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Just Above Water: Reading Revolutionary Research in Pediatric Medicine

I’m sitting in my well-let living room on a Sunday morning on a hard folding chair, hoping both the light and non-comfy seat will keep me on task: reading the seminal article “Pain and its Effects in the Human Neonate and Fetus” by Dr. K.J.S Anand and Dr. P.R. Hickey published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1987. Am I a scientist? NO. Am I a doctor or medical professional? NO. I am a survivor of infant surgery, carried out without adequate pain control and likely, without anesthesia. And since I consider myself a health activist of sorts, I figure I need to be as versed as I can in the subject about which I blog.

The study I’m reading was groundbreaking. It provided a point of view in the field of medicine that was lacking–that infants feel pain and that the administration of anesthesia and analgesics is necessary for babies who require surgery or other invasive medical procedures. I’m paraphrasing, of course. And I’m only half way through the article. Why?  Because in each paragraph, I’ve had to look up at least two or three words in my huge Random House Dictionary or the Bantam Medical Dictionary and then connect those meanings to the point of the paragraph in general, which sometimes requires my taking notes or drawing diagrams in the margins. Yikes! Who would bother!  That’s why people like Dr. David B. Chamberlain interpreted this article for us. He  wrote the essay “Babies Don’t Feel Pain,” in which he introduced the findings of Drs. Anand and Hickey and gave us a history of medicine’s thoughts and conclusions about infant pain. Thank you, Dr. Chamberlain.

But my having read Dr. Chamberlain’s article is not enough. I’m interested in not only my reactions to reading a challenging scientific article, but also my emotional response to what I’m reading. You can imagine how I felt when I read this sentence: “Despite recommendations to the contrary in textbooks on pediatric anesthesiology, the clinical practice of inducing minimal or no anesthesia in newborns, particularly if they are premature, is widespread” (2). OMG!  Couldn’t any parent tell you that his or her newborn feels pain?  If it’s not proven though–if no tests were done that provides replicable data–well, then medicine too often ignores what we all intuitively know. Frightening?  Yes. That’s why we owe so much gratitude to Drs. Anand and Hickey who connected the data dots. They provided the numbers and made the argument that the medical profession needed in order to change clinical practice.

Wish me luck in finishing the article!