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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tori Spelling and cesarean complications: why we need to hear about it

It seems like everyone wants to hear about celebrity baby gossip. And with Tori Spelling's recent birth complications in the news, it's something we should be hearing about.

At the very least, Tori Spelling's
post-cesarean complications could
be an important vehicle for raising
awareness about risks of c-section and
the importance of adequate
informed consent. 
As Spelling underwent emergency surgery for complications after her fourth cesarean, the media was slightly abuzz about why it's such a concern, as they should be. I was elated that finally, finally someone was beginning to question the high c-section rate and how repeat cesareans can pose dangers for women. Not that I would ever wish those repercussions on anyone, but to have it happen to a high-profile celebrity, someone who's face we recognize, whose births are highly publicized - is perhaps instrumental in getting our attention when it comes to a very important topic that few people seem to really understand.

I don't know about Tori and her marriage, don't watch her show, or know what her motivations are, but it sounds like she wants a large family. She is in the minority, as more women are stopping after two children and therefore are not often exposed to the risks of what that number of c-sections can do to the body. Whether it's one, two or four or more, it always carries risks - but obviously with four surgeries under your belt you're going to be exposed to more risk than someone who's only had two. It's unclear, though, whether women really 'get' why this is important to understand - because many of them spend much time digging Spelling for 'not using birth control' (even though someone commented that yes, she was using it, and yes, it did fail). Some speculate that she did initially consider a VBAC, but decided against it when her first and second births were also close together (which can bring additional risk).

Instead of bashing her for having lots of kids, not 'getting fixed,' etc. etc. it should make us question why she wasn't encouraged to have a VBAC after her first birth, especially if she wanted more children. Although close births do pose a unique set of complications when considering VBAC, this is probably one case where why her first cesarean occurred is important to know: did she have a medical condition? Was she 'too posh to push' or did she simply want to schedule the birth? Who knows. Preventing the first scar is key, but sometimes it's not that easy, especially if you aren't sure how many kids you want. It's hard to gear up for a future birth when you're barely finished with the first one, but knowing before you get that uterine scar just how it could impact future births is very important.

After the birth of her first son, Liam, Tori said this:
"I had a c-section...One of the biggest misconceptions is that celebrities have C-sections because it's easier. If I had a choice, I would not have. The recovery is much worse." 
To me, it almost sounds like her doctor was a "once a cesarean, always a cesarean" type of person. And while I'm sure there is some strong-arming going on when it comes to pleasing a celebrity client, these women are no different than we are: if a doctor tells you a VBAC is "unsafe, dangerous, and your uterus will shatter" then you are just as prone to believe it's true as any of us might be.

I'll never forget it: that's what Anna Nicole Smith reported that her doctor told her before the birth of her daughter, born by scheduled cesarean. That her "uterus would shatter," as if it's made of glass, as if one tiny contraction could forcibly blow the entire thing up like a bomb. I was so sad for her, because she naively believed him, much like any of us probably would have.

Some articles surrounding Spelling's complications ask an important question: are doctors doing enough to inform patients about the risks of cesareans? I was happy to see that headline, because I argue wholeheartedly that they're not. If you were scheduled for brain or open heart surgery, would a doctor simply tell you, "Everything will be fine, trust me! It's totally safe!" and walk away without so much as an explanation of the procedure? Highly doubtful.

I know my own physician, whom I saw for two of my three pregnancies, definitely did not. I still remember clearly our conversation prior to the birth of my first baby, who was breech: to his credit, he didn't schedule the cesarean until the week of my due date, but never went over any risks - if he did, I probably would have left the office that day in a panic instead of nervous excitement about the arrival of my child. Thankfully I did go into labor days before the surgery, which meant my baby (and most importantly, my body) experienced labor on its own, which is critical for future births. Yet I had no idea just how important that was at the time, because I was naive and very uninformed. No thanks to him.

When I became pregnant with my second child, my doctor gave me a 'choice' of what I wanted to do: the cesarean route, which I was already familiar with and had survived (isn't that a benchmark of just how casual our approach is to it?) or a VBAC, then proceeded to tell me that it could be dangerous and he'd had two women rupture on him. I decided the word 'rupture' sounded very unpleasant and I wasn't even going to consider it for a moment. Duh. What an idiot I was!

