I don’t know for sure whether I was given anesthesia for my pyloric stenosis surgery at 26 days old. I don’t know for sure that I was, instead, given a form of curare, a drug that paralyzed my muscles so I wouldn’t fight. My hospital records are gone, kaput. I just know that:
–I wake up every morning gritting my teeth. (How’s that for starters?)
–before sleep (if I don’t calm myself down), I lie rigidly, breathe shallowly, and feel frightened, my mind racing.
–throughout the day, I either find myself holding my breath as if I’m frozen in a state of paralysis or breathing shallowly above my locked abdomen.
–that as a child, teen-ager, and young adult, I thought of myself as dead girl.
–that I used to cut my arms with a razor, put out lit cigarettes with my bare heel, and rip skin off my feet after a bath until I bled.
–I’ve always felt deep kinship with trauma victims, such as war veterans and survivors of torture, childhood sexual abuse, rape, and kidnapping–all the folks who have or have had, as adults, PTSD.
–I experienced crippling depression between the ages of 12-15 and 21-25.
–in recent work with a spiritual teacher, when she tried to help me neutralize the effect of the surgical scalpel on my psyche, my eyes locked into a back and forth panic that I was unable to control.
–in my early artwork from my twenties when I felt much emotional turmoil, I depict flaming red stomachs and explosions of organs.
–and finally, in many childhood photos, I look like a zombie as if shot by a poison dart tipped with curare.
According to Dr. David B. Chamberlain in his article “Babies Don’t Feel Pain: A Century of Denial in Medicine,” * prior to the mid-1980s, “[h]ospitalized newborns, from preemies of twenty-six weeks upward, have routinely faced surgery without benefit of pain-killing anesthetics. . . Instead of anesthetic, the babies had typically been given a form of curare to paralyze their muscles, making it impossible for them to lift a finger or make a sound in protest” (from the anthology Cyborg Babies, edited by Robbie Davis-Floyd and Joseph Dumit.) Hmmm…..Is it any wonder that I have had to keep pinching myself to make sure that I am alive?
*Note: The above link is a reference to a version of the article, given as a paper at a conference.