Some reflections

Has my infant surgery affected me?

In one word: Yes!  My surgery for pyloric stenosis at 10 days has had a lifelong effect on my inner self.  Deeply and majorly, but I’m grateful not in a debilitating way.  Even though I have always worked with people, only a very few of my dearest and nearest (my wife and family) have noticed or know.   Let alone be affected by my problems.  I’m a rather reserved and private person so I don’t find it easy to talk about this, even now 65 years later.

How has it troubled me?

Understanding this is still very much “a work in progress”.

  • As I blogged recently, my surgery was a catalyst in the difficult relationship I had with my mother – recognising that the mother-and-son bond is complex at the best of times!
  • When I read psychiatrist Dr Louis Tinnin’s 10 diagnostic questions for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from infancy, I find myself ticking nine of those boxes. I am thankful I have never been suicidal, but recognise all the other symptoms of PTSD referred to quite clearly in myself. Again, I realise that well-nigh everybody has experienced trauma of some kind, often already in childhood. There’s a Blogroll link to Dr Tinnin’s piece to the right.
  • Infant surgery in 1945 was very different from today. Pain control was traumatic in its application or non-existent. Anesthetic technique was crude and risky.  There was a long separation from mother and family to minimise cross-infection. Surgical techniques often caused severe shock, even death. It used to be accepted wisdom that all this had no effect on babies because “they have no memory”. Research has shown that they certainly do, and that the non-verbal nature of this memory brings its own complications.
  • The actual condition for which I had surgery has its own long-term effects. Studies have shown that the starvation that results from infant pyloric stenosis can affect the brain: memory and learning, motor coordination, and even social development. Again, I recognise the tell-tale signs of this in myself.
  • The effects of the starvation, the sub-conscious effects of the surgery, and the trauma which my illness and hospitalisation caused my parents seem to have combined to shape my self-image and confidence in (again) rather clear ways I’m only now able to map.

I certainly want to blog about each of these areas in time.

Why do so few people who have also had infant surgery care about it?

Here there has been no research of which I am aware, so I can only conjecture. Here goes…

  • Every baby is different, and their story is made up of their genetic, gender, physical, emotional and social shaping, as well as their life experiences. As part of this, every surgical procedure and hospital stay is in many ways unique.
  • Our personality was determined by our genes and parents – in my case far more than by my early surgical story and its later management. I believe I was born with a sensitive, introspective character that made me vulnerable to issues I have had, and I’m deeply grateful to the small number of people who have shared similar stories and challenges with me. For all but the last seven or so years I thought I must be a bit of a freak, but hey, I am far from alone and unique!
  • In researching this complex subject I have corresponded with countless people, and I am grateful that almost all who responded told me they had no ongoing effects from their early sickness and its treatment. That would either be so, or it could be (I believe) that they had no wish delve into their past or present self. Some of these people clearly had problems which could well be connected with what I have mentioned above, but who am I to suggest that (with all the possible consequences)?

Aren’t I grateful to be a survivor?

I certainly am. I trust that none of what I have blogged can be taken as my lacking great appreciation to my first doctor, the surgeon and the Friesian hospital staff who toiled for my survival.

And I love my parents not only because they are my life-givers, but with a deep affection and respect for everything they have done and given to me and our family.

As a Christian I also believe God has shaped my life and has continually challenged me (also in great privacy!) to make the biggest burr in my saddle a positive experience. It’s because of the values and attitudes of my parents and their relationship with Jesus Christ that I have always wanted to understand and be an advocate for the minorities and marginalised people among us.

Isn’t it high time to move on?

I’d love to and in a strong sense I have.

The symptoms of PTSD have faded as I have grown in maturity, and especially during the last 14 years since I started using the internet to read, research and network.

There’s one big reason I will not let this whole subject go. Having struggled with PTSD issues, loneliness and feeling “different” for much of my life, I and a few others (again, check out the Blogroll links) are deeply committed to using the web to reach out to others who are like we were and still are.

3 thoughts on “Some reflections

  1. wendy williams

    Thanks for reaching out to connect with others. Your blog post is timely for me. As a survivor of infant surgery without anesthesia, I am still searching for answers to my many questions. You bring up the starvation issue, of which I’ve written recently on my blog myincision. When I was very young, I harbored a secret fear that I was retarded. To the best of my knowledge, I had had no outer experience that would have suggested that to me. In school, I was considered very bright. I scored high on my report cards. I even scored well on the various IQ tests we were given at school. As early as the second grade, I felt doubtful of my intelligence. I was having difficulty telling time and couldn’t figure out why. My mother tried to help me at home, using the paper plate clock that I had made in class. It didn’t take me long to overcome my problem. I still wondered though in my heart of hearts about the soundness of my mental capabilities and these doubts continued to plague me throughout my life. Could you please summarize what you know about the effect of starvation on brain development. Thank you!

  2. Fred

    You are asking the same enigmatic questions as I am. Like me you are grateful to have done well in life in many respects, but it is also clear that that very early time of starvation has almost certainly had many effects on each of us. My most recent blog has reviewed some of the studies that bear out the effect of malnourishment on our brain and motor and cognitive development. We cannot undo our past, but a thankful and positive attitude and a determination to work for a better future are both ultra important! You and I are passionate about creating greater awareness of pyloric stenosis and other infant maladies that are often treated with surgery. Also vital is treament that considers not only the immediate and medical outcomes, but even more importantly the long-term wellbeing of the infant and family.


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