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"The Long Life of Early Pain"

I painted this self-portrait when I was 25 years old and very depressed, can you tell? I was so down, lost, and  unaware one drizzly, chilly east bay morning that I left a pillow over the heating duct in the floor after I turned on the heat, which started a fire in my apartment. I crawled under the cloud of living room smoke to the safety of the porch while the fire engine arrived.

Some of the quotes below, taken from the article “The Long Life of Early Pain” published in On the BrainThe Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute Letter Winter 2011, Vol. 17, No. 1 explain why, as a survivor of infant surgery,  I was in such pain.

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It was a centuries-old notion that had profound ramifications for medicine: Infants, especially those born prematurely, felt little or no pain. As recently as the late 1970s, physicians in the United States and other countries used pain-killing medications on infants only sparingly; the common practice was to provide infants with a sucrose solution to quiet and soothe. . . . Few researchers had challenged the premise that infants did not respond physiologically–or neurologically–to surgical incursions (1).

A pivotal study in 1987 by Paul Hickey, MD, . . . and Kanwaljeet Anand, MD, PhD . . . showed not only that babies exhibited stress responses to invasive procedures, but that these troubling, even dangerous, responses were reduced when anesthesia was used (1).

Medical professionals began noting an array of psychological and psychosomatic troubles linked with the experience of pain or impending pain in adolescents and adults who, as infants, had undergone surgery without anesthesia (2). 

According to Frederick J. Stoddard Jr., MD, . . . early-life traumatic stress and untreated pain may seriously affect a child’s development, contributing to lifelong emotional disorders, including anxiety and depression, learning disabilities, and other problems in growth and development (3).

Although studies have documented post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in survivors of child abuse, few have looked for a connection between the disorder and early-life surgical pain. PTSD, a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a psychologically traumatizing event, often overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope (3).

Need I say more?

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