Trauma after infant surgery: another voice

Dewar Gwen 2012Recently I discovered the posts of Dr Gwen Dewar, whose credentials make her well-qualified to write and speak under the general title of Parenting Science.  She also posts regularly to ParentCenter, the leading and most excellent website and forum for the parents of a young child.

Baby-Powling-by-Sarah-PowlingWhat enthused me in particular was a November 2012 post by Dr Dewar about the long-term effects of infant surgery without general anesthesia: next to an explicit image (right) she wrote under a no-nonsense title: Before 1987, this cute baby might have had surgery without anesthesia.

This is of course one of the subjects I have been researching and writing about on this site.  It is striking that there was a massive response to Gwen Dewar’s post on the ongoing effects of infant surgery done with minimal or no pain management: the 53 comments (to date) were double that of her next most note-worthy blog and nine (yes, 9) times the average of the 14 posts listed on the title page!

Understandably, not all the Comments were affirmative: far from a surprise to me.  After all, (virtually) none of us who have had early infant surgery have any conscious memory of it, whether or not we were conscious during it.  This prompts many infant surgery survivors to reject any long-term effects of infant trauma utterly and sometimes with great vehemence!

However, these people generally show they have little knowledge or understanding of what has been discovered during the past few decades about how trauma affects babies and infants.  Dr Dewar’s material includes a review of how the history of medical science originally allowed (and even encouraged) surgeons working on babies to dismiss the need for anesthesia and then came to change its thinking and practice about this.

It is deeply frustrating to me (and perhaps even telling) that of the countless pediatric and medical research reports I have read about the treatment of the conditions of infancy, almost all have dealt exclusively with narrowly physical issues (diagnosis, heredity, treatment, after-care, statistics) and not one has dealt with the long-term effects.  There seems to be no academic or professional interest in understanding and helping the (it seems a) minority of people who report a range of similar, lifelong and troubling symptoms that can be credibly related to early surgery which they experienced but cannot remember.

Is it any wonder then that almost all paediatricians and surgeons (going by the countless reports on the web) assure parents that procedures like circumcision, cardio-thoracic surgeries, and pyloromyotomy have no after-effects to look out for, and that when adult survivors consult with a doctor about what may plausibly be after-effects they are typically given a “brush off”?

Wendy P Williams and I (here – just try the Search box) have blogged about this subject for some years now.  We have first-hand experience of the long-term effects of surgery for infant pyloric stenosis and although not academically qualified in the medical field, our academic training has enabled us to research and write.

How good it was then to “discover” Dr Gwen Dewar, who is able to draw directly on her academic studies, professional work and reading.  She also reports on what others have discovered and written: her post is well-supported with links to the most ground-breaking research and significant scientists working on this subject.

Read her linked post now, and consider leaving a Comment for her readers – and how about one for our readers here?

2 thoughts on “Trauma after infant surgery: another voice

  1. Wendy

    So glad you spotlight Dr. Dewar! She’s one more voice in the chorus and a welcome one.
    I was so happy to hear that phrase “the long-term effects” and your discussion about the fact that in the medical world, these effects just aren’t reported. When a person comes unhinged like the shooter in Newtown, I often wonder what in their past bobbed to the surface and influenced horrifying behavior. Re-enactment is very common with regard to trauma. We often unconsciously try to change the outcome of a trauma or heal a wound by re-creating similar circumstances. We don’t even know why we are doing this thing or acting in a certain way.
    In Trauma and Recovery by Dr. Herman, she reports on one woman who, after being raped in an alleyway, returned periodically to the scene of the crime and walked down the alley to prove that she will never be harmed in this way again. Her rage and her need to control an assault that was not controllable were huge. Is she tempting fate? Will she attract a dangerous predicament? She was certainly putting herself in harm’s way.
    Re-enactment is freaky. All of us have done things or acted certain ways without really knowing why. But those of us with unresolved trauma may act in ways that put ourselves and our loved ones in danger. I believe there’s a lot of unconscious acting out in the world that doesn’t have to happen if we are educated, informed, counseled, and aware. Medicine must help us in new ways if we are ever to really heal. And we must be more proactive in taking responsibility for our health and finding out all we can to mend ourselves.

  2. Fred Vanderbom Post author

    Thanks very much for these comments, Wendy, which are most helpful in extending what I have included in my post.
    I’m sure that most (if not all) who have struggled with trauma have re-enacted, as you say, often without realising it, certainly at the time. I know I did already very early in my childhood, amongst other things by forever playing doctors and by poking around in the scar from the surgery I had had.
    It’s a reason to be very thankful that I never harmed myself seriously, and even more that I didn’t take out my hidden rage on other innocents.
    I will do what I can to work with your last three sentences: they are so true. I also believe that those who continue to advocate uncontrolled gun ownership and use need to ask themselves some very deep and uncomfortable questions.


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