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Oral History – Untreated PTSD

Dentist’s chair, twelve years old, East Orange, New Jersey: Dr. Salada calls my mother into the room to see the caverns I’ve bitten out of the walls of my mouth. He peels my lower lip down to show her the gouges. I, too am shocked when he holds the mirror up so I can see. I feel the canyons with my tongue to confirm how deep they are. I recall sitting in class, biting and chewing. I had no idea though what I’d actually done to myself. Treatment or recommendation?  None.

Ten years later, dentist’s chair of a tempero-mandibular (jaw) joint specialist, Central Park West, New York City: My chin is strapped to the back of the seat with a strong, thick band of elastic and my molars are being ground down by the dentist to make a better bite. In the 1970s, he is one of the foremost TMJ specialists in the world, and he gives me Valium, which he prescribes that I take four time a day and PRN (when needed), since it’s “just like aspirin,” to relieve the pain. He has also fits me with a bite plate that I wear to prevent myself from damaging my teeth as I grind all day and night. According to the dentist, this grinding has caused my jaw pain–the reason I came in the first place. Treatment for alleviating the broxing itself:  none.

15 years later, dentist’s chair, Berkeley, California: The dental hygienist berates me for cracking the fillings in my molars due to excessive broxing or grinding. She calls in the dentist, who similarly blames me. He warns that if I keep this up, I will have to have all my molars capped. Treatment for broxing: night guard.

1o years later, dental chair, Lafayette, California: The dentist jokes that my broxing is making her business lucrative what with all the crowns I am needing. Underneath her humor is blame. She hints that this behavior is controllable and that I should not allow myself to do it. The taunting stops when I tell her that my grinding is a result of infant surgery, something that I do unconsciously, and that I recently uncovered the root of the problem through writing autobiography. By the time I change dentists, all my molars are either crowned or pulled and replaced with a bridge. Treatment for broxing: night guard

5 years later, medical library, University of California at Davis: Researching infant surgery as I write my memoir, The Autobiography of a Sea Creature, I realize that grinding my teeth is a response to the excruciating pain I felt, having been operated on without anesthesia.  I have learned that lack of anesthesia was typical protocol for surgery on infants during the 1950s. I was probably given a muscle relaxer to keep me still and captive. Treatment for broxing: Middendorf Breath Work, a somatic therapy.

5 years later, in my home outside Sacramento: I am reading Peter Levine’s book Waking The Tiger: Healing Trauma:  I realize that I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD from the early surgery and that I’ve had this all my life. I was waking up every morning gritting my teeth, frozen in an old response to infant medical trauma. Treatment for broxing: visualization before sleep and affirmation upon waking.

Now, in my same home in a suburb of Sacramento, sitting before my computer:  I am wondering why dentists and doctors often treat only the symptoms of a problem when the body is crying out for resolution at the root?  Treatment: educate the medical profession and the public.


0 Responses to Oral History – Untreated PTSD

  1. What a powerful message! You give us several hammer blows: each one made me feel more outraged and determined to do what I can to raise awareness of the trauma often resulting from infant surgery as it was commonly done until a few decades ago.
    The complacent and power-addicted members of the medical profession need to be challenged to change – by their training, their peers and their clients.
    Parents who have sick children need to become better informed so they can do this – and if their medico doesn’t like informed questions, go quickly to find another who will engage with you.
    The web is full of sad and bad stories. In this age of available communication, there is no excuse for pain being brushed off. Find a website or three, read your baby or family health manual, talk to a better informed relative or friend or somebody who do do some research for you, find and stick with a doctor who shows you respect (as many do). Ask your doctor to refer you to the specialist they’d choose for their sick baby or troubled child.

  2. What a powerful message! You give us several hammer blows: each one made me feel more outraged and determined to do what I can to raise awareness of the trauma often resulting from infant surgery as it was commonly done until a few decades ago.
    The complacent and power-addicted members of the medical profession need to be challenged to change – by their training, their peers and their clients.
    Parents who have sick children need to become better informed so they can do this – and if their medico doesn’t like informed questions, go quickly to find another who will engage with you.
    The web is full of sad and bad stories. In this age of available communication, there is no excuse for pain being brushed off. Find a website or three, read your baby or family health manual, talk to a better informed relative or friend or somebody who do do some research for you, find and stick with a doctor who shows you respect (as many do). Ask your doctor to refer you to the specialist they’d choose for their sick baby or troubled child.

  3. I needed to hear your righteous anger. Thank you for encouraging parents to find out their own answers and to seek out doctors who will really support them in solving their children’s health problems. As I am planning to do public speaking in order to educate the medical community and the public in general, your words have stoked my fire–my passion for spreading awareness.

  4. I needed to hear your righteous anger. Thank you for encouraging parents to find out their own answers and to seek out doctors who will really support them in solving their children’s health problems. As I am planning to do public speaking in order to educate the medical community and the public in general, your words have stoked my fire–my passion for spreading awareness.

  5. Wendy,
    This is just fantastic. This is why I am pursuing Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). There is no mind-body connection in western medicine, which is both intuitively and scientifically absurd. Public awareness is a huge part of my agenda. The general population has ben sold a completely destructive paradigm. This affirms that I can channel my anger (healthfully), use it as fuel to carve an educated, alternative path that both helps and heals. Thank you. We (all of us) need this!

