Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sybil's death

Being a few days after the showing of Downton Abby season 3 episode 4, I hope I'm not spoiling it for anyone.  However, consider yourself warned that this could be a spoiler for someone living completely under a rock, or maybe in 3rd year or residency or some other all life-consuming activity.

Sybil's death brought with it a flood of emotion for me.  I always find myself crying when a character dies regardless of the medium.  This dates all the way back to my obsession with "doom and gloom" and reading Luriene McDaniel books in middle school.  I still love books that make me cry and I often find myself crying in movie theaters (though airplanes are the only movie theaters I have time for now a days) so it comes as no surprise that tears flowed as Sybil died. 

The flood of emotion though was because of HOW Sybil died- in childbirth, from eclampsia.  While skewed in accuracy, especially with modern monitoring and treatments for pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, is still brings light to the gravity of birth.  Evolutionary pregnancy and birth have to happen for us to continue and so it does, but it does with great risk.  According to the CDC, "at the beginning of the 20th century, for every 1000 live births, six to nine women in the United States died of pregnancy-related complications".  Reported rates in Brittan were closer to 40 in a 1000 births.  Today, the rate is closer to 12.6 per 100,000 births in the United States, putting us at a rank of 21st in maternal mortality.  21st!!!  That's pretty shitty.  The rate is even more horrific in other parts of the world, and often from preventable and/or treatable causes.  We need to do better.

I believe the episode also brought to light the fact that practicing medicine is an art and not a science.  It requires knowing your patients and trusting your instincts.  Doctors are human and make mistakes.  Communication between doctors, patients, and families is key.  So are medical surrogates, medical power of attorney, and living wills.  If you don't already have one, take this as a sign to make one!  Have conversations with your loved ones about what you might want/not want to happen to you if you are ever in a situation where you can't decide for yourself.  Talk about organ donation. 

I know, I know.  It's only a television show.  Maybe I'm reading too much into the plot, or transposing too much of my daily life into it.  Oh well, so be it. 

Also, before anyone starts blaming western medicine on the risks of childbirth (I too have seen Business of Being Born), that is not what I'm implying.  To say this again: birth more often than not is VERY safe and does not require much, if any, medical intervention.  But, when things go wrong, they tend to go wrong fast and can have dire consequences.  Even during my 3rd year clerkship I saw both the beauty of birth and the devastation from horrible unexpected tragedy.  I try to focus on the beautify and fragility of human life in this amazing feat of the body; humbly remembering that I cannot always be in control of, or know what to expect from, every situation.

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