Tag Archives: Pregnancy

In which I try not to overthink blogging and share some funny stories

I had a few stories I wanted to share, and I resisted writing on here until they reached some sort of critical mass. I felt a little weird suddenly posting over and over again. I think getting into ob/gyn residency has jazzed me up in a way that cannot be ignored. I’m trying to look at it as a rejuvenation of my spirit for blogging and medicine, and not overthink what it meant about my spirit and confidence over the last two years. Anyhooooo….

Plus, I have worked ob/gyn clinic for two straight blocks recently, simply a complete coincidence, because neither of these two blocks are going to count at my new site. Ob/gyn just lends itself to a bunch of hilarious stories. I have a serious delve-into-the-evidence-because-something-is-stuck-in-my-craw kind of post a brewin’, but I won’t mix that in with the fun stuff from today.

Needless to say, no names are used, no specific descriptors are used (except for tattoos, I guess), not all stories are recent, and details are bent to obscure the innocent. None of these are my real patients, they are all stories about my cousin Susan’s adventures in health care, rewritten as my own patients to make it easier. And, needless to say, this is ob/gyn related stuff, so if discussion of private parts and fluids gets you discombobulated, you may want to go look at some lolcatz or something.

Story # 1

A patient and her husband were explaining a recent trip to the patient’s gynecologist (I was seeing her as a family practice resident). She was having an irritation down below. Her husband’s helpful explanation of the diagnosis: “My sperm, when it comes out, it’s so hot it BURNS her.” Emphasis emphatically his. I bit down a giggle and asked, “Sir, if this isn’t too personal, may I ask if your sperm has ever touched your own skin? Say, on your hand? It didn’t burn you, right? I don’t think that’s the issue here.”

Story # 2

This one is an in-the-biz special.

Electronic fetal monitor

Electronic fetal monitor

Heard on the labor floor: “I know! The pink one is for the girls, and the blue one is for the boys, right?” I kind of thought the pastel colored binary gender straps were a bit silly, but I didn’t think they’d be confusing. Maybe I should have.

(For those not in the birth biz, that is an external fetal monitor. Both of those get used on everybody, regardless of the gender of the in-utero passenger.)

Story # 3

Maybe I should have realized it could be confusing or important to patients. At a two week postpartum follow up, a mother’s biggest complaint: “Everyone keeps getting him confused with a girl.” I eyed the 13 day old wrinkled baby in a blue hat, blue clothes, blue car seat covered with a blue blanket suspiciously as he slept in a very non-gender specific way. “I don’t think he’s very worried about that right now.” What I wanted to say was, “Now I think it’s a bit early to start imposing roles on it, don’t you?” in my best Graham Chapman voice, but I restrained myself.

Story # 4

I see a lot of interesting tattoos in my line of work. I have two tattoos, and I am not judging people who have them. In fact, having a tattoo in certain age groups is actually more common that not having one. Some of the people I hung out with when I was younger had some highly questionable tattoos. A friend of mine dated someone who had a tattoo on his leg of a manatee with an erection. That was only one of the list of questions I had about her choice of this guy, but hey, poor dating choices happen to the best of us.

I was triaging a young woman in labor, and when I raised her gown to attach the eternal fetal monitors (as seen above) to her burgeoning belly, I saw two dolphins dancing on either side of her navel. I said “Oh, look! Dolphins!” Then I glanced at the cursive writing underneath her navel. It read “Wet Pussy”. And they say the kids aren’t learning cursive these days. Wait, maybe that’s a good thing for her offspring.

Not judging. Not judging.

I also saw “Respect My Mind” tattooed on a patient’s hand, which I kind of liked. It was next to a 305, which is our area code here in Miami-Dade, for the reader who is not a local, or isn’t familiar with Pitbull. (Ironically, also my birthday. OG, here. Ironic because the longest I’ve ever listened to the song was just now to copy the link.) It’s a common tattoo, on that always makes me sarcastically wonder if they’re afraid they’ll forget the area code. Maybe they just want to remember my birthday. If she did forget the area code, I’d have trouble respecting her mind. Or, I would at least try to figure out why she wasn’t oriented.

