The factory is silent. Its assembly line stands motionless. Somewhere off in the darkness, a buzzer sounds. One by one, lights begin to flicker and illuminate on long-unmanned diagnostic panels, giving a sense of enormity and complexity and scale to the machinery. The low hum of power supplies warming up comes next, followed by the higher and louder whine of turbines and electric motors. A whistle sounds, and one by one, employees begin to file in and take their places at the controls. Purposed for a single task, whose time has now come, the factory slowly comes to life...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sad Panda!

This morning I cried for my panda.

First of all, I love pandas. Always have.

When Craig and I moved to the DC area for a couple of years, one of the first things we did was develop a keen interest in the pandas at the National Zoo, Mei Xiang(f) and Tian Tian(m). We watched when their baby, Tai Shan was born, got tickets to see him right away, went to the opening of their new habitat, and visited them as often as we could. We even found our own "panda viewing area" that not too many people know about.

Most people who know even a little about pandas know that it's very difficult for them to breed in captivity, and this couple was no exception. The females only go into estrus once a year during a period of about two to three days (and we think we have to wait a long time to try!) And Tian Tian...well, let's just say he hasn't got the moves.

So once a year the zookeepers try artificial insemination when the time is right, and keep their fingers crossed, and hope for the best. Tai Shan was born in 2005, but since then they have not been successful again.

The added challenge to the situation is that even if the zookeepers are successful, the panda cubs are so tiny in the womb, that they can't detect them on ultrasound. They pretty much just have to wait until it looks like Mama Panda has gone into labor and a baby shoots out! (That's not hyperbole -- see if you can track down Tai Shan's birth video!)

The other tricky part about pandas is that while their hormones are spiking, they will exhibit "mothering" behaviors whether or not they are pregnant. They call this time period a "pseudopregnancy" and either wait for it to pass in conjunction with a hormone fall, or again waiting for a baby panda to come into the world. Wanna-be-mama bears will create nests, cradle their toys and spend a lot of time making it look like they're getting ready for a baby.

Well, this year was no exception for Mei. Except coincidentally, my favorite panda girl and I got "pregnant" at around the same time. Her baby would of course have been born much sooner than mine, but somehow I still felt a closer kinship with her, another sense of heartwarming simpatico. We were going to be mommies! I started making my life ready, and she started building nests and paw licking and cradling her toys...

So of course you all know how my story ended, but today I found out that a few days ago the zoo staff confirmed that Mei wasn't going to have a cub this year either. The difference this time is that they really thought she *could have been* pregnant, but lost her fetus in early pregnancy. From the FONZ site:

Zoo staff confirmed today that Mei Xiang will not give birth to a cub this year. They believe that she experienced either a pseudopregnancy or the loss of a developing fetus. In a pseudopregnancy, an animal's hormonal changes and behaviors are identical to a pregnancy, but no conception occurred. Fetal loss during early pregnancy is a common occurrence in mammals, but the reasons for this phenomenon are poorly understood.

As you read in these updates, Zoo scientists, veterinarians, and keepers were closely watching Mei Xiang, assessing her hormone levels and behavior and conducting weekly ultrasounds in an attempt to determine if she was pregnant. Veterinarians noted small changes in Mei Xiang's uterus but they were unable to confirm the presence of a fetus. Giant panda fetuses are very small — a newborn cub is only five inches long. At other zoos, fetuses have been visible on ultrasound only in the last weeks before birth.

In mid-July Mei Xiang's urinary progesterone levels (a hormone associated with pregnancy) began to decline. In pregnant pandas, declining hormones and increased maternal behaviors signal an impending birth. This year, Mei Xiang's hormones declined as expected, but the decline lasted longer than normal and she continued to show maternal behavior even after her hormones reached baseline. The Zoo's scientists and veterinarians speculate that Mei Xiang may have experienced the loss of an early-stage fetus that failed to develop normally, and it was absorbed into the lining of the uterus. In the coming days, we expect Mei to return to "normal," both hormonally and behaviorally, experiencing an increase in appetite and activity level.

I know that my girl panda probably won't feel the same loss, the same *need* to 'return to "normal" both hormonally and behaviorally' as I did, but I feel it for her instead. She and her keepers won't get any answers "why" either. My poor panda.

(For the record, I cried for my panda again as I was writing this...)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Our New Baby!

Now, I know you're thinking, "That was fast...What is she, a cat?"

Well, I'm not exactly, but you're close!

Meet Desmond:

He's a very beautiful lilac point Siamese boy, and he just turned 9 weeks old on Friday. Yes, Craig named him Desmond after his favorite character on "Lost." He's sweet and loving, and we can tell he's going to be a smart one because he's already learning "fetch" with Craig! (uh oh)

In just the last few days he's worked his tiny way into our hearts! We're so glad we brought him home to be a part of our little family!

Craig is obviously smitten!

I can't imagine what it would have been like to be pregnant AND trying to manage a kitten. Seems like a lot of work. So in a way, the timing of this has worked out so well.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Clean bill of health

I forgot to mention last week that I had my post-surgical follow up with Dr. Good. (That's not his real name; I just wanted to differentiate between him and the previous doctor.)

