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Understanding Infant Surgery: Explaining Ourselves to Ourselves

I’ve been listening to an Audio Course “Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality” in which Dr. Robert Sapolsky, a scientist from Stanford University, discusses some of the latest discoveries in neurobiology. In the lecture about two nuerons (brain cells) communicating, he said that Curare (the drug that was typically used in the old days to paralyze infants undergoing surgery rather than anesthetize them*) works by blocking one of the receptor sites at the dendritic site of a neuron so that a certain neurotransmitter–a chemical that floats across the synapse or space between two nerve cells–cannot be received. He said, in this way, Curare paralyzes the diaphragm, disabling a person’s ability to breathe. I suppose in big doses, people die; in smaller amounts, it paralyzes temporarily.

Curiously, over the course of my life, I’ve had trouble with my diaphragm freezing up. I wrote about this in some earlier posts, one of which is “PTSD Strikes.” I would simply find myself locked in freeze mode: not breathing, not thinking, not remembering, not dreaming.  I might be reading and suddenly, I was frozen or shut down.  I’d become aware of this situation when I’d suddenly have to breathe and would need to take a large gulp. As a child watching TV, I played a ‘game’ during commercials in which I would hold my breath for painful amounts of time, threatening myself with death by sliding down a giant razor blade if I didn’t hold out as long as possible. Could these reactions be leftovers from my ingestion of Curure so many years ago?  Could my nervous system still be responding to the early exposure?

The answers to all these types of questions awaited me at the conference held at Columbia University last Saturday,  “Do Babies Remember Trauma? The Psychology and Neurobiology of Early Trauma.”, which I learned about much too late to attend. Many of us need the information being presented at these types of get-togethers and too often, professionals only hear each other. I’ll do my best to contact the presenters in order to find out as much as I can.  I hope that one day I will completely understand the ramifications of having been operated on as an infant without anesthesia so that I can better help myself and other survivors and their families understand more completely what happened early on. To my mind, this knowledge will change our lives for the better. It could explain ourselves to ourselves.

*information from my own research