Wednesday, September 10, 2008

medicine is not god

I feel compelled to write about the medical industry (and yes, I am prepared to call it an industry) for two reasons which are very close to me. For one, my father has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for years, and so I am familiar with the industry's approach to debilitating illness. For another, I have an infant cousin who has already been given the run-around in the short time that he has been on this earth. I am pretty much anti-medicine at this point in my life. Perhaps I will become ill and require the services of this profession at some point, but I tend to be on the stoic side of things, preferring to sit out a bad headache rather than take a pill, so I imagine that I will always steer clear of meds and doctor visits.

First, my father. I remember when he was disgnosed with RA. I was young enough to be frightened by his spells of pain, insomnia, and accompanying depression. At the time, he was going through a particularly difficult time at work, learning a new software program or something to that effect. He hated his job, and he would often be at work until late at night, sometimes going to work in the middle of the night to correct something that had gone wrong. The fact that this high-stress environment coincided with his diagnosis turns out not to be a coincidence. Although none of his doctors have ever mentioned stress-induced RA, it turns out that there is a strong connection. So, first of all, when he began taking medications for his condition, no doctor ever proposed getting out of this environment. No doctor proposed that he take a vacation or even a couple days off to de-stress. They just started pumping meds into him straight away.

For another thing, my father is, as are (if I'm not mistaken) most Americans at this point, overweight. I would imagine that the stress of extra weight on his joints is detrimental to his condition. Thus, my conclusion is, if he would lose about 20 pounds he would feel considerably better. I am not a medical expert, but I do know that placing more weight on sore, weakened joints is probably not helpful. But none of his doctors have ever stressed this point. Sure, they've mentioned it in passing, but they just mention it and then give it up as a lost cause. Maybe I'm just insensitive, but if I were a doctor I would insist upon this. I would prescribe a diet in addition to minimal meds. Over the years, my father has been taking more and more medications--I certainly can't keep up with how many. He gives himself shots in the knees for god's sake. And yet there has never been any discussion about exercise, alternative medicine, or a change of ocupation.

Because my father takes so many medications, he must have his liver function tested periodically, and depending on the results he must either back off on some dosages or continue taking the same dosages until a future test reveals that his liver function is less than desirable. Wait a minute. I'm pretty ignorant of the medical code of ethics, but I'm fairly certain that there's something in the Hippocratic Oath about first doing no harm. If he's taking so many medications that his life (or at least his longevity) is in danger (and my understanding of liver function is that you can't live without a properly functioning liver), then isn't that considered doing harm? If he had to choose between being in a bit more pain or being dead I think I know which he'd choose.

Second, my new cousin, who is a couple months old now, has seen the ugly, hairy ass of the medical industry since he came from the womb. For starters, my aunt intended to breastfeed him from the start. She made this clear to the hospital staff, and this information was printed on both the mother's and the baby's hospital bracelets. However, not long after he was born, a nurse decided that his blood sugar was lower than what she would have liked it to be (not low enough to be considered a problem, mind you, but not ideal), and so she fed him formula. Without consulting the parents. This strikes me as a little odd. No, this strikes me as a lot odd. Oh, we're big smart medical professionals. We know what's best for this baby, and so we don't even need to consult the family.

Then, in the weeks following the baby's homegoing, they visited the doctor no less than 1o times. The baby was not sick. The baby had lost a little weight (as babies tend to do initially when they are newborns), and so the doctor, in all his wisdom, decided that the baby should come to the office to be weighed every two days. Now let's think about this. The baby is not in danger. But the doctor thinks it's a good idea for the exhausted mother to pack up a newborn every two days and make the trek to the doctor's office simply to be weighed and to receive a bill? Wouldn't the baby be more susceptible to diseases and illnesses and infections floating around in the air of a clinic? Can't you just weigh a baby at home? Or am I being dense here?

Finally, the baby contracted a fever (probably from all the exposure to doctor's office air). Not a high fever, but a fever nonetheless. So, my aunt, being a conscientious mother, took the baby to the pediatrician just to make sure that everything was alright. And everything was alright--at least, everything other than the fever. But, in spite of the fact that the baby checked out alright, they did not advise her to take the baby home and let it rest, making sure it doesn't get dehydrated and blah blah blah, they thought it would be a good idea to take the baby to the hospital just in case. Ok, whatever, just to be on the safe side. Sure, why not? I wouldn't have followed those directions, but then most people aren't as stubborn as I am, which is generally a good thing. So she took the baby to the hospital. At the hospital, the doctor said something to the effect of (and I am not exaggerating here), "Oh, it's probably nothing to worry about, but just in case we're going to do a spinal tap." I shit you not. Yeah, when I heard it I gasped audibly too. I was utterly dumbfounded. I was appalled, enraged, confused, bewildered. I didn't know you were allowed to do such inquisatorial things to enfants, but then I forgot that this is the United States, and doctors know everything here. Let's all bow down and worship our medical professionals for a minute. Oh, and after the spinal tap results came back, there was absolutely nothing wrong. Nothing. No thing. Not a thing. Motherfuckers.

What disturbed me even more than the fact that they did this incredibly invasive, potentially harmful procedure, was that my aunt and uncle allowed them to do it. I guess I can understand being a parent and wanting to be absolutely positive that nothing is wrong with your child. But a fucking spinal tap? We need to get with it people. We need to ask questions, be informed, and annoy the hell out of our doctors with good questions that they will have to answer fully. For instance, a spinal tap is done when the doctor suspects bleeding around the brain or when he needs to identify the cause of unexplained siezures or headaches. My understanding of the situation is that the baby had nothing but a low-grade fever. Nothing of this nature, in my mind, justifies a spinal tap. Spinal tap is a rockumentary about a British rock band, not something you do to a baby unless absolutely necessary.


hakuna matata (it means no worries) said...

oh my god megan i loved this post! i totally agree...i hate doctors & the few times my mother has forced me to go they haven't told me anything...& the spinal tap thing had me outraged...that's absolutely outrageous for a low grade fever. I could go on & grandpa was having some dizzy spells a few months ago so he goes to the doc...they send him to the hospital...a few hours later they're doing heart surgery!! i was outraged.

meg said...

kayla!i had no idea you actually read my blog! i'm flattered!