By Tee Schneider
There’s no doubt that we Canadians enjoy one of the best health care systems on the planet. We are very lucky. For generations we’ve grown up safe in the knowledge that when accidents happen or when we get sick, we’ll be taken care of. We’ve grown up believing that the experts in charge of our well-being deserve our trust and that our trust is fundamental to the success of that layman/expert relationship. Yes. And no.
We’ve all heard the stories. You know the ones. You go to your doctor or emergency or a walk-in with a problem and they just don’t believe you. They can’t find anything wrong, sometimes despite elaborate testing so they simply assume you’re either full of shit or crazy. I’ll spare you the gory details of my own family’s adventures but let’s just say that my pessimism and general lack of trust in humans has often paid off. I’ve argued about blood clots, pregnancy, sepsis, allergies, endometriosis, C-Sections, and whether pain is real or imagined. Let me cut to the chase: I have been right every single time. So I’m with Stacy Yerpes who selfied herself to prove to doctors that she was experiencing strokes. Check it out.
It seems they thought it was all in her head,which I suppose technically…
It’s so hard to advocate for ourselves though isn’t it? The bane of our very Canadian existence. Even the day my daughter was born was a fiasco. After 7 months of back-and-forth with my OB about the safest route to delivery in the midst of my high-risk pregnancy we collectively settled on C-Section. We walked into the hospital, ready to do this thing and the first obstetrics nurse we deal with says, “why are you having a C-Section? Are you sure you want one”? NO!! I’M NOT SURE!!! And then, my husband: Thank-you. Thank-you for unraveling the last 7 months of work making this decision. It wasn’t hard enough the first time. Point being, we’re not sure. We’re never sure. We don’t have the inside track here so all we can do is trust our guts and advocate for ourselves anyway.
Walking with said daughter, (now two-and-a-half and born via C-Section), this past Wednesday, and I come across a Toronto Star paper box with the headline Risky Prescriptions Tied To Birth Defects on the cover. The long and short of it being that doctors have been prescribing the drug ondancetron to women with severe morning sickness but that the drug has never been tested or approved for that use and now it’s being linked to certain birth defects. Take a look at this article. I came away thinking about how lucky I was that my doctor never offered up ondancetron because I suffered so severely from morning, afternoon and evening sickness that I think I would have taken pretty much anything at that point…then I realized that wasn’t entirely true for a very simple reason; I already knew about Motherisk.
Motherisk is a need to know organization.
The program is run through SickKids and has tons of information about drug safety while pregnant and breastfeeding in addition to hotlines you can call to talk to someone. (All on the first page of the site). So, as I did, you can call as medication is being prescribed to you to find out if it’s safe, unsafe or not yet determined. If you search for ondancetron now you’ll see that Dr. Gideon Koren’s abstract on the site dated October 2012 states:
During the past decade ondansetron has been increasingly used in the United States for NVP, owing to the lack of an FDA-approved drug for this condition. While fetal safety data for doxylamine-pyridoxine are based on more than a quarter of a million pregnancies, the fetal safety data for ondansetron are based on fewer than 200 births. Moreover, a recent case-control study suggested there was an increased risk of cleft palate associated with ondansetron. Recently, the FDA issued a warning about potentially serious QT prolongation and torsade de pointes associated with ondansetron use; the warning included a list of precautions and tests that must be followed. The drug is not labeled for use in NVP in either the United States or Canada. Based on the data available today, ondansetron use cannot be assumed to be safe during pregnancy.
The birth defects referenced in the Toronto Star article are all from 2012 so it’s possible that the the information available at that point was unclear but the related Motherisk article states that they began studying Ondancetron in 2004. Findings were inconclusive at that time but that in 2011 the FDA put out warnings about the drug and that,
Currently, through Motherisk counseling of women who receive ondansetron for morning sickness, it is evident that none of the FDA precautions are being followed.
Point being that prior to the cases referenced in the article there was likely enough information available to set off a little warning bell, if not for the prescribing physicians, at least for the mothers-to-be. They may simply have not known where to look. Nowadays, we have got to be resourceful as though our lives depended on it.
At the beginning of the second year of my Master’s degree I ran out of money…completely. I remember the Chair of the program telling me that there were “drawers filled with money all over this university…you just just need to know what drawers to open”, and then he opened a drawer for me. Subsequently, I worked in student services at a local college and discovered that the same was true of obtaining healthcare resources for students whether generally affordable or not. Everything we need is out there and we have a responsibility to ourselves to seek it out. Nobody cares about our health and well-being more than we do.
I know there are a lot of crazies out there; a lot of hypochondriacs. I know they must drive overworked, understaffed and in many cases underpaid health care professionals to the brink of madness but seriously, we need to do everything in our power to advocate for our own healthcare, even in Canada where the care is great.
Selfie yourself if you have to, do whatever it takes, it could save your life…and tell every pregnant and nursing woman or dad-to-be you know about Motherisk.
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