Friday, October 9, 2009

failure to thrive

During a NICU team meeting I heard the word "cachectic" used several times.  After failing to find it on wikipedia (I was spelling it kaketic) I found the all-knowing Dr. W and asked him for an explaination.  He defined it as "wasting away".  I learned that it is a common hospice definition, (my mom knew exactly what it meant.)  but in the NICU it is often used to describe failure-to-thrive babies.  The baby in question might be physically ok, and yet cachectic.

In his detailed description of the situation Dr. W made mention of Harlow and the terry cloth monkeys.  I nodded, because, of course everyone knows about Harlow's research(?).....Back at the office I wikipedia'd again and this time it came through for me.

It seems that Dr. Harlow conducted an experiment where he separated infant monkeys from their mothers a few hours after birth, then arranged for the young animals to be “raised” by two kinds of surrogate monkey mother machines, both equipped to dispense milk. One mother was made out of bare wire mesh. The other was a wire mother covered with soft terry cloth. Harlow’s first observation was that monkeys who had a choice of mothers spent far more time clinging to the terry cloth surrogates, even when their physical nourishment came from bottles mounted on the bare wire mothers. This suggested that infant love was no simple response to the satisfaction of physiological needs. Attachment was not primarily about hunger or thirst. It could not be reduced to nursing.

The study goes on to detail a second phase where some monkeys were only given the wire moms and others the soft moms.  The monkeys with the wire moms became cachectic, their lack of comfort and attachment revealed itself in their failure to thrive.

Our medical staff understands this.  They are intentional about being soft, cozy monkeys.  Eye contact between baby and caretaker promotes attachment.  Holding and support promotes attachment.  Security and love from parents combat cachexia.  (how you like me now mom?)

I love my new words!  There are days when I feel a little cachectic. And on those days I can be so thankful for the soft, generous, warm, nurturing people in my life who keep me attached and safe from becoming a failure-to-thrive chaplain.

For this is what the LORD says: "I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees.  As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem." When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass.    Isaiah 66:12-14

1 comment:

  1. I love those words: carried on her arm and dandled on her knees......wonderful passage. M2