He checked me out and asked me a bunch of questions, and confirmed that we should be fine to start trying again as soon as I have a regular period. I was still spotting the day I saw him, but not again after, thankfully. So I'm back to "normal."

I told him that we wanted to start again right away, and THIS time I want to do whatever we can to keep an eye on things as soon as possible. And he said he knows how hard that 4-week wait is for people, but next time, when I get pregnant again, he said he will see on my chart what we went through this time and prescribe a more watchful course of action.

I got the feeling like he understands and sympathizes with my anxieties, unlike the feeling I got from the other doctor, who more or less made me feel like I was being dismissed. He told me about all the extra tests they can do, and how sometimes they make people wait through THREE miscarriages until they try the drastic stuff (crazy things like dye in the lining of the uterus to check thickness and growth) just because the cost of those kinds of tests makes them a "last resort." But he assured me we'd be on track to watch me more closely just after this *first* miscarriage.

He also said that they can do an ultrasound as early as 6 weeks after the first day of the last menstrual period, NOT 6 weeks after conception, which was surprising.

So I feel much better about the whole situation now, and when I came home I told Craig that Dr. Good will be our doctor from now on!

Now begins the long wait. In the mean time, I will be researching fertility monitors.

As an interesting side note, the doctor told us that while I'm waiting for a period, and my hormones are all coming down I could still ovulate, so condoms at a minimum are in order to make sure we don't get pregnant again before my body is ready.

Condoms now that I'm married is a ROFL concept to me... I wonder if I'd get some special Catholic dispensation for using them due to medical reasons. I mean, I can personally rationalize anything I want (like being on the pill to keep my periods from being too heavy to control most of my life) but...WWTPS? (What would the Pope say?)


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Down with OGTT

The Oral Glucose Tolerance Test

Overall, not a bad procedure, except for the getting up early, and all the needles.

I got to the lab bright and early at 8:15 am. They made sure I knew I was going to be there for the next two hours. I'd brought my laptop, my Nintendo DS, something to read...I was ready!

The lab tech stuck me with one of the big needles. They usually use the butterfly ones because my veins are impossible -- but she got it on the first try! I was impressed! She took 3 vials of blood and said she was going to do a quick check of my fasting glucose. (I hadn't eaten anything since the night before.)

She stuck her head back in and said she was going to call the doctor and find out if they still wanted to do the test based on the result she just got. The nurse said to go for it.

The lab tech asked me if I wanted some ice in my drink, and I figured if she was offering it, she knew better than I did that it would help, so I said okay.

Sure enough that drink was GHASTLY sweet. Imagine a styrofoam coffee cup of red Hawaiian Punch, with another half cup of sugar added just for good measure. On an empty stomach, first thing in the morning, it was a little tough to get it all down. The tech told me I had to drink it all in 10 minutes, but I did it in 5. She started the timer and I sat in the waiting room for the next hour.

There's a lot of characters that you see come through the lab when you have nothing better to do. I'm sure I violated more than one person's HIPAA rights by listening in. Lots of routine blood draws, some people had other doctors or labs to go see after they stopped there. One of the lab techs was having a miserable day, and I'm glad she wasn't the one I was working with. Not only did she twice almost not get someone to provide a urine specimen before they left, she also finished up on a lady before she realized she needed to draw three vials, not two! So she had to stick her again! Ugh!

Hour 1 went by and she called me in to draw blood from my other arm. I warned her that I had already had an IV in two places on that arm within the last week, so she might have to look around for which one she wanted to use. She picked the big blue vein and got it with the butterfly. Back to the waiting room for Hour 2.

I learned how those little vials work. They puncture your vein with a hollow needle that has another open end. The rubber cap of the collection vial is pierced by the back end of the needle. Each vial has a vacuum in it, and once the seal is broken the vacuum in the tube creates suction to draw the blood. Some vials have less vacuum in them, and those will draw less blood (the volume being determined by what the blood draw is going to test.) Each vial may also have some additive in it that mixes with the blood, depending on the lab that does the testing and what the test is for.

I had wireless internet access in the lab area, and that's where I wrote "Recovery, Part 3." (I'm a little behind at the moment! Sorry!)

Another hour went by and I sat back in the chair for the last draw. The lab tech went back to the first arm and tried the big needle again. This time it didn't work. I was pretty disappointed because she had done so well so far! She took out the butterfly for this arm and tried Big Blue. Except this time she hit a nerve! OWWWW! When she was finished, it hurt so much I couldn't even put much pressure on it to stop the bleeding. Consequently, I have a lovely bruise there now...

Before I left I asked the tech if she knew anything from what she had taken so far, and she said no, they have to send the vials out to the lab, but the results usually come back the next day. She said the only one they do there is the initial fasting blood glucose level. She said mine was 97. ("Normal" is about 80-100.)

The next day the doctors office called me at 7:45 AM. From what I remember about the conversation with the nurse, my results were NORMAL, and they would just see me in another 8 weeks for my TSH/T4/etc thyroid panel. So no metformin is necessary. I guess I'm ovulating on my own!

Lastly, I realized I had, in the last week, had my veins punctured 7 times. I feel like a pincushion and look like a junkie.

Small price to pay, in the end, we hope.