Friday, March 18, 2011

False alarm

Today Willow had a bilateral ultrasound of the hips and we received the surprising news that “her hips are fine.” Good news, very good, but surprising.

The doctor suspected hip misalignment, or dysplasia, due to uneven fat rolls on her legs. Mark had previously commented on her legs seeming farther apart than usual. Both me and Mark’s brother had club feet. We thought it was a question of what type of treatment to pursue, for how long, and how, not a question of whether or not she had a problem. So this was a huge gift.

I’d been anxious in the weeks between our visit to the pediatrician and the scheduled ultrasound. Mrs. Ca, who has been through this with her daughter, gave me some very helpful information. One of her suggestions was to look for a good pediatric orthopedist. So as I began researching orthopedists yesterday, thinking we’d need one soon, I realized that the expertise was centered at a large children’s hospital. I called them and they were able to get Willow in for an ultrasound today, while it took three weeks to get in at the place our pediatrician suggested. Our original ultrasound appointment wasn’t until next Wednesday.

I was nervous that we’d taken too long to discover this problem, that it was taking too long to get the ultrasound, that we’d be starting treatment too late – just when she’s going to be wanting to be putting weight on her legs. I was holding off on using anything that would spread her legs apart or put weight on her legs – a jumper, an exersaucer, a baby carrier.

I was also feeling some shock at the description of hip dysplasia as a birth defect that affects 1 in 1000 babies. Defect? My baby? It was hard to put those words together. The one to get it while 999 escaped?

One cause is insufficient space in the uterus, and this often affects first-born females. But since my uterus had expanded before, this was not likely the case for me.

It can also be caused by the baby’s reaction to the mother’s hormones during pregnancy. So then I started to wonder what I’d done wrong, or what was wrong with me. How could something my body produced harm my precious baby? Was this the effect of my feeling so strangely well during the first trimester? I recalled that I was on, or had recently been on some medication around the time Willow was conceived. Was it anti-malaria meds from my trip to West Africa? I’d intended to wait one more month before trying, both to clear my body of medications and to avoid a Christmas birthday. But things happen. Was this the result of my carelessness?

So I drove to the children’s hospital, a significant drive and maneuvered overfull parking garages, feeling confident I was going to get my child the best care I could. This is what my leave is for, I thought. I don’t care how far I have to drive or how often I have to do it.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a children’s hospital, at least not in the U.S. It was big, beautiful, bright and cheery. There were toys in the waiting room, all of the lights were bright, the walls, chairs and carpets were colorful, and the staff very friendly and considerate. It was nice, but it also felt heavy, as all that happiness and hope seemed to try to counter the awfulness of children with severe problems or struggling for their lives.

A man in a suit saw me struggling with the stroller and opened the door to the waiting room for me. I didn’t think much about him, except that he looked like a typical guy in a suit. A little later, as we waited for our appointment, I saw him walking hand in hand with a bald, limping child. Probably his son. Probably a very sick son.

One thing I found odd about the hospital was they didn’t encourage breastfeeding in public. When I made the appointment, I was told to breastfeed one half hour before the ultrasound so that her bladder would be full. We arrived 15 minutes before the appointment, so I began feeding Willow in the waiting room. Then I was called up to the counter for the insurance discussion. Since I was sitting right across from a woman, I asked her if it was OK if I breastfed Willow.

“We’d prefer you to use a room,” she said. And indicated to me two closed rooms I could choose from. I told her that I’d been told to breastfeed the baby before the ultrasound, but she didn’t say anything. I just had to wait until we’d finished the paperwork, then go the room (the family counseling room, where some families have probably received heart-rendering news) and shut us off, as though we were doing something dirty. It’s nice to have a room for those who need the quiet or privacy to breastfeed, but I thought it was strange to tell patients they weren’t allowed to eat in public, at a place dedicated to the health of children?

Willow did fine during the ultrasound. She lay calmly on the table and giggled as I tickled her. The technician did her job, then told me she’d consult with the doctor. She returned and said the magic words, “Her hips are fine.”

So we left the hospital without even a simple, curable physical abnormality. It felt like we’d received a get out of jail free card, but it also felt so unfair that we didn’t even have to deal with this treatable problem when other kids had to face so much more.

“Nothing is fair about childhood cancer,” Mark said, when I told him about the experience. He is right. Willow will face her share of challenges in life, but hip dysplasia will not be one of them. Perhaps she’ll have other issues with her legs, perhaps she’ll be pidgeon-toed, but for now, I can look at her with the hope that she’s on track to develop normally. I feel blessed.

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