December 12, 2008

STW 2008 Night 4

Last weekend, my wife and I were driving home from a friend’s house in Northern Virginia, simultaneously listening to the kids scream and NPR. I’m not usually much for their news coverage, but I love some of their “slice of life” style programming. I get such a kick out of how every presenter, man or woman, speaks in the same monotone, slightly interested, slightly disinterested voice. It's very comforting. On this night we were enjoying a program about psychology and health, the name of which I can’t recall. In traditional “Pete’s Schweddy Balls” voices we were treated to a fascinating story about SIDS.

It seems that in the 1920’s doctors thought they had solved a new medical mystery that was afflicting infants in the United States. Children under six months old were mysteriously dying and no one could figure out why. Once the death toll reached into the thousands, the autopsy results started coming in from around the country. Doctors noticed one common theme in all of the infants. They had unusually large thalamus glands.

They concluded that the large thalamus glands were pressing on the infants tracheas if they rolled over in a certain manner. At the time, radiation treatment was just discovered, and they decided that as a precautionary measure, parents should start radiating, and thus reducing, their children’s thalamus glands. Of course, a generation later, with a whole subset of the population stricken with cancer, their folly was discovered. SIDS wasn’t cured and thousands more were essentially killed.

You see, back in the early part of last century, the search was on by hospitals for cadavers to perform autopsies on. There was a shortage of usable bodies for this burgeoning science, so the field of grave robbing was born. The practice was soon rampant and the wealthy started to protect their recently deceased with guards and fences. Naturally, the grave robbers had to turn to more off the beaten path—some would say extremely poor—cemeteries for their corpses. There was no money to protect these graveyards and the hospitals were soon back up to speed in the dead body department.

The link between all of these cadavers and the new study concerning sudden infant death lay in the financial well being of the bodies being studied. Apparently, the more stressed a person is, the more ragged their thalamus gland becomes. It stands to reason that the poorer a person is, the more they scramble and fight to stay afloat, worried about their job, and their family. The more stress they carry around with them, the more they also carry around the physiological symptoms that come with it. As it turns out, doctors were only studying abnormally small—overworked—thalamus glands.

Sadly, when they autopsied the infants, they discovered abnormally large—in actuality normal—thalamus glands. There were no healthy bodies to study; therefore doctors never knew what a normal body looked like. They made the natural leap, and sought a way to combat a perceived problem. Their error now seems so obvious. The question is what are we studying and “healing” today, which down the line new science will reveal to be archaic and ultimately uneducated.

Okay, as you have seen before, I like long segues. This story was well timed in that it coincides with Sleep Training Week 2008, and the fears that come with it. As I type this, I listen to Tilda screaming, no doubt while lying on her belly. Soon she will pass out and I will be left to wonder about SIDS, and life, and life without her. Everything is just a little fucked up at night. Your senses are wonky. Your imagination runs wild. SIDS isn’t a monster under the bed, but the rationalization of it works just the same. I know the odds are that Tilda will be fine; that doesn’t let the mind rest any easier on the pillow.

Last night, when Tilda finally fell asleep after 45 minutes of crying and a well timed replacing of her pacifier by me, she was out until 5 A.M. Sweet. A full night’s sleep. Oh no, that’s right, I was up on the couch until 12:45 waiting for my wife to come home from her firm’s annual Holiday Party and then Annie woke up at 2:30. I didn’t want her to wake up Tilda, so I indulged her with a nice long hug, and boom, full night’s sleep up in smoke.


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