Thursday, May 17, 2012

Two Books about Preemies

When Ladybug was in the NICU, I did no reading about preemies.  In terms of preemie parents, I was probably on the extreme side of not wanting to know any medical details.  I wanted to hear that LB was good, and if that wasn't true, I wanted to know that she wasn't going to die, and I didn't really want to hear the details.  With the rise in the number of M.D.s from Google University, I think most people want to hear what a doctor has to say and then they want to go check it out themselves.  In the NICU, we were given a lot of information, which for me involved listening to excruciating lectures with my eyes glazed over.  The NICUs focus on statistical risk always seemed useless to me as a parent.  Of course for a neonatologist, statistical risk is a useful tool, but as a parent I really don't care how 10,000 babies respond to a particular treatment, I care about my Ladybug.  From the neo's point of view, I guess statistics give them something to say.  Without the numbers they are just left with the truth of "I don't know," or "I have a hunch."

I've always like medical non-fiction, and now that I'm further away from LBs preemie days, I've started reading about preemies.

I recently read Adam Wolfberg's Fragile Beginnings: Discoveries and Triumphs in the Newborn ICU (2012) and I found it to be, not a bad book, but an odd book.  Wolfberg is a doctor and a medical researcher, but in the book he uses the experience of his own daughter, who was born premature, as a framing device.  Reading the book, I got the sense that either Wolfberg and his editor has very different ideas about the book, and/or that Wolfberg was uncomfortable sharing his families' experience.  I suspect that the author wanted to write a more scholarly book, and the editor wanted a book that would appeal to the broad audience of people who might be interested in the personal story of a preemie's survival.  The result of this tension is a series of interesting juxtapositions, a somewhat cold vignette about the author's daughter, following the story of a woman choosing to get an abortion at 23w 4ds, or a graphic descriptions of medical experiments on animals.  This back and forth gives the book a jumpy feeling.  Overall, this book was interesting and I don't regret reading it; however, if you know a family who has recently had a preemie and are wondering if this book is an appropriate gift, it is not!  Do not buy this book for anyone who has had a preemie!

I prefer Geoffrey Miller's Extreme Prematurity: Practice, Bioethics, and the Law (2007) and this preference is partly due to the fact that I find Miller's emphasis on ethics more interesting than Wolfberg's emphasis on brain plasticity.  Extreme Prematurity is a short book with a large amount of information.  The book contains sections on medical issues, bioethics, practices in different countries, and laws in different countries.  The author manages to be evenhanded, even when discussing controversial theories like utilitarianism.  I found the comparisons between the United States and other countries particularly interesting.  I definitely recommend this book for anyone interested in prematurity and bioethics, and I wish Miller would right an expanded version with additional detail.  Once again, this book is not one that I would recommend for families with babies in the NICU, but Miller has given the book a boring enough title that I can't imagine anyone mistakenly giving it as a gift.

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