Monthly Archives: February 2014

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Frankljunior

Crimson Tides

Another day in the life…

Few things in my profession are more terrifying than obstetrical hemorrhage.  Every year more than 144,000 pregnant women bleed to death, even here in the U.S. Sometimes we anticipate problems; more often we have no warning.

I aged ten years one afternoon treating one such woman.

Marylou was in labor with her third child and everything was going well.  Her cervix had dilated to 6cm and I thought she’d deliver in the next two hours or so.  Suddenly, she said, “I can’t breathe,” and the baby’s heart rate dropped to 60 beats per minute or bpm (normal baby heart rate is 110-160 bpm).  Her cervix was completely dilated but the baby wasn’t looking any better and too high in the birth canal to deliver with forceps, so we took her to the operating room.

The baby came out screaming and we were all relieved…for the moment.  We closed the uterus but the suture line slowly oozed blood.  The bleeding seemed to improve after a few minutes, so we finished.  We noticed a little bit of blood around the staples that closed her skin, but it wasn’t unusual.  The nurse pushed on her uterus to expel any remaining blood before taking Marylou to the recovery room. Everything seemed fine.

Blood started gushing from Marylou’s vagina about 30 minutes later and it wasn’t clotting. I ordered another four units of blood—we had two units already waiting from before surgery—while her nurse started a second IV.  We then wheeled her to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and called one of the critical care specialists.

The specialist was a man of few words who, until that day, wasn’t known for anxiety under pressure. When he pulled the sheet off Marylou, blood was visibly welling up between her thighs.  His eyes widened as he quietly said, “We need more blood.”  That’s when we knew Marylou was in trouble.

I ran to the blood bank and came back with four units, but her blood was pouring out as fast as we replaced it.  I was starting to worry she might bleed to death and took her back to the operating room. I asked a physician on the unit, who had also been my senior resident in training, for help. We tried packing her vagina with laparotomy sponges, but the blood soaked through them and ran onto the floor. He looked at me and said, “I think it’s time to give up and take it out.”  We quickly prepared her for surgery.

One of the hospital’s hematologists brought a portable refrigerator to the operating room and directed the transfusion while we took her uterus out.  We emptied the hospital blood bank of Marylou’s blood type; then we emptied out the local Red Cross. By the time Marylou was stable and out of danger, she’d received 30 units of blood and several liters of IV fluids.

Marylou suffered from the “anaphylactic syndrome of pregnancy,” something we used to call an “amniotic fluid embolism.”  Baby’s skin cells and amniotic fluid get into the mother’s circulation, causing a severe reaction in a small number of women, much like that in someone with an allergy to penicillin, peanuts or bee stings. The afflicted patient has trouble breathing and her blood pressure can fall low enough to put her into shock.

Marylou’s blood wouldn’t clot because the reaction used up most of the blood’s clotting factors, creating a potentially fatal complication called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). Red blood cell packs lack those clotting factors, so we need to transfuse other blood products—fresh frozen plasma, cryoprecipitate and platelets—to treat massive hemorrhage.  Since then hospitals have developed transfusion protocols based on the military’s battlefield experience.

The survival statistics for amniotic fluid embolism have never been good.  One hundred percent of women with an amniotic fluid embolism who aren’t treated die; up to seventy percent die in spite of treatment.  Sometimes babies have been delivered by Cesarean section after the mother has gone into cardiac arrest and died.

Marylou woke up in the ICU four days later and asked me, “Did I scare you?”

More than you will ever know.



Image:© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Frankljunior

Sometimes God Wants Angels

Stories from thirty years of being a physician.  This is one.

José was a Certified Surgical Assistant (CSA) who helped me with Cesarean sections. He was a big guy with a little white in the scruffy black stubble on his face, and a man of few words.  I usually had to ask him to repeat the occasional amusing quip because, unlike the nurses whose hearing was far more acute, all I heard was a low rumble.  José always thought I should sew the abdominal muscles back together after we did a Cesarean.  I didn’t see any reason—sewing muscle is like sticking a needle through a stick of butter—but I didn’t see any harm. I’d give him the needle holder after I’d closed the peritoneum. He would neatly bring the pyramidalis and rectus muscles together with the same care one would use embroidering a shirt.