I saw “Most Hated”, which I kind of didn’t like. Well, it made me wonder about the history and self esteem of the patient. It also reminded me of the brother of a tattoo artist in a city I lived in years ago, a brother who was notorious for being a conceited, inebriated, loud, omnipresent nuisance. He had the nickname of “the Hated Joe Schmo”. Even though he was covered with tattoos, courtesy of his super cool brother, I don’t think he had “Most Hated”. It would have been appropriate.

I saw “Live Fast Die Pretty” on someone’s arm. That made me giggle.

Story #5

Not really a funny story, but something I wanted to share. I was wrapping up my ob/gyn rotation, and one of the nursing students who was also at the site told me that she would want to go to me as an obstetrician if she was ever pregnant. I am always grateful and pretty much floored when someone from inside the system tells me that. We were working with several wonderful obstetricians at the time. I don’t think it was a commentary against them. I don’t mean to get all sappy, but I think I love it so much, it really shows when I am talking to a patient. I also think it is uncommon for someone to be a mother, a patient, and frankly an adult with real world problems before becoming a physician. I am not knocking my younger peers. They say they don’t know how I do it as a mom. I don’t know how they do it as a young adult coming of age. I think my empathy comes from a different place than some physicians. Even physicians who are parents often became parents second, and were navigating the medical side of pregnancy and birth with a much greater ease and insider perspective when they went through it.

Should I throw in another story of hot jizz to wrap this up? I am fresh out, at this time. Let’s see if this newly renewed excitement carries through to me finishing the post about epidurals and informed consent, too.

Until then, live fast and die pretty.

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Breaking the silence

I am happily coming down off the high of presenting at the Medical Students for Choice annual conference – I was part of a fantastic panel on Protecting Choice in Birth. I felt honored to be sharing the table with some brilliant people – two wonderful ob/gyns, two reproductive justice lawyers, and little old me. We talked about the legal and ethical underpinnings of patients’ rights and choice in birth: site of birth (e.g. out of hospital birth), VBAC, even use of a doula or refusal of certain interventions.

It was a wonderful experience. The director of MS4C told us the response was so overwhelming that the conference was buzzing about our panel, and we are definitely invited to return. I learned a lot from my co-panelists, and loved the enthusiastic response from the audience. One sweet medical student literally had his jaw agape when Farah Diaz-Tello, from the National Association for Pregnant Women, described a woman who had her baby taken away and put in foster care for simply wanting to postpone signing a blanket consent for any intervention or procedure during her labor and delivery. She had a healthy, spontaneous vaginal delivery with no complications during her SECOND psych consult (after the first psychiatrist deemed she was clearly mentally competent and allowed to refuse consenting to an unnecessary hypothetical cesarean), and apparently her six year old is still not in her care due to the red tape surrounding her case. Jaw dropping, indeed.

I talked about my journey, including being a patient, mother, midwifery student, doula and research fellow before becoming a doctor. I discussed the hostile-to-patient-autonomy atmosphere in South Florida, my fellowship research on labor interventions, and how to present risk to patients.

I almost burst into tears when my co-panelist, the lovely and dynamic Dr. Hanson, showed pictures of twins and breech births she has delivered all over the world. I did end up tearing up during lunch, not just because birth is moving and emotional, but because I am slowly accepting that I will most likely never be doing these difficult deliveries, and my wonderful copanelists innocently asked me about my residency plans. I may not be doing deliveries at all.

I got a decent amount of invitations to obstetrics residency programs. I am slowly canceling them, one by one. I simply cannot justify moving my two boys to a city where I don’t know anybody, then disappearing to work my ass off 80 hours a week at all times of day or night. I also don’t want to put them in public schools in the Deep South. When I got divorced during my third year of medical school I knew that would mean facing residency as a single mom. The divorce was worth it, but now that I have experienced the reality of how hard internship is, even with significant family support in my home town, I had to reconsider my options.