As my pregnancy progressed, I decided maybe having a VBAC wasn't such a bad idea. My primary motivation for choosing one was a) my baby wasn't breech and b) I wanted to avoid a potentially horrific recovery like I had with the first. I was terrified to tell him my intentions, because I had just three weeks until my due date. I stammered my way through our office visit, my husband at my side, while he proceeded to again tell me just how dangerous VBACs were and "I have one patient who's on her fifth cesarean!" I will never forget those words. That's when I asked him, "Well, what about this? That? Or this?" He had to concede that yes, those were definite risks to multiple cesareans. But reluctantly.

I know I'm not the only one. I've read so many accounts from near-panicked women that are on the eve of their inductions: "What should I expect? What do they do? Is this really necessary?" Something is clearly wrong with this picture. Either we trust our doctors too much, feel completely incapable of asking them questions, or they are completely inept at adequately informing their patients of risks and benefits to procedures. It shouldn't be a "don't ask, don't tell" policy; even if the patient says she has no questions, you should probably go ahead and tell her anyway. If she doesn't even know what to ask, then she's probably not even thinking about what could happen, what should happen, or what doesn't even need to happen.

I asked people on Facebook if they were induced or had cesareans, did their doctor cover the risks of the procedure? Of those that answered, all of them said "no."

It doesn't help that many doctors will discourage you from 'reading too much.' The internet be damned, because that means you're a religious follower of Ricki Lake and she only wants women to give birth in bathtubs. *eyeroll* Here, here's a copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting, now please - I don't have time to go over all the risks with you because there are none and it's perfectly safe so have a nice day. Does that sound like informed consent to you? Me neither.

So it's not a wonder Tori Spelling has had her fourth cesarean, and I don't think she should be blamed for it, either. Not because she's "old," or "a breeder," or any of those things. Stop blaming the person who just trusted her doctor, as you often blindly tell her she should. Start blaming the people who knowingly put vulnerable, often inadequately informed people at risk. Stop enabling the very system that allows this to happen.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The return of Ruby, the "Anti-Barbie"

My three-year-old saw this picture and asked,
"Is that a real Barbie? Is that a real doll? She is
cutting her hair." LOL No traumatizing here...
Remember Ruby?

A few years ago I posted a picture of Ruby, The "Anti-Barbie" and compared her with the current bizarre Mattel brainchild, Bratz dolls. A little backstory: a dad and his daughter were at the mall somewhere, caught a glimpse of The Body Shop's Ruby ad, and he basically flipped out and said his daughter was "traumatized." (I'm curious how many Victoria's Secret mannequins they had passed during that shopping trip.) Mattel then stepped in and took over.

After filing a cease and desist order to The Body Shop, the ad got pulled.

What I didn't realize was that this ad campaign originally debuted over a decade ago in 1998, before Twitter and Facebook, and as one writer put it, "If something went viral, it usually required a trip to the doctor's office." Now with the virtual explosion of social media, Ruby made somewhat of a comeback.

Since I first saw that ad two years ago, and I really haven't thought much about Ruby since, until I started making Barbie clothes for my daughter's dolls. As I studied patterns and then the mass-manufactured clothes, I remembered that ad and the freak out episode Mattel had surrounding it.

It seems that Mattel's energy is misdirected in their efforts to get the Body Shop to cease and desist: she looks, really, nothing like the "real" Barbie, and is merely a representation of a doll, any doll, not just Barbie. There are copycat Barbies everywhere, so why not go after those people, too?

Strangely enough, it didn't appear as though Mattel were going after the manufacturer of the doll, just the people who are showing us the image. So in other words, they can't stop someone from actually making a doll like this, but they can just try their hardest to keep us from seeing it.

Ironically, in the late 1950s, Barbie's creator had been to Germany and saw a similar doll, called Bild Lili, taking it back to the US to her husband, the co-founder of Mattel. The irony of Barbie's debut smacks of theft, in some ways. Later, Mattel acquired the rights to the German company, and Barbie's European cousin was no longer produced.

If Ruby were to really be created as a doll for the public market, it seems like she would threaten Barbie's livelihood about as much as Barbie moved in on Bild Lili's territory back in 1959.

There are countless styles of fashion dolls out there, many re-tooled and redesigned by adult collectors whose vast collections of Barbie-like dolls, clothing, shoes and furniture would make any kid envious. They are often produced in Japan, and can be made to look like celebrities, rugged men, glamourous women with excessively large breasts - just about anything you can think of - except overweight. And we know that even with two body redesigns (which may have been prompted by the Ruby ad, along with cries of protest by concerned parents), Barbie and her gorgeous body is still not really what the average American woman looks like, a size 14 - which is more like what Ruby looks like (as the ad truthfully suggests).

