Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reading the Blood

This week we learned a little something about why doctors spend lots of money and many years going to medical school to become doctors, and why lay people, like ourselves, should not attempt to interpret lab results. Oh, and also why the internet is not an effective diagnostician. Common sense? You’d think so. But when it comes to Samantha’s health and well-being, we think it’s better to be safe and certain than too late and sorry, even if it means a few extra gray hairs.

Sammi had her blood drawn last week for her annual check on all the important stuff for a kid with Down syndrome, as prescribed by her geneticist. Zinc, thyroid, etc. The list is a long one. But with genetic aberrations come some funky things to look out for that are typical for a child with Ds as opposed to a "typical" child. That’s not to say that a typical child can’t have some funky stuff come up, but here’s where we’re at a distinct advantage, in that we start looking for these things from an early age, rather than waiting until there’s a problem and pulling our hair out to figure out what it might be. I was dismayed (but intrigued) to hear an expert once say that it’s not if a person with Down syndrome will have a thyroid problem, but when.

The blood draw went well. Not only did they find a vein on the first try, but Samantha didn’t even cry. Well, at least not until the nurse went to put a Band-Aid on the site. They had to forego the bandage in favor of tape, which was readily accepted. My kid’s weird. The next day we got a call from the geneticist’s nurse, who said that the results were in (astoundingly fast!) and that everything looked good.

The day after that, the hard copy of the results arrived in the mail.

And with this, we compiled the results from all of her previous labs to compare. And Steve noticed something we took to be alarming. White blood counts have decreased steadily over the last 3 years, and monocytes have increased. A quick check on the internet told us that this could mean she’s fighting an infection, and that she has a potentially compromised immune system. Those of you out there who know anything about blood work may be laughing at our naiveté, but hey, we try…

Something to remember about the internet…it does not know how to ask important questions. You can look up productive cough and see the result that tells you that you could have tuberculosis or bacterial pneumonia. Oh no! Get to a hospital asap! What was not asked was if that cough may have been accompanied by a runny nose, which might better suggest a simple cold. Whew. It’s the same with blood test results. A few hours later, after calling Samantha’s pediatrician, who we love, we were informed that the white count and monocytes as they stood alone in the sea of numbers, can not be interpreted as individuals. There is actually an equation that results in the true number used for determining illness such as the dreaded “L” word, and for Samantha, that final number showed that she is in excellent health, with absolutely no cause for concern.

As parents we are trained to worry about our children, to take them to the doctor every time they get a fever or a rash. Health is the most valued concept that we parental detectives seek. And it’s not like we’re looking for anything wrong, we’re looking for what’s right, and within that scope, things that are wrong jump out quickly. And as untrained pseudo-doctors, Moms and Dads have their limits of knowledge. But we are not too old to learn.


ABandCsMom said...

I wish that I did not have the knowledge of the "equation". I knew what you were writing of and what your thoughts were as soon as I read your post. Lots of numbers off that lab sheet play a roll in the "L" word. Maybe she just got over a viral bug...that would cause the white cells to be lower for anyone. Once the immune system kicks up, and illness is well on it's way out, the Monocytes will climb...that's a good thing! That being said,glad to hear that all is well!

Lacey said...

Kudos to you for finding that. You found something that stood out and you questioned it. Even if she is fine, you are on the ball. This is why us parents are the best doctors, we point things out and let the real doctors figure it out!
With cups, which cup do you recommend for Arina with a straw? She drank from a straw once when she first came home, now she won't suck it up. Its like it feels weird in her mouth!

Beth said...

I always look at her bloodwork and get overwhelmed and too confused to google anything. Once I thought her thryoid numbers looked weird, and then found out it was actually her kidney numbers, and oh, I should have been a nurse.

Good to hear she's healthy!

Rochelle said...

Yeah for such great results and yeah for your pediatrician explaining the equation to you.

Chromosomally Enhanced said...

sometimes I think that with all the tests/worries we become so reliant on Drs...Maddie does have thyroid issues so blood work is checked every three months...and they call if I am late getting it! I love our peds dr...he is such a realistic guy that always explains in my terms and always has time for us...a jump in any blood count would have me calling and browsing! thanks for teaching me something today!! smiles

Monica said...

Great sleuthing and eventually finding out some good news! Funny about some kids and bandaids. JM likes the tape, too. He proudly shows it off :-)

Amy said...

Glad she is healthy. I feel like I have fallen of the blog world with 3rd kid coming. I just can't seem to catch up these days. I love your blog look by the way. It's great and you have captured some beautiful pictures of Samantha. I have a big goal to figure out my nice camera and take some amazing pictures. Miss you guys. We need to plan a play date soon!

RobMonroe said...

I was about two minutes away from flagging WebMD as a spam site so that my wife could no longer look up symptoms last fall! Finally convinced her to go to a doc and he told her what I had been telling her all along.

The web is a wonderful place, you are right about needing the RIGHT questions to get the right answers.

It is awfully hard to have those numbers in front of you and not look them up, though. I know that feeling. I have a friend who charted (excel, with graphs and all!) her results and did not realize that things had been going as well as they were.

Zoey's mom said...

Labs.Does it go without saying,that we have a love hate relationship with them?

So glad you found peace in the end.And as for the internet,wealth of info,both good and bad.

Just a little tid bit I have found out over the last few years :A lot of our chromosomally enhanced little loves have lower white counts then their typical peers.No known reason but just kind of how some of them roll.And when they do get sick,the marrow kicks in and produces what it needs to fight things off and then returns things to it's previous state after.Also,Monocytes are helper cells,they kick in when the body needs to fight things off.They are our friends.

I love that I know this crap and hate it too.See,it's that love hate thing again!

Melissa said...

I do this with labs too, think that I know more than the drs. I look at the numbers and the little h and l next to them and try to guess if they are too high or too low!

I'm so glad to hear all is well with Sammi though!