Apr. 9, 1950, 1st Easter, 7 mos. old, just home from hospital —These words, handwritten by my mother, appear on a page of my brother’s baby photo album next to this picture of Wayne tucked between his paternal grandparents, Sophie and Emil:
On the back of the photo, my mother continues: found to be allergic to cow’s milk. Have to buy a goat! A touch of humor there, but I know of the anguish she suffered. The doctors thought that Wayne had leukemia and according to my mother, did “every test under the sun” to figure out why he was sick. In the end, he had what many of my mother’s ancestors died from back in the day, commonly called summer’s complaint. The cause of this illness was unknown in the early 1900s. My mother had taken me many times to see the row of tiny white tombstones in the cemetery where her relatives are buried.
What tugs most on my heart strings is what my brother must have gone through. In the fifties, what exactly did those tests consist of? How invasive were they? And was he given any anesthesia or pain relief? My mother told me that she thought she might lose him–he was that sick. “Between you and your brother, I lost ten years of my life,” she often said when she described what it was like to deal with sick infants. (So instead of dying at age 105, she died at 95.) Apparently, he was in the hospital for several weeks. I wonder whether she was able to visit him. Back then, parents were often restricted from contact with sick infants.
I’m sure this experience affected my brother’s emotional development. Whether it was part of the reason for his rages throughout his life, I will never know. (Anyone who knew him had experienced his tendency to “go off” on others.) My brother died this past November. I feel immense compassion for him, having gone through invasive early procedures myself. I, too had rages, just of a different sort.
I spent years of my life raging against myself and society by drinking, fighting, and creating havoc in grade school. I was also into cutting and tried to kill myself twice. I’m just so grateful that I had the chance to work with my anger, grief, and fear in therapy some years later. Many people have Post-traumatic Stress (PTS) from early traumatic medical events but never connect the dots. Education about this issue is sorely needed.