may want to terminate that life due to such condition. At what point, if any, does that societal interest give way to individual autonomy? Would you truly advocate for the ability to terminate that life after birth? in the last weeks of pregnancy? 3rd trimester? viability? Whatever the point, what is the guiding principle? Individual autonomy? Quality of life? (determined, assuredly, by one other than the one whose life is at stake – so, whose individual autonomy?) at what point does one achieve individual autonomy? Does a fetus have individual autonomy At some point the life of the fetus does, presumably, outweigh the individual’s autonomy, right? When? Is individual autonomy equally valid if it were exercised for clearly base purposes such as mere inconvenience or desire, say, to have a boy instead of a girl? Who should make that qualitative determination? Society? The individual carrying the fetus. The affected fetus? The personal choice of a couple does affect the life of another human being in your scenario, so, it is reasonable to ask you when, if ever, do you believe that personal choice must give way to other principles or interests?

My reply, which was thankfully limited by a character limit, is here (I added a few hyperlinks to this version, but otherwise it is unchanged):

@johnbmadwis, these questions have been answered by courts and medical ethicists. There is an obvious glaring difference in autonomy between a child who is already born and a fetus, whose existence depends entirely on the mother, whose life is intimately affected and at risk by carrying a pregnancy. Late term abortions (post viability) are extremely rare, and most states have strict limits on the conditions under which such procedures can be performed.

If you are worried about a slippery slope, it is pretty obvious the slope has been tilting towards restrictive legislation limiting all abortion, not just the dramatic but rare cases you bring up. More than 400 bills have been proposed recently in state legislatures seeking to place barriers on access to abortion, from extended waiting periods for all terminations, overreaching excessive requirements for providers and facilities that don’t extend to other, riskier outpatient surgeries, to personhood bills for fertilized eggs.

Trisomy 18 is a serious condition that is considered mostly “incompatible with life.” Not only is the fetus likely to die in utero, but if it survives, it is likely to die as newborn. The article (mostly) covered this really well. (We do know the “cause” of most trisomy 18 – nondisjunction during meiosis II – which is much more common the longer the egg has been in a suspended state of meisosis, i.e. in older mothers).

Santorum’s daughter is lucky in some ways to be a 1% in more ways than one, but this is more than just some sort of ethical masturbation in a comment section of a blog. This issue involves the emotional and physical challenges to the mother. Have you ever carried a fetus, commenter with a male sounding handle? Have you ever had a stranger put their hand on your belly and ask when you were due, when you knew the fetus would most likely die before birth, or soon after? Then there’s the suffering of the baby if it survives, and the emotional toll such care takes on caregivers – do you have any idea what it is like to work in a NICU on suffering, terminal infants? With major cutbacks in personnel in public hospitals, too.

Not to mention the health care dollars arguably misproportioned here. I got to tell pregnant mothers with no insurance yesterday that they had to pay full price, cash up front for necessary basic lab tests. These are mothers who don’t have husbands flying around the country campaigning for president. These are mothers who may and do skip important labs, or prenatal visits, because they have to choose between knowing if they have hepatitis B or food for their existing children. We got to tell a mother who was having her fourth baby and desired a tubal ligation that there was no funding anymore for it. She could pay $1400 up front to the clinic then pay more in hospital fees. Maybe she could google birth control – oh, wait, she probably doesn’t have a computer.

Enjoy wringing your hands about the autonomy of a trisomy 18 fetus. It’s a luxury.

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Autism and obesity, a confounder

The journal Pediatrics released a study recently claiming an association between autism and maternal obesity during pregnancy. As soon as I heard this study being splashed all over the media, I winced. As much as the journalists point out “correlation, not causation”, they also throw out vague warnings about obesity. On NPR this morning, the story was covered as being another casualty of the “rather striking epidemic of obesity”, and, in this article in the Washington Post, despite the lack of causation, the author warns “[s]ince more than one-third of U.S. women of child-bearing age are obese, the results are potentially worrisome and add yet another incentive for maintaining a normal weight, said researcher Paula Krakowiak, a study co-author and scientist at the University of California, Davis.”

Because, it’s all just our fault because of our behavior, right moms?

I don’t think so.

