health and illness: August 2005 Archives

from my inbox -please keep praying

Dear all,

You may remember a few months ago I posted a prayer request for a close friend of mine, Abigail Witchalls who was stabbed in the neck while walking her 2 year old son close to her house. Many of you prayed, and I do really thank you for that. i thought you may be interested to know the situation now. Abigail is now 5 months pregnant and the pregnancy is progressing normally (she discovered she was pregnant with her second child only after the attack). The knife wound was revealed to have severed her spinal cord completely, according to scans. She was left fully paralysed from the neck down. Abigail's case caught the media's attention everyday for several a young (26yrs) devoutly Catholic mother, Abigail was an amazing witness to the Faith - telling reporters, through a tube in her throat, how blessed she was, and that 'God was doing beautiful things'...she asked people for their prayers, and her heroic way of suffering was an insipration to many. Newspaper articles were written about her. people who didnt know her were being brought back to the Church. She received tens of thousands of letters and cards, and communities worldwide were praying for her.

Over the last couple fo months, Abi has amazed doctors with her recovery. Despite being told she would never regain feeling below the neck, and that she would likely not be able to breathe alone, Abi is now experiecing sensations over every part of her body. She can now move her legs a little and has had movements in her right arm especially. She breathes alone fully, and is speaking too (in a whisper). the knife wound affected her vocal chords so her voice isnt fully back to normal. She can now also eat without relying on a tube through the nose. Last month, her husband was allowed to bring her to a park local to the hospital where we met her with our children, for a party for her son's second birthday.

It is worth bearing in mind that after the attack, two doctors declared her brain dead, and one said that even if she did recover she would be severely brain-damaged and if she should have a heart attack it "wouldnt be worth reviving her".

Abigail's spirits, thought the last few months, have been high, and despite all the problems stacked up against her, she is full of hope. She says she has really benefitted by everyone's prayers - not just for her but for her husband and child...and the one on the womb. She has even been told, that, despite her severe paralysis, that she can give birth naturally should she want to (which she does).

Please would you continue to pray for Abigail. She still has a long way to go. the baby will be born around Christmas time, and as yet she has not enough movement to be able to hold or support the baby alone. She really wants people to pray that her arms gain sufficient movement for her to be able to hold the baby and to breastfeed.

Some of us as friends and her family have decided to start a 40 day pray and fast period for Abigail. The 40 days starts today and ends on October 13 - the anniversaary of the last day of apparitions from Our Lady of Fatima. It seems that Our Lady of fatima, and JPII have been quite involved in Abigail's recovery.

thanks again for your prayers. Hope you don't mind me posting this on this site.


Why not hire midwives, instead?

| | Comments (2)

Some health systems explore laborists idea
... why not hire doctors who will work only in the hospital, mainly delivering babies?

By hiring what have been called "laborists" and paying their malpractice insurance costs, the hospital could take the pressure off community doctors and possibly help with two related problems. Nationwide, fewer doctors, including obstetricians, want to serve "on call" for hospital emergency rooms. And rising malpractice insurance costs are causing some obstetricians to retire or cut back on OB services.

or, those who do not study history often end up trapped in it.

There is a discussion over on another blog about whether or not altruism is essentially evil. It started as a philosophical question comparing Ayn Rand to Robert Heinlein, and as those things tend to, it devolved a bit. It started me to thinking about how often what seems, on the face of it, to be A Good Idea, often turns out to be the beginning of a particularly virulent form of social insanity. And that got me to thinking about Dr. John Rock.

Dr. Rock was at one time a devout Catholic and a daily communicant. He was a skilled (and by all accounts) compassionate Ob/Gyn, devoted to his patients, wanting to help those who were unable to conceive to be able to have the children they so wanted. He was also troubled by women whose health was seriously affected by pregnancy. When he started his practice, there were no antibiotics, and only a rudimentary understanding of the natural process of conception, pregnancy, and childbirth. Twilight sleep (heavy doses of morphine for pain, scopolamine to erase memory, and ether or chloroform for the actual birth) was quite common for childbirth. Large episiotomy and routine forceps delivery was quite common. Women were kept in bed for days after giving birth, and blood clots were a common complication of childbirth. With no antibiotics, and with only primitive surgical techniques, cesareans were often a death sentence, and many women were damaged, sometimes permanently, from the management of their 'lying-in'. It would be decades before it became clear that many of the interventions meant to prevent damage from childbirth actually contributed to the problems.