Because we all know that nurses everywhere
wear satin scrubs and sky-high heels. It was
either this or the astronaut costume.
As far as wardrobe choices, it seems like Barbie is devolving somewhat. Decades ago when she first came out, there were beautifully-styled dresses, jackets with linings and real tags, tennis outfits, all kinds of clothing - all of which looked very realistic. While it's true that changing times and hemlines are probably what Barbie's wardrobe reflects upon most, it's still not that true-to-life. The career dolls are still around, and I recently bought an astronaut suit (with matching helmet and boots!) for my daughter's birthday. But I made a pact with myself when I started buying those dolls for her - I'd rather see them naked all the time than with the barely-there clothing she often comes with. I contest that while ball gowns are very pretty and glamourous (I think girls prefer the long, flowing ones over the often tight-fitting, super short ones Mattel seems to be churning out), Barbie needs a good dose of reality in her wardrobe. Most of us do not wear negligee-type dresses out in public, or silk scrubs and platform shoes to our nursing jobs. If you want Barbie to have a realistic wardrobe that looks like a pint-sized version of your own, you have to make it yourself.

So Mattel was upset by the image of Ruby, yet condones the sexed-up, almost prostitute-ish look of Bratz dolls in their skimpy, barely-there clothing, platform shoes and heavy makeup. Barbie's own wardrobe generally consists of unrealistic, often revealing clothing, a complete departure from the original designs that were miniature versions of clothing real people would wear. Much like today, when the doll was first introduced, parents protested her unrealistic chest size. Despite the protests of parents now about the appearance of the Bratz doll, they still continue to be top sellers.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A rash of rashes (Don't fear the fever, Part 2)

With all the fun and exciting things that happened to our family this summer, we also had two crummy illnesses thrown into the mix, just to keep us on our toes (or should I say, knees?).

My husband and I had planned a getaway trip to Boston at the end of June, but my daughter had other plans: she got pretty sick about a week or so before our trip. I blogged about the experience, and mainly how we were deciding not to overdo it on the Tylenol/Motrin thing and just let her body do its thing to fight whatever she had. And of course, people wanted to know how things turned out.

After a visit to the peds, he diagnosed her with Coxsackie Virus, based on her rash features: sort of random, slightly raised red bumps. She had it on her hands, and it definitely looked like HFM (hand-foot-mouth). She also had it in a cluster on her torso, but nothing on her feet or in her mouth. I thought perhaps some Tylenol to keep her comfortable and we'd just ride it out, thankful that she didn't have the telltale mouth sores that many kids get.

Well, I was wrong. We ended up in pediatric urgent care, where they observed that her rash features had changed - she had something called erythema multiforme. They decided they couldn't tell conclusively if it was a viral agent or something called Kawasaki Disease, a vasculitis (which causes swelling of the blood vessels) that seems to affect primarily Japanese and American children. While it's pretty rare, it can pose serious complications if left untreated, including catastrophic heart damage that can lead to sudden death episodes. (Think John Travolta's son) W.T.F. I freaked. I held onto the notion that perhaps this was a particular strain of Coxsackie Virus, which can cause erythema multiforme.

In the end, they decided to treat her as if she had Kawasaki's, because they felt that the benefit outweighed the risks. She had a mixed bag of symptoms, some of which met Kawasaki's criteria. They waited at least a day and a half to treat her simply because the medication is insanely expensive and they weren't 100 percent sure - they even called in a delightfully old gentleman in infectious diseases who, I later suspected with horror, was a retired physician they called in to consult. Heck - the guy even carried a doctor's bag.

She had fluid around her heart - a possible sign of Kawasaki's, or something viral, or simply from being sick. Red, strawberry tongue - also a sign of Kawasaki's, but not conclusive enough to diagnose, and could also be a sign of dehydration. Whatever it was, it was kicking her butt. They gave her a round of IV IG - intravenous immunoglobulin, purified blood plasma that is supposed to boost her immune system and apparently costs around $3,000 per dose. Thankfully she tolerated it well and was able to leave the hospital after 2 1/2 days.

