Scarred survivors

Just 100 years ago a surgical remedy for infant pyloric stenosis was discovered by a German doctor and by accident in 1911. More about that in another blog.
Until then, about four in every thousand babies died tragically from hunger and dehydration because of pyloric stenosis, a weird condition which is still poorly understood. Had I been born just 30 years earlier than I was in 1945, I would have been part of that statistic.
Pyloric stenosis afflicts first-born male infants more often than other babies, something reminiscent of the Bible’s story about Israel’s liberation from slavery. The agonising death of brand new parents’ recently-arrived pride-and-joy is always terribly distressing, but 100 years ago it was probably grieved over with a degree of stoic acceptance… infant and maternal deaths were sadly common in all the world until recently, so God was blamed and, well, for the sake of the family “rather the baby than the mother”.
We can imagine that as often as not, parents would have resisted the medical profession’s well-meant attempts to prevent their baby starving to death because of its chokingly swollen stomach valve. Infant surgery was unbelievably crude until quite recently, and almost always unsuccessful in the early 20th century. The surgical technique to stop pyloric stenosis was very severe; and more complex conditions (such as those listed in the previous blog) were completely beyond the skill of doctors. Anesthesia was often regarded as too dangerous or indeed unnecessary for infants; surgical accidents and post-surgery shock caused many deaths, and then there was infection control… or the very poor understanding thereof.
Infants who survived surgery a century ago were very, very rare. Today many of us born with one or more medical problems (see my previous blog) are deeply grateful survivors. We’re thankful to be able to live what is in many cases a full and healthy life, thankful for huge advances in medical knowledge and surgical skills, thankful for gifted and caring surgeons, and thankful for conscientious nursing staff and loving and wise parents.
Yet I have become aware that surviving infant surgery sometimes leaves very painful scars quite apart from the physical marks left by the surgeon’s efforts. I have experienced that personally. As well as scarred surgery survivors, there are parents also who have been emotionally scarred.
It is these people and their stories that I’m interested in here. The blogs to come will I trust include a few of their stories and seek to bring a degree of understanding and healing to some of their pain. I also want to suggest ways of reducing in the future the number of people who feel they are scarred survivors.
If you would like to email your story to me or comment on what I write, please do! I welcome your input and support.

1 thought on “Scarred survivors

  1. wendy williams

    Fabulous visual image. I love reading about the history of pyloric stenosis and the way that you put the disease into perspective for contemporary readers. In 1952, I was operated on at 26 days for this condition. As you point out, I too would not have survived pyloric stenosis had I been born early in the 20th century. I am very lucky to have no physical complications from the surgery. I am, however, dealing with the “emotional scarring” that you so artfully mention. Your blog helps alleviate the isolation that I have felt about having been significantly scarred so early on.


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