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f.o.i. (for our information) – painkillers and infant surgery

The passages I will be quoting come from an article entitled “Babies Remember Pain” by Dr. David B Chamberlain.  It was written in 1989 and gives us information about medical practices that is very important to know and understand. I believe that many people today who have been subject to infant surgery or traumatic medical procedures without anesthesia are suffering depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),  and a host of other illnesses and/or conditions.  Read these paragraphs and please comment if you can.

“It was only in the last three years that American parents discovered the longstanding practice of surgeons to operate on infants without the use of painkillers (Birth, June 1986, Letters, 124-125). Adding horror to this discovery, parents uncovered the fact that major surgery on premature infants and children up to 15 months of age was typically done with the aid of curare (Pavulon) which paralyzes them but does not relieve pain. Thus, while experiencing the surgery fully, it was not possible for them to move or to utter a cry of alarm!

“Surgeons acted in this way because of certain assumptions which have turned out, in retrospect, to be false. The principal assumption was the classic one that the infant brain was not working but in addition, they believed the anesthesia might be more damaging that the ordeal of the surgery itself, a belief that has turned out to be false (Anand & Hickey, 1987, p. 1324).

“The reality of pain memory (and birth memory) is confirmed by a mother whose premature baby was shunted for hydrocephalus* [see definition below article] without painkillers and while paralyzed with curare, large incisions were cut in his scalp, neck, and abdomen and a hole drilled in his skull. She writes that ten years after the operation her son will still not allow anyone to touch his head, neck, and abdomen in the areas touched during surgery. The mere sight of the hospital provokes in this child violent trembling, profuse sweating, screaming, struggling, and vomiting.”

*a congenital defect in which accumulation of fluid in the cerebral ventricles causes enlargement of the skull and compression of the brain-The American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd ed.

I share this excerpt with you so that I am not alone with these horrifying facts. Every day I struggle with the aftermath of my early surgery. My breath patterns were deeply interrupted by the operation I underwent as a baby, and I continually find myself, quite unconsciously,  holding my body rigidly. I cut off breath to my abdomen and breathe very shallowly.

When I become aware of this old pattern, I begin to defrost myself, if you will. I bring breath consciously to the frozen areas of my body and, in this way, become alive to myself again. I use the techniques that I learned studying Middendorf Breathwork to allow aliveness back into my body. My body is not to be feared. I need not hold myself apart from it.  Quite the contrary. Awareness of my body brings me life.  Breathing naturally and fully without stress and anxiety is a source of comfort, peace, and joy. I am retraining my body. That I am able to do this brings me great happiness.

0 Responses to f.o.i. (for our information) – painkillers and infant surgery

  1. Thank you, Wendy, for finding this revealing information in the historical record and spotlighting it here. No wonder there is little written by the medical industry about infant surgery pre-about-1980.
    We are each unique but not all that different. I’m grateful that although I had the same surgery in the same era, I haven’t had to battle all the trauma symptoms you have. But as you know, I have had my struggles too and what you have brought to light has helped so much in my healing.

  2. Thank you, Wendy, for finding this revealing information in the historical record and spotlighting it here. No wonder there is little written by the medical industry about infant surgery pre-about-1980.
    We are each unique but not all that different. I’m grateful that although I had the same surgery in the same era, I haven’t had to battle all the trauma symptoms you have. But as you know, I have had my struggles too and what you have brought to light has helped so much in my healing.

  3. Thanks so much, Fred, for your heartening response. There’s so much I want to read about PTSD, the history of infant surgery, and pyloric stenosis, but sometimes I just don’t have the stomach for it–forgive the pun. The information is hard to take, but with supportive friends like you, I feel encouraged to keep on discovering things that are important to me.

  4. Thanks so much, Fred, for your heartening response. There’s so much I want to read about PTSD, the history of infant surgery, and pyloric stenosis, but sometimes I just don’t have the stomach for it–forgive the pun. The information is hard to take, but with supportive friends like you, I feel encouraged to keep on discovering things that are important to me.

  5. Thank you so, so much for bringing this subject to light. You have no idea how helpful, if painful, it is to see my own experience reflected here.

    I was born at 26 weeks gestation, in 1978, and experienced multiple surgeries in my first year of life. While I don’t have my original medical records, I’m fairly certain I experienced the kind of pain you reference here — and I know that I’ve experienced negative psychiatric consequences as a result (as I have no other abuse or trauma history, other than those medical traumas, to explain my PTSD, which has been severe enough at times to require hospitalization). Oftentimes I feel as if I haven’t got the “right” to call myself a trauma survivor, but blogs like yours help to dispel that feeling.

    • Hearing from you is so moving that tears come to my eyes. Yes, we are trauma survivors. It is often hard for me to validate this for myself as well because I don’t have my medical records to know whether or not anesthesia was given (though my body and my life experiences tell me it was not) and because in the psychological literature that I’ve come across so far, there is no mention of painful medical procedures on infants being a source of PTSD. You might want to check out Vicki Forman’s book This Lovely Life. It’s about this very subject. Ms. Forman had premature twins and writes about the abuse they suffered at the hands of the medical profession and its effect on her family. Thank you so very much for commenting.

  6. Thank you so, so much for bringing this subject to light. You have no idea how helpful, if painful, it is to see my own experience reflected here.

    I was born at 26 weeks gestation, in 1978, and experienced multiple surgeries in my first year of life. While I don’t have my original medical records, I’m fairly certain I experienced the kind of pain you reference here — and I know that I’ve experienced negative psychiatric consequences as a result (as I have no other abuse or trauma history, other than those medical traumas, to explain my PTSD, which has been severe enough at times to require hospitalization). Oftentimes I feel as if I haven’t got the “right” to call myself a trauma survivor, but blogs like yours help to dispel that feeling.

    • Hearing from you is so moving that tears come to my eyes. Yes, we are trauma survivors. It is often hard for me to validate this for myself as well because I don’t have my medical records to know whether or not anesthesia was given (though my body and my life experiences tell me it was not) and because in the psychological literature that I’ve come across so far, there is no mention of painful medical procedures on infants being a source of PTSD. You might want to check out Vicki Forman’s book This Lovely Life. It’s about this very subject. Ms. Forman had premature twins and writes about the abuse they suffered at the hands of the medical profession and its effect on her family. Thank you so very much for commenting.

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