The science urban legend that was told to my parents

You're a pediatrician dealing with a newborn baby, a busy schedule, and some very worried parents who want to know why their baby didn't get a perfect score on a neonate health test. What do you do? You make up an urban legend about the Apgar Test.

Like many kids, I grew up listening to the story of my birth. The details are only of interest to people in the family, but my parents mentioned being alarmed when I got an Apgar score of nine. They shouldn't have been. Apgar stands for Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, Respiratory Effort. It's a quick assessment of health, first created in 1952 by Virginia Apgar. Each criterion is rated from zero to two, ideally making a perfect score of 10. For example, no pulse would score zero, a slow one would score a one, and a quick strong pulse would earn a score of two. Get three ones and a couple of twos and you can have a healthy baby, even though it only has a score of seven. New parents don't want to hear that. They want to hear 10.

When my parents heard only nine, they panicked and pestered the nurse, asking what was wrong with their baby. The nurse turned to them, smiled confidently, and said, "Don't worry. They only give scores of 10 to the babies of doctors." After that, they felt reassured.

Perhaps it did work that way in that hospital, but it's more likely that I underperformed on the Appearance test. Appearance refers to overall skin tone of the baby. The baby should have good flushed skin that indicates plenty of oxygen making its way around the body via the hemoglobin in the blood. Sometimes a person's oxygen level uptake drops and they turn bluish, a condition called cyanosis. Total cyanosis turns someone entirely blue, and on a neonate would earn them a score of zero in Appearance. Many newborns have a condition called transient cyanosis, meaning they're still a little blue around the extremities. Doctors don't consider it a cause for alarm, and as you can see, I lived to fulfill the fondest wishes that any parent could have for their child — writing snarky stuff on the Internet — so it didn't do any harm. Still, it's funny that the hospital seems to have made up a legend only to quiet the nerves of young parents quickly and effectively. Has anyone else heard of this legend, or was it only used at my hospital? Thoughts?

Image: Tarotastic.

[Via Medical Net]