One evening Maria came to the hospital from the office. Her doctor couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat, and an ultrasound confirmed the baby had died. Her first baby, a girl, had died from a brain hemorrhage when she was 11 months old. She had two boys at home, both delivered by Cesarean section. Sadly, this turned out to be another girl.

She insisted she’d felt the baby moving on her way to the hospital and repeatedly asked if there was some mistake.  We checked again with a bedside ultrasound exam, found no movement and no heartbeat, and her tears finally began to flow. I felt a little useless because she spoke no English (and I only know a little German), but her nurse, Molly, spoke fluent Spanish and gently consoled Maria.

I explained another Cesarean section would be the best way to deliver. We gave her the option of waiting until the morning but she didn’t want the baby inside her any longer than necessary.  We waited for her family arrive and gave everyone time to grieve, and then took her to the operating room. The anesthetist made her comfortable with a spinal and we prepped her for surgery.

It took about 5 minutes to open the uterus. The odor coming from the amniotic fluid indicated the baby had died a few days earlier.  We found a large clot in the umbilical cord where it entered the baby and a very tight constriction in the cord farther down near the placenta.

She began sobbing again as she felt the baby leave her body.  José leaned over the drape talked to her in the low, quiet voice.  I couldn’t follow what he was saying, but I caught “Dios”, Spanish for God.  We finished the operation in near silence.  We moved her to a regular bed after dressing the incision and took her back to her room.  I sat on a stool in the hallway because my back was aching; José came out of the operating room a moment later.

I asked, “So, what did you say to her?”

He replied, “Sometimes God wants angels, too.”  He paused, weary.  “This is tough for us; I can’t imagine what they go through.  Even when your kids are grown, you worry about them and don’t want them to die before you do.”

I thought I saw a faint glimmer of tears in his eyes, but my own tears obscured my vision.

What Does The CBO Say?

Last week the Congressional Budget Office released “The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014-2024.” Conservatives and the right-wing media got an instant woody over Appendix C – Labor Market Effects of the Affordable Care Act: Updated Estimates. The ACA would kill 2.5 million jobs, take away the incentive to work and put millions more on the dole.

The White House, predictably, embraced the report as a victory of sorts for the beleaguered American wage slaves who have been worried they will die chained to their desks.  Meanwhile, Politico accuses both sides of “cherry-picking” the data in the report.

(C) Can Stock Photo

(C) Can Stock Photo

So what to make of all this?  Here’s my take.

First, CBO’s projections are educated guesses about the future based on current data and realities that are likely to change, requiring further analysis and adjustments.  Indeed, the CBO admitted:

“…estimate(s) of the ACA’s impact on labor markets (are) subject to substantial uncertainty, which arises in part because many of the ACA’s provisions have never been implemented on such a broad scale and in part because available estimates of many key responses vary considerably. CBO seeks to provide estimates that lie in the middle of the distribution of potential outcomes, but the actual effects could differ notably from those estimates…”

The claim that there will be 2.5 million fewer jobs by 2024 can be blamed on conservative animosity towards the ACA, aided by the CBO’s authors’ poor choice of words.  The report forecast workers voluntarily reducing their labor by 2.5 million full-time equivalent hours. That will likely happen mostly among low wage workers, amounting to 1.5 percent to 2.0 percent of total hours worked.

“…The estimated reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in businesses’ demand for labor, so it will appear almost entirely as a reduction in labor force participation and in hours worked relative to what would have occurred otherwise rather than as an increase in unemployment (that is, more workers seeking but not finding jobs) or underemployment (such as part-time workers who would prefer to work more hours per week)…”

Those workers are NOT quitting altogether to go on the dole. Some may go to part-time jobs; others may retire early. There are 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring every day through 2031; their exit from the workplace could potentially create job openings for younger, qualified currently unemployed workers.

However, any potential job changes come with trade-offs.

Full-time employees whose income is more than 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) or whose employers offer health insurance are not eligible for subsidies for health insurance purchased through the exchanges. So they will either continue to work full-time, switch to a different full-time job, or go to part-time jobs and purchase their own insurance, especially if the net result is working fewer hours while maintaining their desired standard of living.

