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Old customs

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

I was talking to an old friend, a nurse who trained in the 70’s and still active, at the Breastfeeding Walk around the Savannah on Saturday morning. As people of a mature age are wont to do, we began to reminisce about some of the things we used to practice in hospital or in the community, some of which were good but have been forgotten, some were good and still practiced, some were bad and caused problems and some were bad but apparently never caused a problem.

Among the last was the custom of not feeding healthy newborn babies for the first 24 hours. A modern neonatologist, doctor or nurse, will catch their collective breaths in horror and immediately think “hypoglycaemia” or low blood sugar. It’s unfortunately believed that if you do not feed the baby within a couple of hours after birth, the child will suffer all sorts of unimaginable things. Yet, as we all remembered, and every old-time nurse within hearing agreed, nothing ever seemed to happen to those old-time babies.

Perhaps things did. Perhaps their blood sugars did fall. But they never became symptomatic. They never cried excessively. They never became jittery. They never collapsed. They never had fits. And to the best of our knowledge they grew up to become typical Trinibagonians, which is not saying much, of course. It could also be that the behaviour of our politicians is a manifestation of unrecognised neonatal hypoglycaemia.

Hmmm, worth a study?

I wonder if anyone has access to their hospital records? “Unrecognised neonatal hypoglycaemia as a cause of intellectual poverty and vigour amongst a cadre of Caribbean politicians”.

Fascinating! The Caribbean Commonwealth Medical Research Council would probably refuse publication under threat of sanctions. This is the group that refused to publish the only study ever done on lead levels on 65 newly-born Trinis and their mothers, at the same time as they accepted a study done in Barbados on three children with diarrhoea.

The Bajan was politically connected.

But we used to starve newborn babies up to the late 70s and then wash out their stomachs, all newborn nurses in T&T were world experts on washing out newborn stomachs and then, heavens, the first feed would be glucose water.

Glucose water was a big thing in medicine in the 70’s. Not only newborns, it was big with footballers and cricketers. It was standard practice to see big, hardback men, too tired to run, calling for glucose. Someone would run out on to the field with a glass of water being stirred, it would be downed and off the hard-back player would go. Energy you see.

Nowadays, it’s some expensive hydrating glucose/vitamin/mineral/ stimulant/coloured drink with a strange name. Same principle.

Same nonsense. None of these drinks have ever been properly tested except by the companies who make them and we know how reliable companies can be about their products, don’t we? But I bet Hasely Crawford downed his glass of glucose water just before the 100 metre final in Montreal.

The mind is an easy thing to play with.

Nowadays you have cheap little strips of paper that are used to check the sugar level of newborn babies. There is even a certain level, if the sugar falls below, that is action and drips, even if the poor baby is happily sleeping away in her mother’s arms after the first breastfeed of colostrum, which we know raises the blood sugar level. In the 70’s we didn’t have the little strips, meant to be used by diabetics and notoriously inaccurate at low sugar levels, which is what babies have in comparison with adults with diabetes. But hey! If we now have better ways of measuring blood levels in adults, companies have to find new ways of getting their products used, eh? And paediatricians are nothing if not gullible.

In some nursing homes, healthy babies routinely get their glucose checked. Yes, sir!


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