Do you wonder why you are unhappy? Do you feel tense? Have you tried in many different ways to feel happy over the years but still feel unsettled? When sitting quietly, are you ready to defend? Is your body walled off, protecting against something, but you know not what?
Maybe you are still embroiled in the symptoms of preverbal trauma–something that happened long ago that you have no words for; something you can’t possibly remember in this way because you were not verbal. You may still have emotions about what happened long ago but not know where they came from. You may sense what happened by your reaction to certain sights, smells, tastes, and sounds, but there is no direct connection. Oddly, your body remembers what occurred decades ago. Are you always guarded and tense, breathing patterns stuck? You often hold your breath, for example, or hold breath away from the area on which an early surgery or medical procedure was performed still trying to control the pain.
You’ve come to think that you’re crazy since you don’t have words or reasons for these strange emotions, body sensations, anxieties, and reactions to images. You may think something is deeply wrong with you and that, try as you might, you just don’t fit into society. You are isolated and have always been outside of life.
But it’s not what’s wrong with you that is the problem. It’s what was done to you that was wrong.
You suffered through a brutal trauma before you were old enough to have words to describe it. The verbal part of your brain went offline during the assault and your emotions, body, and senses recorded the affront. What are you left with if this traumatic experience goes untreated and, therefore, unresolved? Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. You’re left with anxiety, panic attacks, depression, self-harming desires and actions, high blood pressure, broxing–lots of symptoms, different for each person depending on background, genetics, gender, etc.
You may have used many tools over the years to heal and grow but nothing sticks, for you are still stuck in past trauma. Maybe you’re like me who had an early surgery and was told you could not possibly have felt or remembered anything. I had a repair of a stomach blockage, pyloric stenosis, for which my parents assumed I had anesthesia and pain control. How could they have known I was awake for the surgery, paralyzed by a powerful paralytic drug administered by a doctor or a nurse?
What follows is an excerpt of a December 30, 2010 blog post by Dr. Louis Tinnin, a psychiatrist, trauma expert, and pioneer in the treatment of trauma induced by infant surgery and invasive medical procedures performed without anesthesia. He has since passed away, but I copied the material and offer it here with grateful appreciation to Dr. Tinnin. By answering the questions in his questionnaire, you may be able to determine if your present symptoms are due to infant surgery without anesthesia or an early medical trauma. Please share this information with others who may be needlessly suffering.
Anyone now 23 years or older who had major surgery as a baby is at risk for chronic posttraumatic illness because the surgery was probably done without anesthesia, which was the custom in most hospitals prior to 1987. Abdominal surgery for pyloric stenosis and chest surgery for congenital heart problems were the most common forms of infant surgery. Together these surgeries were required for about 8 cases per 1000 births. A rough estimate of the number of survivors during the single year of 1987 (3,829,000 live births) is 30,600. We do not know what proportion of these survivors is now suffering with posttraumatic symptoms but considering the severity of the pain and the helplessness of the infant we would expect that the majority of these infants were traumatized.
Paralyzed, Wide Awake, No Pain Control – Those major surgeries required that the infant have artificial respiration during the surgery. The baby was given a curare drug for total paralysis while the respirator tube was inserted into the windpipe and the paralysis was maintained throughout the surgery. The paralyzed baby was wide awake with no pain control. Imagine what it must have been like for the infant: unable to lift a finger; unable to move away from the searing pain of the scalpel; the sensation of being turned inside-out as the heart or intestines are grasped; and the overwhelming pain. People that have survived these early traumatic experiences usually cannot recall them verbally while they cannot forget them nonverbally.
Life-Long Symptoms – The symptom picture of the survivors is broader than the usual picture for posttraumatic stress disorder. Adult survivors report life-long symptoms of anxiety (constant nervousness and spells of terror or panic), hostility (temper outbursts and urges to smash or break things), depression, self-consciousness, distrust of others, and a high vulnerability to stress. The life-long aspect of these symptoms leads to the faulty clinical perception that they are personality disorders instead of recognizing them as persisting reactions first elicited by the brutal surgery. That recognition opens the way to curative treatment of the adult survivor.
Infants Feel Pain, Remember Pain – We know today that infants feel pain and they remember the pain. That memory is not verbally coded and therefore is not conscious. It has not been mitigated by time or by life experience. It festers in the nonverbal mind and threatens to overwhelm the person. The unfortunate individual is blind to the origin of the symptoms and usually attributes them to present causes such as some physical or mental illness. Those survivors of infant surgery without anesthesia that do seek treatment might do so because of baffling symptoms of pain and fear or dissociative symptoms, or maybe at the urging of a parent who had seen the original damage but only later learned that there was no pain control for the baby during surgery.
Are My Symptoms Due To Surgical Trauma?- 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?
Cure Is Possible – The posttraumatic syndrome of infant surgical trauma is not generally recognized. There are individual therapists using medical hypnosis that understand preverbal trauma and use hypnotic age regression to bring the original experience to consciousness. There is one specialized trauma therapy program, Intensive Trauma Therapy, Inc., (ITT) in Morgantown, West Virginia that has treated this particular type of trauma for 4 years. ITT developed a unique approach, which is not the traditional talk therapy but uses other methods to access parts of the brain that store the imprint of the trauma. It is an outpatient treatment delivered in a marathon format, which allows individuals from distant places to be treated at the center in one or two weeks.