    • I’m so excited that you are getting out there to heal and inform others! Brava! We all have so much power to heal ourselves if we can just get the support we need to embrace and practice this belief. It’s time to easternize the west. You are–we are–of this wave.

  6. Wendy,
    This is just fantastic. This is why I am pursuing Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). There is no mind-body connection in western medicine, which is both intuitively and scientifically absurd. Public awareness is a huge part of my agenda. The general population has ben sold a completely destructive paradigm. This affirms that I can channel my anger (healthfully), use it as fuel to carve an educated, alternative path that both helps and heals. Thank you. We (all of us) need this!

    • I’m so excited that you are getting out there to heal and inform others! Brava! We all have so much power to heal ourselves if we can just get the support we need to embrace and practice this belief. It’s time to easternize the west. You are–we are–of this wave.

  7. You write a lot about Middendorf Breath Work. What is the difference beetween Middendorf Breath Work and mindfulness, yoga and other relax- and breathe techniques? I guess it is more personal, more spesific? I am very curious. I have been looking at their site and understand some of the things they are doing

    • Middendorf Breath Work was founded by Ilse Middendorf, a German woman. Middendorf teaches the natural breath, which is very different from all those yoga breaths and breathing techniques used in teaching mindfulness and relaxation. According to Ilse’s teachings, there are three types of breath: the willed breath (as in “Take a deep breath”); the unconscious breath (as in one not being aware, but we are breathing); and the natural breath (as in one being aware of the breath as we inhale, exhale and pause). We study this third one, the natural breath, by noticing our breath and where it moves our bodies. We don’t push or pull the breath but ‘watch’ it with awareness. The body rises and falls with breath movement and not just our chests, but our arms and hands and legs, and face. It depends on how allowing of the breath one is. Many of us block our breath; in other words, we breathe shallowly or we block the breath the natural breath from different parts of our bodies. One learns to sense breath and to allow breath. Middendorf work is very powerful and subtle at the same time. After practicing this work, one becomes more mindful, more expansive, more powerful. I found that I became friends with my body through understanding my natural breath. I hope this helps. There are many practitioners in Europe. In fact, my former teacher Juerg Roffler, through MIBE (Middendorf Institute of Breath Experience), travels to Europe several times a year to give workshops. I hope this explanation helps.

  8. You write a lot about Middendorf Breath Work. What is the difference beetween Middendorf Breath Work and mindfulness, yoga and other relax- and breathe techniques? I guess it is more personal, more spesific? I am very curious. I have been looking at their site and understand some of the things they are doing

    • Middendorf Breath Work was founded by Ilse Middendorf, a German woman. Middendorf teaches the natural breath, which is very different from all those yoga breaths and breathing techniques used in teaching mindfulness and relaxation. According to Ilse’s teachings, there are three types of breath: the willed breath (as in “Take a deep breath”); the unconscious breath (as in one not being aware, but we are breathing); and the natural breath (as in one being aware of the breath as we inhale, exhale and pause). We study this third one, the natural breath, by noticing our breath and where it moves our bodies. We don’t push or pull the breath but ‘watch’ it with awareness. The body rises and falls with breath movement and not just our chests, but our arms and hands and legs, and face. It depends on how allowing of the breath one is. Many of us block our breath; in other words, we breathe shallowly or we block the breath the natural breath from different parts of our bodies. One learns to sense breath and to allow breath. Middendorf work is very powerful and subtle at the same time. After practicing this work, one becomes more mindful, more expansive, more powerful. I found that I became friends with my body through understanding my natural breath. I hope this helps. There are many practitioners in Europe. In fact, my former teacher Juerg Roffler, through MIBE (Middendorf Institute of Breath Experience), travels to Europe several times a year to give workshops. I hope this explanation helps.

    • It’s amazing, isn’t it? I think this is the case with many of us, with many people in general. My natural breath is all out of whack because of the early surgery. I think I used my breath, my willed breath, to control my pain. It was one of the only tools I had as a newborn alone, recovering in isolation. I also believe I was intubated without anesthesia, so I have had a lot of issues with my throat and breath over the years. Just today, I was holding my breath and hence freezing my right shoulder in a protective posture, which is a very old move from my early surgery. I was transporting a comforter and not paying attention to my breath and body. So important to keep in touch with one’s natural breath so as not to fall into old protective PTSD postures. I am constantly learning 🙂

    • It’s amazing, isn’t it? I think this is the case with many of us, with many people in general. My natural breath is all out of whack because of the early surgery. I think I used my breath, my willed breath, to control my pain. It was one of the only tools I had as a newborn alone, recovering in isolation. I also believe I was intubated without anesthesia, so I have had a lot of issues with my throat and breath over the years. Just today, I was holding my breath and hence freezing my right shoulder in a protective posture, which is a very old move from my early surgery. I was transporting a comforter and not paying attention to my breath and body. So important to keep in touch with one’s natural breath so as not to fall into old protective PTSD postures. I am constantly learning 🙂

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