I will most likely be pursuing a family practice residency at a local residency program, probably at the hospital where I am doing my internship. Yes, obstetrics can fall under the family practice umbrella, but I would be the first family practitioner to get hospital privileges in the greater Miami area in recent or remote history. In other words, the chances of that happening falls between not likely and impossible. Yes, not even if I do an obstetrics fellowship, which would involve leaving town for a year. It’s just not the standard of care here, even if it’s normal in other parts of the country. And my custody arrangement stipulates that I practice here after training. So, even if I move for residency, I would have to uproot again and come back.

I can still do women’s health. I can still do prenatals. I can do lactation medicine, including the pediatrics portion. I can even be the medical director of a local freestanding birth center, just not their backup surgeon. Which, honestly, was never a huge draw for me. I want to be at the normal pregnancies, not a back up for the ones that go wrong. I can do family planning. I can still do academics, including medical ethics, which is an interest of mine.

So, most of the time I am ok with this. Most of the time. I have a lot to be happy about. I have great kids, good family support, a supportive director of my residency program, relatively good health, friends, a cute little house, a fuzzy loyal dog, and a blossoming (very tentative!) new relationship with a nice guy. And I’m a doctor, for Chrissakes. With a job in a shitty economy.

So, anyway, another permutation on the journey. Let’s see how it plays out.

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Preventing primary cesarean

Hi! Internship has been keeping me busy. So has getting together my presentation for this year’s VBAC summit. I had an hour and fifteen minutes to talk. I went over, and I still didn’t cover half of what I wanted to say.

The First Cut is the Deepest. (I can’t figure out how to embed the viewer.)

You can find the mp3 to hear me speaking to go along with the presentation. I explain. A lot. I also tell funny stories, horrible jokes, and pass out chocolates. Sorry, the chocolates are not available through the internet.

MP3 of me: https://www.wepay.com/stores/vbac-summit/item/preventing-primary-c-sections-what-you-need-to-kno-717302
MP3s of all of the presentations: https://www.wepay.com/stores/vbac-summit

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Reply turned post, from abortion to homebirth style

Hello! Hey, I’m a doctor!

Please go read this excellent article at RH Reality Check: Why Birthing Rights Matter to the Pro-Choice Movement.

Here is a great quote from the author Laura Guy, who is a doula (yay!) and a certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) (double yay!):

But let’s be clear about something. Reproductive justice means that everyone has complete control over if, when, where, how, and with whom they bring a child into the world. It means that people have accurate, unbiased access to information regarding all facets of their reproductive lives, from contraception to pregnancy options, from practices surrounding birth to parental rights. It means that our choices are not constrained by politics, financial barriers, or social pressure. In other words, how can the right to give birth at home – safely and legally – not be on a reproductive justice advocate’s radar?

As I commented on the article, I was thrilled when, during the keynote address at my first Medical Students for Choice meeting, the speaker mentioned out of hospital birth. Reproductive rights are full spectrum. They start before sexual activity begins – bodily autonomy begins with birth, stretches through childhood with protection from oversexualization, extends through accurate sexual education, includes contraception and freedom to choose when and how to become sexually active, and definitely doesn’t end once one decides to carry a pregnancy to term. The ability (or lack thereof) of women to choose the site and mode of their delivery, among other important issues of autonomy during pregnancy, are key ways that women’s rights are challenged daily in this country. Pregnant women are not human incubators.

So, seems like a bunch of mutual appreciation society activity here. Where is the angst that usually prompts the reply-turned-post? Well, on the RH Reality Check link of Facebook, one commenter says: “This is great and it’s also important for women to have the right to medical interventions (like elective C-sections) they feel are right for them.”

Here is my reply:

‎@Kathleen – within reason. Feeling something is right is one thing, but unnecessary medical intervention is not a “right” per se.

It’s a very nuanced issue that may not fit well in the comments section on Facebook. For example, evidence and expert position statements warn against early induction. Feeling like an induction is right is not enough of a reason to get one. Take it from someone who has been in the paper gown, sick of being pregnant, and in the white coat – many women feel like an induction before the end of pregnancy.