Employees whose income is less than 400% FLP or whose employer does not offer insurance can obtain insurance through the exchange, and they are eligible for tax credits and subsidies, which decrease as income increases. They might work less to avoid crossing the FLP threshold which means losing their subsidies and credits while effectively hiking their taxes. But then again, they might decide the extra income is worth the tax bite

People living in states that agreed to expand Medicaid are now eligible for Medicaid benefits if their income is less than 138% FLP. If they earn more, they’ll be eligible for insurance subsidies, ensuring they won’t lose coverage. People living in states that did not expand Medicaid, however, can only get insurance subsidies, not Medicaid.

I think the real issue is: conservatives and their corporate overlords hate losing the leverage that health insurance once gave them over workers.  How many people have endured “job lock,” staying in a thankless job, working more hours for less pay, working for condescending employers who’ve made it abundantly clear employees are unimportant, easily replaced, but a necessary evil?  Have you ever been told, “Bend over and like it because there are ten other people out there waiting for your job?”

Employers might be a little more considerate now that health insurance isn’t always tied to the job. I’m not holding my breath.

Coca-Cola vs the Wretched Refuse

In 1971, Coca-Cola produced the multicultural (and overly saccharine) “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” commercial and no one said anything.Coke hilltop7

In 1979, Coca-Cola jerked our heartstrings with the inter-racial Mean Joe Green ad, and in 2009 used Troy Polamalu in the parody hawking Coke Zero.  It wasn’t a big deal.coke-mean-joe

In 1990, Coke resurrected the 1971 Hilltop ad, this time with the original singers and their families.  Some of us groaned after hearing “that song” again, but no one complained.

In 2014, Coke aired a beautiful multi-lingual version of America the Beautiful.  And the right wing knuckle-draggers went ape shit, saying that singing “our national anthem” in anything but English was a travesty.Coke 2014

What the hell is the matter with you people? First, our national anthem is The Star-Spangled Banner and the tune is To Anacreon in Heaven ,an English drinking song.  Second, Katharine Lee Bates, who wrote America the Beautiful after hiking to the top of Pikes Peak, also wrote a collections of sonnets for her lover, Katharine Coman.

English may be the predominant language in the U.S., but it is not the official language. Unless your ancestors came from England, they spoke French, German, Dutch, Russian, Yiddish, Spanish, Portuguese, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Chinese, Japanese, Gaelic, and whatever passes for English in Scotland. And the native tongue was anything BUT English if your ancestors were here before Columbus.

And when did we become the United States of Exclusively White People?  Which white people? The Irish were once scorned, partly for being Roman Catholic.  In 1889, the Bennett Law tried to make English the official language in Wisconsin, pissing off the Germans and Norwegians. So we’ve all been shunned at one time or another.

I live in the Chicago suburbs and we love our multicultural heritage. There are Asian, African-American, Hispanic, South Asian and Middle Eastern families within three blocks of my house. The son of the old Pakistani man drives a big-ass Dodge Ram pickup with a Chicago Bears sticker in the rear window.

Chicago has arguably the largest Polish population in the country and in a month we’ll be celebrating Fat Tuesday with Pączki (pronounced POHNCH-kee), a jelly doughnut on steroids. paczki The city has ethnic festivals all summer long: Italian, Greek, Chinese, Thai, German, Hispanic, Irish, African, and Korean. There are African-American, gay, St. Patrick’s Day, Southside Irish, Northwest Side Irish, Chinese, Greek, Mexican, Polish and Puerto Rican parades every year.

No one is “shoving multiculturalism down our throats.”  It’s been here as long as we have.  No one says you have to participate, but you do have to tolerate it just as they tolerate you. I realize some of you resent having to sharing the pie, but that’s the price you pay for living in the melting pot. The Pledge of Allegiance reads, “…liberty and justice for all,” not “for some privileged people.” If you don’t believe me, maybe John Winger can convince you

“We’re all very different people. We’re not Watusi. We’re not Spartans. We’re Americans, with a capital ‘A’, huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We’re the underdog. We’re mutts!”

Oh, and for those of you boycotting Coke, Pepsico backs gay rights and its CEO and Chair is Indra K. Nooyi, an Indian-American woman.  Just thought you should know.