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Diatribe: Doctors Who Perform Cesarean Sections On Women Who Aren’t Pregnant Should No Longer Be Doctors.

12/18/2013

CSectionHave you ever had a malady that was so persistent that you were determined to diagnose a problem so that you could finally get treatment so that it would go away?  I have suffered from allergies all of my life.  At one point in my teenage years my parents and I used to joke that I was allergic to “September and half of October” because my eyes would turn red and my nose would start running during Labor Day Weekend and continue through the first hard frost.  There was a period when I found no relief from my symptoms well into the winter months.  My doctor prescribed new and different medications until he finally determined that he would treat me with Azithromycin for a sinus infection instead of an allergy.

It worked!  I finally felt some relief.  I was able to sleep through the night for the first time in ages and I woke up without the familiar pressure of a sinus headache.  From then on, it was almost as if I’d convinced myself I had an infection just so I could get a Z-Pack every three months.

I believe that a person’s mind can convince their body to do many things, but it should never be able to fool their doctor.  Women can sometimes, albeit rarely, believe that they are pregnant only to find out that their symptoms were caused by something else entirely.  In these cases, known as “phantom” or “false” pregnancies, or pseudocyesis, women can have all the symptoms of pregnancy, including weight gain, enlarged breasts, nausea and back pain.

Competent physicians recognize a true pregnancy …

Before they perform a cesarean section …

Usually.

Recently, a thirty-seven-year-old Brazilian woman arrived at a local Woman’s Hospital and told doctors that she was forty-one weeks pregnant and in a great deal of pain.  Apparently, she had the symptoms associated with pregnancy like an enlarged abdomen and nausea and, when doctors could not hear the baby’s heartbeat and feeling its life was in danger they ordered an emergency cesarean.  That’s when they discovered that it was a false pregnancy.

Further investigation revealed that the woman was so certain that she was pregnant that she had altered her prenatal tests that showed otherwise because she was absolutely convinced the results were wrong.  This woman must have been quite the actress in order to be able to convince a team of doctors in a woman’s hospital that she was pregnant when she actually wasn’t.  While I was able to make my doctor believe that I had a sinus infection for long enough to get a prescription for a Z-Pack, I imagine one must be much more convincing to get an imaginary baby removed from one’s belly.

Although the exact causes of “phantom” pregnancies aren’t known, doctors suspect that psychological factors may simply trick the body into “thinking” that it’s pregnant.  A woman’s intense desire to be pregnant, for example, might trigger the release of hormones that lead to actual pregnancy symptoms.  These are very difficult conditions to tend to and I mean no disrespect to the women who endure the hardship that follows.

Incidentally, men, too, can have sympathetic pregnancies and develop many of the same symptoms as their pregnant partners, including weight gain, nausea and backache.  The smart ones, however, will stay out of Woman’s Hospitals in Brazil.

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6 Comments
  1. When The Engineer and I took our pre-natal class tour of the hospital a nurse looked at me and said, ‘oh! you’re having twins! congratulations!’ And The Engineer and I assured her that the doctor was on top of things and we were only having one baby….. well, the twins are 28 years old now….

  2. Really? They don’t have ultra sound in Brazil? You would think they would perform an ultra sound before resorting to major surgery!

  3. There is a book written by two internists called “Internal Bleeding” with an eye toward ways to improve doctor and hospital error rates. Doctors are an imperfect lot and are quite busy. They suggested: introducing yourself to everyone that comes into the room, ask lots of questions and if you cannot get a surrogate to do so, make sure you understand what the diagnosis is and what medications are being prescribed and if you are having surgery on an arm, leg, foot, hand, eye, make sure the surgeons know which one. My favorite analogy of theirs is sometimes the error is made early on and all of the holes in the Swiss cheese align and the error passes right through. Remember the Duke surgeons who did a heart transplant for a young Mexican girl and she died because the heart came from someone from a different blood type. The surgeons were so happy to get a heart, they assumed that question was asked and it was not. Good post, BTG

    • I’ve heard stories about folks who write “OPERATE HERE” on themselves with permanent market before surgery!

      • Not a bad idea at all. I remember when I broke my elbow, I was insistent I see the surgeon before he operated as I would take the risk of him reattaching my elbow which was broken and displaced. My alternative was him taking part of the elbow out and I would have a forever angled arm. The key factor was the tissue still attached; if not the bone would die. So, I pleaded with him and that is what he did. He told me later that influenced his decision. Right now, my arm is 99% and you would not know it was not 100% unless I showed you.

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