Also, someone who is a really poor candidate for vaginal delivery (placenta previa, for example), may feel like they want a vaginal delivery, but it is not medically advisable. Same goes for women who are poor candidates for homebirth. I think homebirth is an excellent option for good candidates. Not all. There is a role for practitioners to play here, too.

As a physician and most likely a future ob/gyn, I will be one of many practitioners who need to constantly work that balance between respecting a patient’s autonomy, providing good informed consent, and practicing good medicine with a good conscience. Medicine is more than ordering off a menu.

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Reply turned post, midwives are hacks style

When I signed onto Facebook this morning, a link showed up on my feed from a page that I don’t remember “liking”, but, as it is called “Nurtured Moms”, I can see it being a possibility.

The link was to an article by OB Management examining collaboration between ob/gyns, nurse midwives, and CPMs / lay midwives. The original article is actually not that bad, and does encourage collaboration with midwives (mostly with CNMs) and higher standards and licensing for CPMs, which I support. It didn’t accurately give the background on the Flexner Report, the purpose of which was to weed out inferior MEDICAL SCHOOLS, not midwives. But, I didn’t bring that up because I thought it wasn’t fully relevant to the discussion.

The posting on the Facebook page included the caption:

Exactly. In fact, it is even worse than the article suggests.

It states, “The North American Registry of Midwives’ Portfolio Evaluation Process requires midwives to be the primary care provider during 50 home births and to have 3 years’ experience. The average ObGyn resident gets this much experience in 1 month.”

However, this is not the requirement one needs to meet to become a CPM; this is the requirement to be a PRECEPTOR of CPMs — to pass your “knowledge” on to others!! In fact, to become a CPM, you only have to attend 20 births as a primary care provider. Also, just this year, they added the requirement for a high school diploma. For the last 15 years, you didn’t even need one to become a CPM. The most recent requirements are here: http://narm.org/req-updates/

The first commenter said this:

People need to understand that high standards do not limit choice for mothers. It boggles my mind when I hear lay midwifery apologists insist that making CNM the standard would “limit mothers’ choices.” Limit *what* choice, exactly? Oh right, clearly they want women to be able to “choose” substandard care (CPM) even though the very best (CNM and OBGYN) is readily available to everyone. It’s disgraceful that in America we allow uneducated hacks to practice medicine on the most vulnerable citizens. The ACOG is right not to “collaborate” with lay midwives.

I posted this:

The requirements for direct entry midwives are higher than that in Florida. Also, ob/gyn residents are already licensed doctors by the time they get that experience. There is no requirement for any specific clinical experiences first, although most medical students do at least observe a certain number of births.

Also, ob/gyn residents are not on labor & delivery every month. It depends on the training program, but most involve less than 100 vaginal deliveries a year.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a supporter of adequate training for CPMs/DEMs/LMs. I am also a supporter of accuracy.

Commenter #1 replied:

Accuracy? Lay midwives’ “education” pales in comparison to that of legitimate medical professionals. That’s accurate. Split all the hairs about med school that you like– lay midwives are still substandard, full stop.

I replied:

I am not splitting hairs. I am giving accurate information. A first year ob/gyn resident on her first labor and delivery rotation may have never caught a baby herself. She is a “legitimate” licensed medical professional.

Again, I am all for adequate training and licensing for CPMs. I do not think it is fair to call them all “hacks” or “substandard”. I also don’t think it is safe for ob/gyns or ACOG to not cooperate with lay midwives, nor is it accurate. ACOG does acknowledge that birth center births have been proven to be as safe as in hospital birth, and they support birth centers as a safe site of birth in their position statement, and most birth centers are run by CPMs or other types of lay midwives.

The best way to make homebirth and other out of hospital birth safe, other than adequate training of midwives, is to ensure seamless cooperation with other “legitimate” medical professionals when necessary. Anything less is unethical and unsafe for mothers.

Full stop.

I am not sure I am going to go back to comment on the thread, but if you follow the link to the new qualifications, 10 + 20 + 20 + 5 = 55 births required, not 20.

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Awesome free resource!