Despite his vociferous profession and practice of Catholicism, in 1931, Dr. Rock called for repeal of the Massachussets law banning the sale of contraceptive devices (in those days, condoms and diaphragms). Casti Connubii had already been promulgated in response to the Anglican's endorsement of contraception in marriage "for serious reasons". I am not sure that he was aware of either of these developments from Europe, but it is clear that Dr. Rock endorsed at least in principle the idea of birth control. I don't understand why his pastor and/or his bishop didn't correct him at this point. Could it have been because the Cardinal archbishop was the one who officiated at his wedding? Or could it have been because the law would also forbid teaching the basics of determining the fertile and infertile period?

In 1936 Dr. Rock started a clinic teaching the Ogino-Knaus rhythm method, using the calendar and the thermometer. However, he was frustrated by the enormous variability of the menstrual cycle, and eventually wrote it off (quite publicly, in the New England Journal of Medicine). He felt that the degree of abstinence required was unrealistic. His eventual bent in research was to find a method of manipulating the menstrual cycle to artificially extend the natural infertile period. He did find it useful, though, in counseling infertile and marginally fertile couples in how to time relations to maximize their chances of conception.

The basic research into female reproductive hormones that eventually led to the birth control pill was initially intended to help the infertile woman. Dr. Rock was also convinced that medication that simply created infertility (by replicating the hormonal milieu of the infertile times of the menstrual cycle) should be considered 'natural' and endorsed by the Church. Dr. Rock was one of many researchers in the 1930s who elucidated the varying roles of the hormones estrogen, progesterone, FSH and LH. He developed the basic technique of endometrial biopsy and was the first to use it to date the menstrual cycle and identify the hormonal milieu of ovulation.

The understanding of the dance of the hormones has also helped give NFP a scientific basis way beyond that of Ogino and Knaus. I find it tragic that Dr. Rock became so convinced of his own rightness that he abandoned trying to understand and started trying to control. In reading his biography I learned that he may well have been one of the more influential persons who redefined pregnancy as beginning not at conception but at the positive pregnancy test.

Starting in 1938, he deliberately scheduled ("medically necessary") hysterectomies for women in the post-ovulatory phases of their cycles (as determined by their rhythm/temperature charts), telling the women to go ahead and have relations then. During the course of the suregery, the team would search for the eggs, fertilized or un. Dr. Rock and his research partner did not "consider the conceptuses they hoped to find to be abortuses".

Over the 14 years that the study was conducted, the team found 34 fertilized eggs, representing the first 17 days of life. Amazingly, the general public never heard of this research even after it was published. These specimins of human life at its earliest stages are still the only such collection in existence.

Reading his biography I learned how intertwined the concepts of assisted reproduction and contraception truly are. Rock carried out experiments in artificial insemination and pioneered cryopreservation of human sperm - reported in the journal Fertility and Sterility in 1946. Even earlier (1944), he reported successful in vitro fertilization - performed by his highly skilled lab assistant from eggs collected during hysterectomy and sperm donated by medical students. These early stage embryos, along with the 34 embryos collected, are still in the Carnegie Collection in Maryland.

The hormonal manipulation that led to the birth control pill also grew out of attempts to correct infertility. Dr. Rock had a theory that 'resting the ovaries' might restore their function. He administered high doses of progesterone - similar to the levels one would find after ovulation or during pregnancy - for months on end. This completely suppressed ovulation and the menstrual cycle, and many of his patients did go on to conceive once their bodies restarted ovulation after treatment was ended. (I'm guessing that this was therapeutic for endometriosis - without the menstrual cycle, the endometrial implants would shrink).

From this, the birth control pill was eventually developed. In vitro fertilization with embryo transfer (IVF-ET) grew out of his basic research. And from the mass production of embryos for infertility, we now have the social pressure to put these 'unwanted' embryos to 'good use' as research tools.

The intents were of the best - to help women to avoid conception if pregnancy would be damaging to health or well-being and also to help those who wanted to conceive be able to do so. And yet - and yet. Losing sight of the means and focusing on the ends has led to both more and less of what was sought. The ultimate separation of sexuality and procreation has been a major factor in changing the overall culture. I have no doubt that there are families who have used contraception and/or assisted reproductive technologies who have not found these to be anything but helpful (in their own perception)to themselves as individuals. But the overall effect on our culture has been to make marriage and monogamy seem to be unecessary or luxury items, not a basic foundation for family. Sex need not lead to children, and children don't necessarily require a sexual relationship between a man and a woman, and the whole cultural basis of family is affected.

The earthquake was many decades ago, and we are still getting aftershocks.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the health and illness category from August 2005.

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