In the wake of the failure of the Blunt amendment, Rick Santorum (and many of his ilk) are is still on about government and employers paying for services that Saint Santorum deems morally and religiously wrong. This of course still means contraception and prenatal testing, because apparently morally and religiously objectionable only applies to women’s reproductive health. Ah, but I digress.
I was thinking specifically about prenatal testing this morning as I was running, especially the absurdity of making people pay for prenatal testing when it has so many applications beyond abortion. I was wondering if Santorum and his wife knew about their daughter’s genetic problem before her birth and if they did how that knowledge helped them to prepare? And then I thought about all the parents I have seen along the way who have been helped by knowing. And then I thought of someone who could have been helped by prenatal testing. Me.
No, not during my pregnancy (prenatal diagnostic for triplets is not that accurate, nuchal translucency is about all you get). Nope, I’m thinking way back to when I was a fetus. You know, back in the dark ages.
You see, I was born a healthy 8 lbs 12 ounces and continued on my merry way with no health issues (unless being precocious and mouthy are now included in the DSM-V) until I had a skateboarding accident at the age of 10. After spending a night in agonizing pain (why I wasn’t taken to the hospital is a potential source of many posts) I was eventually seen in the emergency room and required an urgent angiogram (a large intravenous placed in my right femoral artery and then contrast injected during x-rays to look for the source of bleeding). Scary shit for a 10 year old. Back in those days there were no fancy diagnostic tools such as ultrasound, CT scans, or MRIs. Bleeding was diagnosed the good old fashioned way: large bore catheters, high-dose radiation and contrast!
In the end I had a busted spleen, but was managed conservatively. However, the angiogram also revealed I had a bum left kidney. More invasive tests showed an obstruction in my left ureter (the tube that drains the kidney), which had probably been there from the get go. Over time, urine backed up and my kidney was damaged. Badly enough that a few months later my left kidney was removed. The old fashioned way where they basically cut you in half and split you open. Yeah, it hurt.
However, in an alternate reality where my mother was afforded the luxury of prenatal testing my obstructed ureter would almost certainly have been picked up on the 18-20 week ultrasound that is part of prenatal testing. At birth I would have had an ultrasound to confirm the obstruction and it would have been corrected, typically with a minimally invasive procedure (a stent to open the tube). A day surgery. But what if in this alternate realty my parents had not been able to afford the ultrasound because their insurance was not required to cover prenatal testing?
With prenatal testing I would had been able to avoid all the radiation I accumulated getting IVPs every year after my nephrectomy until the modern miracle of ultrasound (I’ve had 6 or 7 IVPs and I’ve always wondered if this affected my fertility). I would also have avoided an assortment of other nasty tests. I’d have two kidneys, be able to take ibuprofen, and not have the whopping scar that can only be described as a shark bite.
With prenatal testing I also wouldn’t have that little fear that nags at the back of my mind now and then: what happens if my one kidney fails?