I’m thrilled! I just left a website for the First International Conference on Pediatric Psychological Trauma. I didn’t know such a thing existed until two days ago when I spoke to someone on the phone who told me she had attended the conference last February at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. I’m already marking my February 2011 calendar for the next one wherever it is. I’d like to take my artwork, writing and experience on the road and make a presentation at that conference as well as attend every workshop possible. It’s time to reach out.
One of the presenters was Dr. Anand, the doctor who proved to the world that infants indeed feel pain and that many die post-surgery due to shock associated with unbearable pain rather than from the condition or illness that the infant was afflicted by. My new friend, who went to the conference, told me that it was opened with these words: As you all know, we did not used to give infants anesthesia. We have come a long way but we still have a long way to go. Amazing. Music to my ears, as the saying goes.
What my new friend also told me was that indeed, it was standard back in 1952 to NOT give anesthesia before surgery. She spoke to many trauma specialists at the conference who told her this. I know from my own breath and breathing patterns that I experienced extreme distress, but my friend’s words confirmed the fact that I probably did not get anesthesia for my stomach surgery. Just this morning, I worked to relax one of my frozen somatic patterns so that I could meditate. I often find when I sit quietly that my right shoulder and upper chest are frozen, if you will. The shoulder and upper back are especially tense, blocked from the natural expansion and relaxation that occurs when inhaling and exhaling. Breath flows into my left side though shallowly. The right side of my body is where my scar is. A wall of muscular tension protects me still from whatever I must have felt as an infant.
It’s hard to write about somatic distress. Words are often not the best conveyor of these truths. My body is the best communicator. Infant pain and infant trauma have real implications for adults. Having undergone painful medical procedures and surgeries as infants, we have been told as we get older that we were too young to have felt anything. Indeed, my mother acted as if she was the one who had had surgery and not me, for she spoke constantly about the distress of having had a sick baby and what that did to her and our family. When I told her in 2001 that it was likely that I hadn’t been given anesthesia, she was flabbergasted. It hadn’t even occurred to her to ask whether I’d received it; like so many, she assumed everyone got anesthesia before surgery.
I am so happy to see that public awareness is breaking to the surface, and I hope, through the sharing of my writing, artwork and experience, that I can be a contributor at the next Pediatric Medical Psychological Trauma Conference. I am hoping to be part of a panel of survivors who have undergone infant surgery without anesthesia. I want as many people as possible to know about what I’ve been through so that the people who need help will be reached. PTSD and depression, to name a few, are conditions that can be healed if we understand the factors that caused them in the first place.