I am so thrilled with the free books available at Herperian.org. They are designed for ease of use and medical accuracy, and take into account limited resources in remote locations. Each of the books is available in multiple languages.

squatting position for pushing stage

I downloaded “Where There Is No Doctor”, “Where Women Have No Doctor”, and “Book for Midwives.” I haven’t had time to read them completely. Each one is more than 500 pages! I glanced through the midwifery book first, and was thrilled with what I saw. The section on the second stage of labor discourages frequent cervical checks, for example. It also has illustrations of alternative pushing positions, or in this case, physiologic pushing positions. The section on breastfeeding has accurate, non alarmist but very true information that formula can be harmful, including an illustration of an emaciated baby with diarrhea, warnings about unclean water sources, and the valid point that formula companies use predatory advertising practices to sell their product.

“Where Women Have No Doctor” has some overlap. There is a great section on abortion, with nonjudgmental language, and emphasis on safe abortion and management of complications. the chapter begins with reasons why some women choose abortion, and the first one is “She already has all the children she can care for.” Many people ignore the fact that most women who choose abortion are already mothers, and in developing countries with high maternal mortality rates, there is real danger to their already living children if their mother has an unwanted pregnancy. The midwifery book has a training chapter on manual vacuum aspiration.

Safe abortion is a safety net

Both books have good sections on family planning. Even though they are designed for practitioners in remote areas and perhaps minimal training, there is a good balance between necessary actions and not overstepping and perhaps causing harm by doing interventions with a lack of training. For example, the section on IUD insertion states that insertion can cause injury or infection, and should be inserted only by someone who is trained, but does not have alarmist contraindications. And, the book warns against putting in IUDs without permission, and the right to refuse an IUD.

The women’s health book also has a nonjudgmental section on sex workers, with information on risk reduction and negotiating condom use. It also has a section on women with disabilities.

I downloaded the Spanish version of the women’s health book. I figure I can read it to improve my medical Spanish, and I may be able to use it as a translation tool.

OK, I have gushed about the books enough. Go check them out!

Thanks, KK!

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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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Reply turned post, “reasonable” commenters style

Jill has had a great series of posts on The Unnecesarean about a large malpractice payment based on jury findings of a lack of appropriate informed consent prior to a shoulder dystocia that resulted in a permanently affected child, and a follow up post on how to properly counsel a patient with a baby with a large estimated fetal weight.

As you may have expected, both of these posts had lively comments sections. I only got involved in the second post. Yes, I haven’t just been MIA here, I have been MIA in the interwebs in general. However, I tend to jump in when I actually get a chance to read something, and then see someone creating straw men arguments or grossly misinflating aspects of the conversation in order to make a point, which happened a few times in the second comment thread.

My first comment was in regards to informed consent. A few commenters acted as if there is an exact formula for informed consent, and it includes presenting every worst case scenario, even if the risks of that scenario are diminishingly rare. Also, some commenters were treating the one verdict and award in this very specific case as the totality of case law on informed consent.

ACOG has a Committee Opinion on Informed Consent which discusses the complicated and amorphous subject of malpractice case law and informed consent. This opinion, which I recommend that you read, like I recommend you read all of the links I am including (yeah, I know, you haven’t got all day, but still), states that first of all, informed consent is more of an ethical issue than merely a legal issue. Secondly, the adequacy of disclosure, which is the issue that the huge malpractice payout in the original Unnecesarean post hinged on, has been judged by different criteria in different cases. In recent history, “common practice of the profession” was the most common trend for judgments. That could be troublesome, because standard of care in different areas can be quite variable, and not necessarily evidence based or best for the patient. Now, the trend seems to be moving towards the “reasonable person” criterion, which can also be troublesome. Especially if the all the commenters on these threads are “reasonable people.” Ahem.

Physicians are notoriously poor at presenting risk (pdf) in a way a reasonable person can understand. Many practitioners will very selectively and erratically present risk, sometimes exaggerating, downplaying or completely omitting risks or benefits in order to lead the patient in a certain direction. Ignoring that, statistics are still highly complicated even with the best of intentions. This article recommends using “natural frequencies”, such as saying three to five people out of ten taking Prozac will report some sexual dysfunction, as opposed to saying there is a 30 to 50% probability of sexual dysfunction. Many people will assume the latter will mean that every time they have a sexual encounter, there will be a 30 to 50% chance of there being a problem. Percentages or other comparative methods (__ times more likely) can be tricky.

