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No Number

Glowing Blue Numbers

I took Persephone to the doctor yesterday for her three-year checkup. I was going to ask the doctor about getting a lead test, even though it was my understanding that standard protocol doesn’t call for it.

A brief recapitulation of her numbers might be in order. These are all expressed in µg/dL (micrograms per deciliter of blood).

The supposed level of concern is ten, but that’s a fairly arbitrary threshold, and there’s plenty of reason to suppose it should be lowered. Since she scored below that level at her second birthday, I didn’t think the doctor would recommend another test. I was going to ask for one anyway, but I was not looking forward to it. I agonized so much over those numbers in the past. I didn’t look forward to waiting for results to come back from the lab again. Also there’s the whole insurance issue; our pediatrician is on our health plan but the lab she used was not, which led me to write an angry letter to Humana last September.

So, I was pleasantly surprised when the doctor suggested the test herself and revealed they were now able to do it in-house. No lab, no waiting. Persephone didn’t enjoy having her finger pricked, of course, but she took it like a champ and I was very proud of her.

But the best thing of all, the best news I’ve had in a good long while, was the result. Her lead levels are “below anything detectable.” No little number to fixate upon and agonize over. No number to keep me awake and haunt my dreams. I was so happy I just about cried. Even now, a day later, I can’t hardly think about it without choking up, which is making this a surprising difficult entry to write.

Pardon me while I collect myself.

There are several facts that ought to mitigate my jubilation.

For one thing, these tests only purport to measure lead in the bloodstream at a given moment. They do not measure lead that’s been sequestered in other tissues. They don’t indicate how much lead a person has been exposed to in the past, or how that might affect one’s development in the future.

Also, lead is all around us and continues to be a threat. Children under the age of six are especially vulnerable, so my girl’s not out of the proverbial woods yet. Not hardly. She could eat a single flake of lead paint tomorrow and be massively poisoned.

And finally, even if Persephone never shows any perceptible learning deficits, as we fervently hope she will not, nevertheless the issue of lead poisoning continues to hurt us as a community. With that in mind I wanted to give a shout out to nola_UNLEADED, a group recently organized by parents and other concerned citizens. I applaud and support their efforts, and my heart goes out to each and every parent who has had to deal with this issue.

And yet in spite of all that, I still feel a tremendous sense of relief. We know our “new” house has plenty of lead paint in it. We know the soil under our deck would be considered toxic waste if we lived in California instead of Louisiana. We hoped none of this lead was making its way into our daughter’s system, but we couldn’t be sure. We never did figure out where she got exposed to lead in the first place, and it’s unlikely we ever will.

I don’t even know what the lower limit of the capillary test is. But I don’t think it really matters.

Sometimes, the luckiest number is no number at all.

Published inFamilyWords & Numbers


  1. Congrats – I know you agonized over this and I’m glad the move took care of it.

    You know what test equipment they used? A quick google showed the LeadCare II capillary test’s low end is 3.3 ug/dL.

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