All survivors of infant surgery are strong. Infants who survived surgery in the pre-1987 days of no anesthesia are super strong. I know because I am one. And for so long, I thought of myself as weak.
I weighed four pounds when I was operated on in 1952 for pyloric stenosis, a stomach blockage. My mother said that I could have fit inside a shoe box. She said that I weighed as much as a bag of white rice on our pantry shelf. She said a lot of other things, too–disparaging things that made me believe I was a horrible, alien being. And my pediatrician didn’t help.
Just imagine. Starved down to four pounds. Separated from my mother and family at the hospital. Hydrated with IV fluids. Tied to the operating table. Intubated awake. Given a paralytic to prevent movement. Sliced in the gut without anesthesia–through skin, peritoneum (abdominal cavity), pylorus stomach muscle (I think those are the three.). Isolated for over a week in recovery with no or little pain control. How did I survive?
Super baby!! Despite being called weak, sick, worthless, I survived. Despite the torture, I survived. Despite the trauma, I survived. Yes, I was vulnerable, but I must have really wanted to live. No doctor or parent can make a baby live. They help, of course, but they can’t do it all. Agency resides within the organism–me! One could say that I was meant to be. It was my destiny, my purpose.
All of you survivors of infant surgery, anesthesia or not, you are strong! Your own sense of agency was key in determining the outcome of events. Just remember–no one can make you survive. You must want to. You wanted to survive. We are amazing!!
wendy, you are amazing. i’ve always thought you are. i think i survived 3 year old surgery . it was traumatic but i had some ether. that wasn’t too pleasant.
i feel i had a strong will to live also thru my mother’s mental problems and then my own, but as i grow older, to be honest right now, i don’t feel so strong. anyway reading what you wrote is empowering to hear.
Thank you, Ellen. You are amazing, too. Think what you survived. I’m sorry you are not feeling so strong. Sending love and hoping you feel better. Look at one of the chickens. Right now I see two brown sheep wanting out to eat grass in the yard. Animals help, don’t they?
Hi Wendy, went to woodacre, saw horses and cows big trees hardly any cars. am happier. nature is a great healer the air from the trees the delight and earthiness of the animals, the fire of the heat and the water in streams.
Where is wood acre? So glad you found your way there. I feel so supported out in nature.
it’s in Marin, no pavements, roads but no sidewalks, people riding horses down the street, my friend picked me up in san rafael and drove me. it’s past fairfax. nature is supportive, even mybackyard trees talk to me. we can find nature anywhere.
went to a memoir reading tonight at berkeley library, teacher was francis lefkowitz have you heard of her? i bought the book can lend it to you. i’ve thought of lending your memoir to my friend Jeanne, i still have it. how do you feel about that? you might want it back eventually. jeanne had some similiar troubles like you. i think she would appreciate it alot.
Wendy, it is right that we celebrate not only your survival but the energy, style and growing confidence of your journey since the terrible treatment to which your poor unsuspecting parents submitted you so early in your life. And they also knew so little about how to love and help their battered baby. Or did the trauma of what they powerlessly realized affect their mind and soul?
It is so good that your work online and face-to-face offers insight and help to others who have been as affected as you.
More and more, I see how my mother’s early trauma shaped her perception of mine. And how my perception of my trauma was shaped by hers. I don’t know where one draws the line, but I know my nervous system is braced for the blows my mother once suffered from her father and the blows I received from the surgery. It’s all wrapped into one. One thing’s for sure–that parents play a key role in how their baby’s trauma is played out over time. Certainly those parents who’ve attuned to their children despite the difficulty of the medical issues can help them through those transitions in life that are challenging for ‘normal’ folks but super threatening to those with post traumatic stress.
Wendy, I’d also like to comment on that gorgeous photo of you as an enthusiastic and relaxed six-or-so month old. I have posted a photo of mine – not quite looking as if I’m taking on the world, but certainly a flourishing Fred.
You’d probably not be surprised, but most PS babies seem to bounce ahead after their surgery, more than catching up in every obvious way, and this is often commented on by grateful parents.
As you and I also know, however, appearances may deceive, and trauma (even early trauma) can lie dormant in us until it rises to our consciousness. Although I have not found any evidence of this being the norm, it has been reported and documented often enough to be much more widely recognized by the medical and counseling worlds.
Yes, and thank goodness for people like Dr. Tinnin and Dr. Linda Gantt who know how deeply traumatizing an infant surgery can be. Their trauma clinic is a testament to this understanding.
Thanks for loving my photo. I certainly seem to have bounced back. Unbridled enthusiasm! It’s a favorite photo.
Thank you, Wendy, for reminding victims of infant surgery without anesthesia that we were strong just to have survived. And thank you for describing the story behind your pyloric stenosis scar. Just imagining that cutting through vital tissue when you were paralyzed but not anesthetized is horrifying. It is chilling to think that doctors so quietly accepted standard practice for so long. Are there any doctors who used to perform such operations putting themselves on record as experiencing grief over the pain they inflicted on their patients? Paul Fleiss performed over a hundred infant circumcisions without anesthesia before he “finally heard the infant’s cry” and refused to circumcise another child, but at least baby boys were able to scream! Thanks again for bringing attention to this shocking chapter in American medical history.
Wow, I’d love one doctor to come forward, one doctor to cop to doing surgery on babies without anesthesia who feels some remorse. I haven’t read or heard of a single soul who questioned his/her actions, but some must have. Thanks for your support and for your comment. Super babies unite!
Yea we are Wendy …yes we are
Thanks, Deon. Thinking of you.