I still don't want to "fear the fever," but when it's accompanied by a rash - especially one that you've never seen before - it's probably a cause for concern. In the mom's guide to rashes stuff I've seen, this one hasn't been listed, and even though Kawasaki's is rare, it does need to be treated swiftly. One definite cause for alarm with regards to fever is one that lasts more than four or five days, which was a concern to doctors - at one point I was out in the hallway with the attending and his medical students, and felt like I was stuck in a surreal episode of House M.D. I don't ever want to do that again.

Just for your memory files, this is what it typically looks like after the red spots change - target or bullet-like lesions that sort of fan out from the center. It kind of reminded me of a head of cauliflower.

Erythema multiforme. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.
Our last hurrah for the summer was a trip to my mom's in Ohio, where I unfortunately spent the week with a sore throat. It would subside some during the day, but at night it was almost unbearable, and Advil only made a slight difference. At one point as I tried to fall asleep, I thought I was choking on saliva and a moment of panic set in. But otherwise I could function - I didn't feel too terrible during the day, and if I did, chalked it up to crummy food and not enough sleep. I thought I had a cold, until I suddenly realized it was getting worse instead of better, and hadn't gone away in the usual time a sore throat from a cold does. Do I have strep throat?! I thought. I wasn't sure.

I think I've had strep throat once - I can't even remember if that's what it was - and wished I had thought more about seeing the doctor when we returned home. I had cold symptoms the following week after the sore throat went away, and didn't think any more of it. Until I developed quarter-sized red bumps on my lower legs, serious joint pain in my knees and ankles, and just generally still felt like crap. I thought maybe it was from shaving. After a few days I decided I couldn't take it anymore and headed to the doctor.

I had done some googling but wasn't sure what I was looking at was really what I was looking at. I ended up seeing the Pretend Doctor, and after that visit have decided never again. I like my regular doctor, but I'm not sure where he found this person: she said it looked like a vasculitis (similar to the rash my daughter had), and I silently freaked out. But she also blubbered on about a "chest X-ray, punch biopsy," and a bunch of other stuff that had me wondering. I absently said I would like a second opinion from the doctor (thank God he was there that day) and he cheerfully came in and examined me quickly. His diagnosis was pretty succinct and seemed to match up with what I had read, and Pretend Doctor got a tad defensive (and after Dr. Real Doctor left, said, "I know what I'm talking about," a little confidently), but who cares. No punch biopsy for me (which I read later is only required in cases where the cause cannot be determined, and mostly for localized outbreaks or something, whatever that means). I had to laugh when I came across the words "Any experienced doctor should be able to diagnose based on clinical symptoms. Rarely is a biopsy needed." Hahahaha (this is me laughing hysterically in my altered mental state)

The final word was that I had developed erythema nodosum, a rash that (most commonly, I read!) is caused by a recent strep infection. I felt like a detective. I now knew more about stupid erythematous rashes than most people would care to, and was sick of the word 'erythema.' I had punched in that stupid search criteria into my computer so many times I barely had to type the letters e r y before the term came up.

In case you've never heard of it, erythema nodosum is a bumpy rash that is most often confined to the lower legs and shins, and feels pretty much like you played rugby for six hours in high heels and then were kicked in the shins by the entire team. It also includes ankle swelling, joint pain and general malaise, and as a result I've been sucking down more Advil than I ever thought possible.

I know some are skeptical of the effectiveness of taking antibiotics for strep infections, but I'm wondering if this could have all been avoided if I had seen the doctor sooner. The pain at times is almost unbearable, and I have a pretty high tolerance for pain. Sometimes Motrin works well, sometimes not. I'd rather risk potentially disturbed gut flora from a course of prophylactic antibiotics (which I'm on anyway right now, just in case) than deal with this again. Cases of rheumatic fever are virtually non-existant in the US now as a result of antibiotics after strep throat, but some people report pockets recurring - which I'm wondering is either because parents aren't recognizing the sore throat or think it's unnecessary and don't want to contribute to antibiotic abuse. I can appreciate that, to some degree. But even if don't have strep complications, you can still have rheumatic fever, which can have serious, life-long (and sometimes life-threatening) complications.

Erythema nodosum. Photo:
Rheumatic fever is pretty rare in adults and mostly strikes children (like it did my grandma as a kid, before penicillin was even discovered) but that doesn't stop me from worrying about it, of course. In the meantime, I have a date with the heating pad. This should hopefully resolve itself ... in about three to six weeks. *frown*

More reading:
Your child has a rash: do you know what to do?