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I Have to Keep Pinching Myself

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.

0 Responses to I Have to Keep Pinching Myself

  1. How could anyone not want to find the cause of so much pain? And do what they can to deal with it, both for your sake and to help others who have survived like treatment? Thank you for summing up your argument with so much oomph. My story overlaps with yours in large part, and I’m right there with you in the battle for greater recognition of what can happen if infant surgery is not handled with great care and sensitivity.

  2. How could anyone not want to find the cause of so much pain? And do what they can to deal with it, both for your sake and to help others who have survived like treatment? Thank you for summing up your argument with so much oomph. My story overlaps with yours in large part, and I’m right there with you in the battle for greater recognition of what can happen if infant surgery is not handled with great care and sensitivity.

  3. I’m glad the argument aspect of my post came through. I don’t want to throw a pity party. I want people to see some of the signs of PTSD. Suffering is situational though the root of the distress may have occurred decades ago and may not even be available in one’s memory.

  4. I’m glad the argument aspect of my post came through. I don’t want to throw a pity party. I want people to see some of the signs of PTSD. Suffering is situational though the root of the distress may have occurred decades ago and may not even be available in one’s memory.

  5. Wendy,

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. I’m particularly interesting in childhood medical trauma because my son (age 12) has suffered through a lot.

    He suffered through near death kidney failure, dialysis, multiple surgeries, catheter being pulled out and a horrible surgery to replace it. That was 4 years ago. One year ago I found out that he remembers being awake during that replacement surgery. While we’ve been dealing with the impact of for a long time that was a break through.

    I just wanted to say hello and I appreciate you sharing. As co-founder of a site for parents of special needs kids, I know a lot of the parents can identify with medical trauma. If you ever want to share with a group of understanding parents, I hope you will come by. http://www.supportforspecialneeds.com

    • Hi Julia, Thanks so much for commenting and sharing a bit of your story. You and your son have been through so much. I’m sure your son has a leg up on coping with the trauma because of your sensitivity, bravery, and awareness. Thank you for inviting me to your website, and I will surely visit.

  6. Wendy,

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. I’m particularly interesting in childhood medical trauma because my son (age 12) has suffered through a lot.

    He suffered through near death kidney failure, dialysis, multiple surgeries, catheter being pulled out and a horrible surgery to replace it. That was 4 years ago. One year ago I found out that he remembers being awake during that replacement surgery. While we’ve been dealing with the impact of for a long time that was a break through.

    I just wanted to say hello and I appreciate you sharing. As co-founder of a site for parents of special needs kids, I know a lot of the parents can identify with medical trauma. If you ever want to share with a group of understanding parents, I hope you will come by. http://www.supportforspecialneeds.com

    • Hi Julia, Thanks so much for commenting and sharing a bit of your story. You and your son have been through so much. I’m sure your son has a leg up on coping with the trauma because of your sensitivity, bravery, and awareness. Thank you for inviting me to your website, and I will surely visit.

  7. All this terrifies me. saving life is a great thing. but saving life in this way is like killing you slowly, and mentally. I am so sorry you have to go through all this pain.

  8. All this terrifies me. saving life is a great thing. but saving life in this way is like killing you slowly, and mentally. I am so sorry you have to go through all this pain.

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