Monday, 29 October 2007

Billy Rubin and other baby stories

I have become something of a lay expert these past few days on the subjects of hypernatremia, serum and urine osmolarity, anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) secretion and cranial MRI scanning of the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. I have discovered that as well the Types I and II diabetes (mellitus) with which most people are familiar there is another, unrelated, form of diabetes (insipidus). And I have learnt, along the way, that an old folk phrase for diabetes (which comes from the Greek diabainein, to pass through or siphon) was ‘pissing evil’.

All this because, in between spells of light treatment for jaundice, my new grandson Stanley is undergoing a series of tests to try to get to the root of his problems in maintaining the correct hydration and salt levels.

Diabetes insipidus is a relatively rare disease, in which the kidneys produce too much urine. It’s not widely diagnosed, and it’s particularly difficult to identify in premature babies. A professor from the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital has been called upon for his expert opinion, and Stanley’s mum, dad and the rest of us wait in hope that it’s encouraging.

In the meantime, I’m adding new words to my vocabulary by the hospital bucketful. I’m particularly taken with bilirubin, a substance formed when red blood cells break down and are excreted by the liver. It sounds like a character out of a children’s storybook, but too much bilirubin in the blood causes jaundice.

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