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Are Your Symptoms due to Infant Surgical Trauma ?

The following material is taken from psychiatrist Dr. Louis Tinnin’s former blog. The material was removed from the Internet after his passing last year, but I think it’s important for the public to have access to it. I called Intensive Trauma Therapy, Inc. in Morgantown, West Virginia (ITT) and asked the staff to repost the material. I was told that Dr. Linda Gantt, Dr. Tinnin’s wife and colleague, who oversees this material is very busy attending to a multitude of issues since her husband’s passing, which is totally understandable. So I hope ITT doesn’t mind if I repost some of the material in the interest of helping those seeking answers to questions about trauma, lifelong suffering and the possibility of  relief.  The following material is excerpted from Dr. Tinnin’s former wordpress blog. I am forever grateful to him for his groundbreaking work, along with that of Dr. Gantt and the ITT staff, and their efforts to reach out to adult survivors of infant surgery without anesthesia who suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and other trauma-related problems.

December 30, 2010: “How can one determine if present symptoms are due to surgery during infancy? Of course, there is no blood test for this. The usual clinical diagnosis of PTSD is not enough because the present symptoms might be described by other diagnoses, such as panic disorder or major depression. However, in the presence of chronic symptoms and a history of surgery during infancy, a trial of treatment may be wise. Answers to the following questions and discussion with a knowledgeable therapist can help one decide.

1)  Did you have an infant operation before 1987?  If so, what was it?

2) How old were you then, and how old are you now?

3) Do you feel it has affected you over the course of your life: constantly, only at times, or not at all?

4) How would you describe your symptoms or if no evident symptoms, then your quality of life in general?

5) Had you connected the operation with your symptoms, and if so how did you make that determination?

6) How long have you been aware of this connection? If not aware, have you suspected there was something deeper at work in your life that you did not understand?

7) Have you sought treatment and if so what kind? How did you feel about its effectiveness?

8) Was the operation ever discussed with you, as a child, as an adult? What importance did your parents or caregivers place on its possible long-term effects if any?

9) Have you ever considered suicide?

10) Do you believe your life can improve with proper treatment?”

Understanding that an infant surgery or invasive medical procedure may have caused PTSD or other related problems can in itself be healing. Many survivors sense that the early operation was traumatic and hijacked our lives, but because we have no information about this and were often told that we couldn’t possibly remember what happened to us so quit whimpering, we rationalize our pain or ascribe it to different causes.

When I learned that my PTSD symptoms could be due to my early trauma, an understanding about my life–depression, suicidal thoughts, lack of feelings of self-worth, and self-harming behaviors–clicked into place. The trajectory of my life made sense, and I felt a mix of relief, astonishment, fury, exhaustion, and shame. Overall, however, it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life, for the confusion over why I was not happy and had not achieved many of my dreams became absolutely clear. This clarity made room for compassion for myself that I’d rarely let myself feel. I experienced immediate healing and not only began to connect with others who’d suffered from early surgery and invasive medical procedures but also to succeed in my life in ways I’d never before been able to. While Dr. Tinnin’s questionnaire was not the source of my understanding of my PTSD roots,* may it help or guide those of you seeking answers.  I welcome your comments and look forward to communicating with you.

*I learned of the connection between my PTSD symptoms and trauma from my early stomach surgery (pyloric stenosis) without anesthesia in the writing of my memoir manuscript, Autobiography of a Sea Creature – Coming Home to my Body after Infant Surgery, and researching infant medical trauma at the University of California at Davis campus medical library.