For example, in Liu et al’s Maternal mortality and severe morbidity associated with low-risk planned cesarean delivery versus planned vaginal delivery at term, one of the outcomes measured was any hysterectomy. I picked this specific outcome because it is a good example of how to discuss the numbers, but also because one of the commenters grossly misrepresented this particular risk, stating it was ONLY a risk of vaginal birth, and not at all associated with cesarean section.

In this retrospective study, there were 27 hysterectomies in 46,766 cesarean deliveries, and 376 hysterectomies in 2,292,420 vaginal deliveries. That is the same as 0.6 per thousand cesareans, and 0.2 per thousand vaginal deliveries. The adjusted odds ratio of any hysterectomy is 3.2 higher odds for cesarean than vaginal delivery. So, three times higher, or 320% higher. Sounds huge, right? But, the absolute risk difference is 0.4 per 1,000. Or, four hysterectomies per 10,000 cesareans. Does increased risk of hysterectomy need to be part of the informed consent for cesarean section? Does it need to be part of the informed consent for vaginal delivery? How frequent does an adverse event need to be for it to deserve a mention? Does an adverse outcome such as nerve injury resulting in foot drop, usually due to epidural or spinal anesthesia, which only appears in isolated case reports, not even in large studies such as this, need to be mentioned?

I still haven’t touched on the topic of how to counsel a patient who is near term and has high estimated fetal weight. This is a complicated topic, and I don’t think I am going to cover it in this post. Based on the evidence, including the ACOG position statements on the topic and UpToDate’s review of the literature, shoulder dystocia is unpredictable and unpreventable. Prophylactic cesarean section does not prevent nerve injuries or neonatal death. Induction of labor (which is disappointingly common in these cases) actually increases neonatal poor outcomes. Instrumental vaginal delivery (use of vacuum extraction or forceps) increases the risk of shoulder dystocia. Estimated fetal weight is a tool with poor accuracy, given a rating of I for insufficient evidence to support its use by the United States Preventative Services Task Force. This list does not even take into account the maternal history and characteristics.

I think informed consent for any pregnant person should include the chance of a shoulder dystocia. I think as the risk factors increase (estimated fetal weight greater than 4500 g, gestational diabetes, prior macrosomic baby, prior shoulder dystocia, male fetal gender, small maternal pelvic size), that increased risk should be presented. If a practitioner is acting out of fear of a lawsuit in the extremely rare case that there is a very poor outcome, the practitioner should mention this fear.

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Hands on in the boondocks

Howdy. I have been busy, as usual. Not only working at a new rotation site, which has been wonderful, but driving more than three hours a day to get to and from this site.

Our medical school requires that we do three months of rural rotations. I am doing two at a community health center in the middle of the state. The surrounding town is a farming town, with a large migrant population.

I am absolutely loving it. I am starting off with the ob/gyn, and we do gynecology, family planning and obstetrics. It is a very hands on rotation with an attending physician who is eager to teach. I have done many pap smears, STD tests, contraception counseling, cervical checks on full term pregnant women, and I GOT TO INSERT AN IUD. That plus a journal club, a training on human trafficking and a training on contraception compliance. Not bad for the first week and a half!

Our first two days consisted of orientation, and the longest time slot was given to the lactation consultant, who I love. She is working on a “Men and Women’s Health Day.” When I gently pointed out to the Medical Coordinator of the site that it was trans exclusive, they took me seriously. I am going to be the point person for any individuals identifying as trans (or anyone else who has questions in that area) the day of the health fair. Apparently they had some there last year and were at a loss. I am going to start with the resources linked to by Rachel at Women’s Health News and go from there.

I’ll try to check in again. If I could type while I drove, I’d have a ton of posts. Instead I am listening to board review materials. And looking at the swamp wildlife. And trying to avoid a speeding ticket.

I can easily see myself working at a community health center. This is totally my bag.

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