A fly is drowning in water. You want to save it. But as you lift it out, you damage its wings. It can no longer fly but yes, you saved its life. It walks away and hides under a leaf.
This is what life is like after infant surgery without anesthesia at one-month-old. I recovered from the condition that required repair, but somatically and psychologically, I teetered under a leaf, no longer able to fly. The doctors, and the medical field itself, believed that babies did not feel pain (yes, you heard that right). And so, they did not administer relief–not to me and not to tens of thousands of other little ones.
So the fly lives, trying to take wing, but fails. Children try to fly, but their bodies, emotions, and senses remember the assault. Nervous systems have gone haywire. The brain has suffered. Anxiety thrives, fear and tension amped. Defenses juiced. Minds numbed. Body and brain disconnected.
But, you say, we saved the fly. It would have died without our help. We lifted it from water. It walked free. It lives!
Amazingly, you don’t even know that you’ve damaged its wings. You did your job, repairing the physical problem. Parents don’t realize the damage either because they weren’t told that anesthesia would be withheld from their baby. They didn’t sign on for that. They assumed their babies would be protected from pain. And so, after the surgery, they could not tend to their babies’ emotional and somatic wounds. Parents thought their kids had been given anesthesia!
In 1986, medicine could no longer ignore this issue. Dr. KJS Anand and Dr. PR Hickey had done the research. They provided evidence that babies were dying from the shock of too much pain. Also, Jill R. Lawson, the mother of a preemie who died after an invasive heart procedure, went public with the fact that her son received no anesthetic or pain control besides a paralytic drug that immobilized him. Though pain relief for infants is now recommended, medicine has not acknowledged the wounds it has caused. And shockingly, many doctors still do not believe babies feel pain and operate to this day without administering anesthesia.
And what of all these adults with damaged wings? Over many decades, hundreds of thousands of babies survived the brutality. They grew up. They hid under leaves. Life for many of these folks has been difficult. How have they coped with the somatic and psychological consequences of early torture? Where is the compassion and affirmation? And where are the services they’ve needed all along? They need these things now.
Thank you for this wonderful little essay. You have given me a new feeling of empathy for flies. (I’m going to put my swatter in a place where it’s more difficult to find and reach, forcing me to think twice before using it impulsively.) What is missing in this world, I believe, is empathy. That is what we damaged people crave. The doctor who saved you may have felt he was a hero and, in some ways he was, but oh what cruelty to invade your body without realizing the collateral damage he was doing! Based on my own discovery in regressive therapy of the trauma associated with infant circumcision, I have always immediately understood what you mean about your own long-buried, then rediscovered somatic memory of your horrendous trauma. At least you know the source now and have found ways to alleviate the effects. Thank you for your courage and creativity in bringing your story to light. I wish there were more signs that doctors are beginning to understand the truths we talk about here.
I cried after reading your words, Robert. I felt your empathy and responded. Your words are incredibly healing to me. I think one of the hardest things with which we survivors of this type of early trauma struggle with is isolation. I felt seen and understood by you, (I’m glad your swatter is more out of reach 🙂 and so for today, I feel connected. Breaking out of isolation to reach out through my blog and other actions I take is crucial, but it’s easy to fall into numbness, discouraged about reaching society with our message. It’s important though to keep crawling out from under the leaf and offering up these truths. I know that you do. Your words and actions give me the courage to keep seeking light. Thank you so very much. And thank you for taking the time to comment on my post.
You say so much in so few words, Wendy. I love the metaphor of the fly and the attention to the reverberating affects for children, adults and the medical community. It’s such a powerful meditation on compassion.
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and to say such welcome things. Sometimes metaphor is the only way to say the unsayable–to really capture it (probably why we use them so much). And thanks for your big heart.
Thank you Wendy.Once again,reading your blog,I feel the grip of pain in my stomach- an instant recognition of something I’m not really in awareness of.The chill is real,the something being clipped off at it’s source.I’m so glad that you know the source of that early agony that formed within that baby core.I wish for more and more folks to become aware,so that it can be healed.And for modern medicine to become ever more modern and compassionate.
Thanks, Jen. Your words come at a good time. Last night I awoke feeling profoundly disconnected to my body– a state fairly common for me. I have to woo my breath from a frozen pattern to a natural one in order to go back to sleep. Your big-heart understanding helps me and all others reading this blog. Thank you for your sincere wishes and for your ability to communicate your feelings so beautifully.