Thursday, April 12, 2007

    Picking up my baby

    [Caution—graphic content]

    When, exactly, does one go from being a person to being a thing? Apparently when one enters a hospital.

    Corollary: when does one begin to be a person?

    I drove from Small Town to Bigger Town today to pick up LW’s and my baby. That was how we felt about the whole trip. The medical community, though, referred to our child as “products of conception.” These products, once removed surgically, were shipped off to a lab for examination. We did not consent to this nor were we informed this would happen.

    At the lab, our baby, only 7-8 weeks old and wrapped up in LW’s fallopian tube, was dissected and mounted onto slides for microscopic inspection. We found this out when we reviewed LW’s chart.

    It only recently occurred to us to follow up. What if the lab still had our baby? I made the call Wednesday. No, the lab said, we don’t return samples. (There are a thousand little cuts in medical language.) It was not a sample, I say, but a baby, removed with a ruptured fallopian tube. She got her manager.

    The manager, with some hesitation, indicated that the “wet tissue” was kept for four weeks and then sent out of state to an incinerator. There would be nothing to return.

    LW, at this time, is going ballistic at the injustice. How can they just take our baby, however small, and discard her as medical waste?

    Apparently the manager heard her (she was screaming), and after a long pause said that there might the slides…

    At this point in our grief, our feeling of being violated, lied to and generally abused has gotten only deeper with each phase. This one hurt. There would be a small (7 in all, as it turns out) number of slides with tissue. We could have those.

    I can’t really describe how surreal it was to enter the lab area. The “gross and microscopic exam room, small with the door open, had a set of cutting boards like the one in my kitchen. Was one of them where the autopsy (my word, not theirs) was performed?

    I didn’t look at the slides until I got to the parking lot. All through the surgery and the long recovery, I have tried to distance myself from the hurt, choosing to focus on LW instead—my fear of losing her almost realized. But, with the smallest section of my smallest child in a brown paper lunch bag, it hit me. It hit me hard.

    Our child was lost to us. That hit me hard, but then to have our child taken and sent to a lab…it seemed absurd and cruel. Was it because she was so little?

    I feel at a loss here. Historically I have argued for pro-choice feeling the viability is the line at which life choices shift from mother to child. But even faced with a child who would never be viable (ectopic), I felt she deserved better than this.

    What we would have liked is to have been able to take her home from the hospital and given a proper burial. Now, we will do that with what we have left.

    As if losing a child isn’t hard enough.

    PS: I don’t know if she looked like this picture, or even made it this far in development. The slide, though, definitely shows a cross-sectioned, little dragon-like shape. My littlest, little dragon baby. May you rest in peace.

    Would you like me to read this to you? Listen


    Blogger Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

    I'm sorry they were so terrible. It can't have made your grief any easier.

    I occasionally teach medical ethics and I'm going to add this practice to the list of potential research/presentation issues. It is a good applied ethics question. From their perspective, they wouldn't have any trouble sending a mole they'd removed to the lab in this manner. On the other hand, from your perspective your spouse was pregnant with a child, not a mole and thus the connection you felt happened before they considered the fetus a person.

    Saturday, April 14, 2007  
    Blogger Piss Poor Prof said...

    I am looking into how to change the law so that a patient must give informed consent to dispose of her surgical "remnants."

    I can't, though, look to the liberal side (which causes me undue stress) because they can't admit life until after the accetible abortion window.

    So, that seems to further isolate us--in this instance, politically.

    Tuesday, April 17, 2007  
    Anonymous Ivory said...

    I work in the lab so I think I can provide some perspective on this. Everything that is surgically removed has to be looked at by a pathologist for a couple reasons. First, they have to make sure that the thing they removed was actually the source of the problem. In your case, they have to show that it was a fetus, not a tumor or growth, that caused the rupture. Sometimes they remove healthy appendixes (appendicies?)and then have to go back into surgery to figure out what else could be wrong with the patient. Second, they have to make sure the removal was complete. Any fetal tissue left behind will die and could cause a problem for the mother.

    A few other thoughts - tissue that is made into slides is usually in a parafin block. They most likely kept the tissue blocks for legal purposes - they are required to archive them for a certain length of time (decades in my state) as evidence that the diagnosis was correct. But everything removed from your body is yours. I recovered my gall stones after my surgery (yes, I'm weird) and had you requested that they retain your "samples" they certainly would have done so. That said, I think it would be better if more people understood what happens to the parts of them left behind after surgery. Most don't care though - most don't have as personal a reason to care.

    Tuesday, April 17, 2007  
    Blogger Piss Poor Prof said...

    Thanks, Ivory.

    I appreciate you taking the time to comment here. While the people working in the lab were obnoxious and hurtful, I don't think they were malicious.

    I do take exception, though, not with the practice of taking samples for diagnosis, but with the lack of disclosure as to what was being done as well as the lack of information as to what our options were.

    In short, we were not able to consent (I should be able to refuse a test, even on surgical tissue for two reasons: it is my stuff, and I am paying for it) to the tests, nor were we made to understand that we could obtain what was taken from us.

    Wednesday, April 18, 2007  

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