Whenever I run down lists of possible causes of autism, I find no shortage of reasons Janey might be autistic. Usually, I'm left wondering how she got away with only one case of autism---you'd think she'd have some special kind of double case. Today, I read this article, about how having the flu and a fever during pregnancy can raise the autism risk, and it brought back one horrible night very vividly for me. If this was THE cause, it would be a dramatic, specific cause. So I'll call this #1 in a series, and try to write about some of the other possible causes in the next few days.
That night. It was about 5pm, and I was tired. Not regular tired, but a tired beyond anything I'd ever felt in my life. I was 12 weeks pregnant with Janey. It had been a very tough start to the pregnancy. My blood pressure shot up as soon as I got pregnant, from its normally low levels. It was very obvious this was going to be a pregnancy like my first one, with William, and not like my second one, with Freddy. The decision was made to put me on blood pressure medication at an appointment at about 10 and a half weeks. My regular doctor wasn't there. The doctor who filled in was someone I think introduced herself as some sort of student, or intern. I wish I remember for sure. She wasn't a regular in the office. She prescribed Aldomet, and said "It's extremely safe for pregnancy". I took her at her word.
After taking the Aldomet for about a week, I got tired. Not regular tired, but a bone tired. My face was pale, not a little pale, but people gasped when they saw it pale. I figured---I was pregnant. Being pregnant makes you tired. I remember driving home that fateful night from picking up the boys at school. I realized I was fighting off sleep, after sleeping much of the day. When Tony got home, I lay down on my bed. Suddenly, I realized I felt very, very sick. It felt like I had felt that way for days, but somehow my mind had not registered that fact. I decided I should take my temperature. I couldn't find the thermometer. I searched and searched, and was about to give up when I did find it. My temp was 103. I knew that wasn't good, even in my dazed state. I called the doctor, and I am not sure if I even made sense. I said I was coming in, to the evening clinic. I think they started to ask questions, but I just repeated I was coming in, and hung up. I called for Tony. As he was walking over, I think I fainted. I fell onto the bed, anyway. He managed to get me in the car, and we went to the office. By that point I was shaking violently. When they took my temperature there, I remember the nurse held the thermometer up for me to look at. It was up to 104. They called a doctor quickly into the room.
The visit from there is a little hazy. I know they gave me an IV right away, because I was extremely dehydrated, so much so it was very hard to get the IV started. I know they took blood. And I know after a bit, the doctor came back and said I was having a rare reaction to the Aldomet. My blood tests showed my white blood cells were dangerously low. My liver function was dangerously compromised. I was very, very sick.
They sent me to the hospital. Again, the time there is hazy in my mind. I know the doctor there said she had never heard of Aldomet causing that kind of reaction. She researched, and there it was. It even has a name----Aldomet Fever. They took all kind of blood, including a kind of special test where they had to scrub my arm for a long time and took what looked like a soda bottle full of blood. And, at some point, they did an ultrasound. There was the heartbeat, beating away.
It took me a long time to get better. And twice more, doctors said things like "I don't think this was caused by the Aldomet" I printed out a sheet from a Merck Manual online, listing the three things that constitute the type of rare reaction I had---high fever, low white blood cells and liver disfunction. One of the doctors, I still remember, looked shocked and grabbed the sheet from me.
Much, much later, just a year or so ago, I learned that my aunt also had a terrible reaction to Aldomet. I hadn't know this. I also endured a similar reaction when given a sulfa drug a few years ago. My records show I'm allergic to Aldomet, but no-one made the connection that people who are allergic to Aldomet often also have a sulfa drug allergy.
I remember asking my OB, after my fever had gone down, how this all would affect the baby. She said that a sickness so severe at 12 weeks usually would have caused a miscarriage. If it didn't, she said, the baby would probably be fine. And I know, based on what was known at that time, she believed that.
So---did the Aldomet-provoked sickness cause Janey's autism? I don't know. The fever might have, based on recent research. What it did do, though, was cause me to never again completely trust medication, or, for that matter, doctor's knowledge of medication. I am very, very grateful that first doctor caught the Aldomet connection. She was young, and I think she took the time to look up the possible Aldomet reactions. The older doctors that later questioned the reaction were probably doctors that had prescribed Aldomet for many years, and hadn't seen a reaction. That's why they call it rare. But it happens.
I think about that night a lot. I think I was dying. I think if I had kept taking the medication, I would have died. I know that sounds dramatic, but I think it's true. And a reaction that serious---it's very possible that would have affected Janey, especially at 12 weeks, which always comes up in what I read as a crucial time in development. But who knows? As I've said, there are no shortage of other possibilities. If I believed in fate, I'd say that fate wanted Janey to be autistic, and took no chances in making sure she was.