Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Lies of Palahniuk's 'Lullaby'

I’m currently reading Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk, and while I enjoy the plot, Palahniuk’s twisting of real-word facts bothers me so much I never become fully immersed in his fictional world.

Reporter (and narrator) Carl Streator's investigation into “crib deaths" begins the story. Streator says there’s no medical explanation and cites some 1945 study where doctors say babies can’t suffocate on blankets.

This really pisses me off. I feel very passionately about educating people on sudden infant death syndrome. I’ve written countless articles that relate to SIDS in one way or another. 

Doctors believe babies can smother on blankets. They can smother on mattresses, baby bumpers, and they can overheat if you dress them too warmly.

Now, researchers have not conclusively proven why this happens, but the leading theory (based on autopsies of SIDS victims) by the American Academy of Pediatrics goes like this:
“The cause of SIDS is unknown, but the predominant hypothesis about its etiology is that certain infants, for reasons yet to be determined, may have a maldevelopment or delay in maturation of the brainstem neural network that is responsible for arousal. This change affects infants’ physiologic responses to life-threatening situations during sleep.”
In layman’s terms, if you rollover and smash your face against your mattress, shutting off your air supply, your brain alerts you to move so you can breathe. For a baby under 6 months, that signal may not sound and that baby may die. 

It’s just a hypothesis, but it’s a pretty darn good one, especially when you consider that since the AAP began the “Put Baby Back to Sleep” campaign in 1992 – as in, your baby should always sleep on his back, not his stomach – the rate of SIDS has decreased by over 50 percent. Additional evidence comes from the sleeping environments of the roughly 2,500 babies who die from SIDS each year. Too often, the infant slept with blankets, crib bumpers, on a soft crib mattress, or wasn’t put to sleep in a crib at all, but on a couch or in bed with her parents. 

I don’t see why Palahniuk had to twist the research for his modern story. I’m not halfway through the book, but it seems the plot would work just fine had he acknowledged the real research behind “crib deaths,” and not some embarrassingly outdated study, especially when the narrator is a journalist. Shame, shame.

1 comment:

  1. good point! Thanks for alerting more people to the probable cause of SIDS.