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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Notes on a Hospitalized Pregnant Woman and Modern Medicine

It turns out that the chances of being born in America - a country of 324,699,276 people as of Friday, September 30, 2016, in a world of 7 billion people is 4.4%. The probability of being born above the poverty line in a first world country are just over 12%. The chances of being born at all are estimated to be one in 400 trillion. 
I walk the empty halls around my room, sipping soda and biting the polish off my nails, and think about the probability of my life. 
I am blessed. - Claudia Turner, Notes on a Hospitalized Pregnant Woman
When Claudia Turner visited the doctor on what seemed like a routine pregnancy check, her blood pressure was abnormally high. Like, stroke-level high. Her doctor sent her via helicopter to a hospital in Salt Lake City. She joked about what that journey would have been like 50 years ago. "Neither of you would have survived 50 years ago," her doctor tells her.

I think about this all the dang time. I've certainly written about it a couple of times. There in those posts you'll see a couple of common themes that come up a lot on here: if it weren't for modern technology, me and many of the people I love would maybe be dead, and I wouldn't trade the "good old days" for today under any circumstances.

It's why I root for progress and against anarchy. It's why I'm skeptical about anyone who says what our cities, countries, and world need is for it all to burn down somehow so that we can get a fresh start. It's why I told Susan Sarandon that she can go soak her head when she used her considerable influence to tell Bernie voters not to vote for Hillary Clinton because Donald Trump would bring about the revolution faster.

Well here we are. The revolution everyone's been waiting for. And all I'm seeing right now is proposed cuts for health insurance and The National Cancer Institute, The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, The National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease Institute, and the National Institute of Health. Not to mention a 17% cut to the budget of the Center for Disease Control. That's what "the revolution" looks like, Sue. More money for things that kill other people, less for things that save them.

See, when we're talking about burning it all down, we're thinking about government bureaucracy maybe, or political entrenchment, or corrupt politicians running a system that average voters feel increasingly left out of. I get that. That sucks. For sure it sucks. I get just as mad as your average coal worker in Wyoming who complains about big city liberals. The ones who use the electricity that he generates to power the laptops on which they write Facebook posts about how his job should be eliminated because of butterflies or whatever.

Why should I even vote when someone on the other side of the country who doesn't know a thing about my life can cancel it out because they saw a meme about emails? Even better than cancelled out, actually, because they live in a state that actually means something in picking the president while mine is as predictably red as my face gets when a girl says a dirty word. Even if my vote mattered, what then? The people I elect will vote with their party so dependably I might as well have elected a dipping bird desk tchotchke that just pushes a button that says Democrat on it over and over again.

But that's the tricky thing about fire. It burns everything. And in the meantime there are a lot of people waiting at the pharmacist for the pills that keep them alive. And there are a lot of women in hospitals with babies in them who, if given the proper care, will turn out to be adorable and fascinating and beneficial to society. But these same women without the proper care will die.

There is a pretty real scenario that I can't help but shake and it's this one: 14 years ago instead of my wife giving birth to a healthy baby boy who grows up to be smart and interested in everything -- one who isn't the fastest hurdler (by far), but got put on the team because he works harder than anybody, one whose parents are told by every teacher that, while he struggles to turn in his homework, is a joy to have in class because of his unrelenting kindness -- instead of that, she and/or he don't survive the pregnancy. In that scenario I don't get to meet my next two daughters, either. They don't have their mom's beautiful hair. They don't have her love of learning and art. They don't have her "thin, invisible steel."

There is also a scenario in which I do get to meet these amazing children, and enjoy another decade or so of my family, and then in the middle of the night one night I die of a stroke because of my kidney-disease created ultra-high blood pressure or slowly die of kidney failure because I can't afford the treatment, or the prescriptions, or because in the decades past we as a nation decided that public health just wasn't as high a priority as, say, stockpiling tanks nobody wants.