I was already pondering autism and causation recently. It has been an interest of mine for quite some time. Before I knew that I was going to go to medical school, when I got my first job at the first health food store, I was intrigued by the parents of children on the autism spectrum who would come into the store, desperately seeking anything to help. Many were trying gluten-free, casein-free diets, long before the recent gluten-free craze. Many were buying supplements. I was surprised at how many children on the autism spectrum there were. This was in the mid 90’s, and my first glimpse at the burgeoning numbers of children living with this diagnosis. I decided I wanted to work in the field, and help unravel this mystery for these parents.

Since then, my focus has obviously shifted. However, I have two cousin Susans with two sons each on the autism spectrum or with related developmental delays, which were also included along with autism in the study. One is closely related to my younger son’s father, and one is closely related to me. They are not related to each other at all. I know it is just anecdote, but I was already trying to look for a pattern – something they had in common. Why were their children affected, and mine not? I was overweight, possibly obese according to BMI, during both pregnancies. One of my cousins was, and one wasn’t.

Well, this study made things click in my head. There is a confounder strongly associated with obesity that was not looked at in the study. It is also associated with high circulating androgen levels, which have a known association with autism spectrum disorders. And, interestingly enough, both of my cousin Susans have this condition, and I don’t. It’s polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). It is a lot less common than obesity, and would probably make more sense as a causation, both prevalence-wise, and physiology wise. I did a quick literature search, and couldn’t find anything on it.

I am not sure how difficult it would be to do a case-control study on this. It would be easy if I was at Kaiser. It was probably easier to look at weight and height at delivery than delve into gynecologic histories to find if there was any diagnosis of PCOS in the subjects of the study.

Well, trying to do some research on this is a definite possibility. Hopefully in the near future.

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When good care isn’t emotionally driven care

Hello, folks! I am slowly getting over not matching. Slowly. I am trying to strategize for the next match. And, I’m trying to take care of myself, emotionally and physically, in the aftermath.

In the meantime, I am on my last rotation for medical school. It is a “rural selective”, which is a required elective at a rural or underserved location. I am fulfilling it at a local community health center in the women’s health department. Fun!

I am taking part in a day long orientation today. In one of the presentations, the speaker had a point on one of the slides about mandatory reporting, and included all domestic violence as falling under that category. I rose my hand and suggested that we had been trained that elder abuse and child abuse fell under that category, but other domestic violence did not. I couched that statement by saying it was controversial and I didn’t say I necessarily agreed (although I do).

One of the other attendees got very perturbed by my correction, and said I was wrong. I said I disagreed, politely. The speaker and several other attendees said they thought I was correct, and one pointed out that other vulnerable adults, such as someone with a disability, also fell under the mandatory reporting group. At the end of the speaker’s presentation, the offended woman called me out specifically, and again told me I was incorrect, but again, had nothing to back herself up other than her strong emotional response. Since this was a training on legal requirements of the job and privacy, and this population definitely would include adult victims of domestic violence, I decided to look up the law.

When I located the appropriate information, I read it out loud to the group. This nursing CEU was the first good site I found, and it had very complete information. I read this part:

Intimate Partner Abuse

Florida statute 790.24 requires healthcare providers to report gunshot or life-threatening wounds or injuries. Obviously, this does not cover the majority of injuries sustained in IPV. However, reporting suspected domestic violence without the informed consent of the victim is unethical and may cause the abuser to retaliate.

She interrupted me and said “SEE? You have to report gunshot wounds!” and I continued to read the rest of the quote. Then she angrily said “Well OF COURSE you need their informed consent!”, and I countered “Well, then that’s not mandatory reporting, is it?” She got more agitated, and started pacing the room, telling me I am saying to send these women home to get killed. I said no, and tried to explain, again, the rationale of establishing trust with the patient, many of whom are not at a place where they are ready to leave or press charges. She said she would definitely report ANY case she saw of suspected intimate partner violence, and said she didn’t want these women killed. I said that they may not press charges, and then may not trust health care practitioners again, and still get killed.

I know that IPV is a sensitive, triggering topic for many, including me. I was in a relationship with verbal and emotional abuse, and trust me, if people came on too strong about me leaving him when I wasn’t ready to, I avoided them in the future. I would not come to them when there was an incident, because I didn’t want a lecture of how it was my fault for staying. When we went over this in medical school (and I was still in my abusive relationship), one member of my small group said she was a victim of physical violence in a past relationship, and she would absolutely never press charges, she would lie to any health care practitioner or official about it, and defend him under any circumstances, when she was still in the relationship.

These victims already feel an enormous lack of control. It is not our job to control them or act for them. It is our job to be there for them on their terms. Even if it gets us emotional.

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