Cemeteries and family histories are filled with these stories. The headstones with angels on them that say just "baby," next to one that says "beloved wife and mother," whose final dates are the same. 35-year-old dads who leave behind widows and kids. I'm willing to bet that if you don't owe your life to some medical breakthrough (like antibiotics), you know someone close to you who does. When we find ourselves putting imaginary political ideologies (the economic miracle of cutting spending AND taxes, the "revolution" brought about by either marches in pink hats or militias meeting in the woods; take your pick) over vulnerable people right now, I get hives that I have to hope go away because I don't know if I can afford another doctor visit.

So there's that. Modern medicine costs a lot in the United States. A lot more than any other developed country. And at the same time we have less help in paying for it than any other developed country. All of that being said, though, it is also amazing. That's what I wanted to say. The doctor who delivered our first baby, who arrived to the delivery room wearing a leather jacket and had so many patients that every time he met Kristin he started out by telling her that she needed to cut back on the ice cream before looking at her chart and saying, "oh yeah, preeclampsia," that guy can have as many mansions as he wants, as far as I'm concerned.

Back to the quote up top, though. When my wife Kristin was diagnosed, she was in a pretty stable place. She got to be home most of the time, with regular checkups. She had me handy, though I am told that I was only sporadically useful as I was A: a very young child-groom and B: extremely squeamish around hospitals, needles, and any and all fluids. She had a mom and mother-in-law always ready to help. For Turner, it was much harder. She spent two months in a hospital, a hospital that was hundreds of miles from any family. Her new husband battled alcoholism and anger issues and spent the time on and off of the wagon, often without a phone, even missing his daughter's birth while on a bender with an old friend. Even then, she's extremely lucky and acknowledges it.
Okay, I'm going through shit and Charley's going through shit, and my shit is very different from his shit. I have to deal with childbirth and he has to deal with being a man which is apparently a lot of work.
At times the forced rest is welcome, other times mind-numbing. She loves her reiki therapist, but her massage therapist talks too much. Some nurses are there just to work, and treat her like a burden (Kristin can tell some good stories about that, too), others are kind and empathetic and great. Many of them, inexplicably, look like Amy Adams. She sees the Wasatch mountains every day through her window, which I often take for granted but from time to time am completely mesmerized by. She is constantly annoyed by people commenting on how huge she is and how she's "about to pop." She bonds with the therapy dog's owner.

But you guys, I've seen Dakota on Instagram and she is so happy and sweet and is always dressed so so cute. Like, what a miracle all of this stuff is, but also, what a shame when you move beyond that "developed" country thing we keep mentioning. 800 women die per year in pregnancy related complications, 99% of which occur in developing countries. The four main causes are bleeding, infection, preeclampsia, and unsafe abortions. We take for granted that most if not all of these are avoided with extremely high success rates, but that's just here.

I once got in an argument with a woman who regularly spent time among some of these societies of indigenous people with little to no contact with the outside world until recently. She was horrified that "western" ideals were invading these previously untouched societies. She fumed that kids were now walking around with headphones. It was important to her that some societies stay the way they are because it's, important, I guess?

And sure, modern life brings with it a lot of dangers: stress, obesity, commercialism, One Direction's idiotic sentiment that knowing that one is beautiful somehow makes one less so. But it also brings some pretty rad outcomes, one of which is babies and women not dying of easily preventable causes. When I brought this up with my unfortunate coworker who has no ability to defend herself in this situation because it's my blog not hers, she said that in those societies, mothers were used to losing children. It was normal to them. I was like, lady, everyone grieves the same. The idea that Western women somehow suffer more when their baby dies is some hot hot garbage. Also, and unrelated, headphones rule and music is awesome so I think they should have that, too.

In summary: having babies is scary, but it can be significantly less scary with access to good health care and an obsession with constant improvement, research, and innovation. We should encourage that and also fight to maintain it. We also need to work hard to ensure that worldwide, women have the same care that we get in developed countries and refugee camps and even poor parts of our own countries. Notes on a Hospitalized Pregnant Woman is a fine book filled with keen observations by a woman who is deeply observant and refreshingly honest. And, finally, I need more cute babies in my Instagram feed. HMU.