We survive infant surgery in our own way (2)

I feel very relieved nowadays!  I have been significantly (though mildly) traumatized by my infant surgery (for pyloric stenosis) and what went with it – but this hasn’t make me weird or unique.

For much of my life I was pretty sure that I was rather unusual, not helped by the fact that sometimes others who’d had similar surgery but had travelled a different road clearly thought I was “in need of help”.  I know that I was, but perhaps not in the way they were writing me off!

I have had a lot of help.  The internet has given me the opportunity to find, compare notes and learn from many others who have travelled the lonely and scary road I have.  Most in a passing and superficial comparing-notes kind of a way.  With other people, both they and I have felt free to really open ourselves and sometimes we have become good and trusted friends.

The web has also given me a mass of detailed information: about the infant pyloric stenosis I had, how it would have been treated almost 70 years ago, how that condition and infant surgery can sometimes affect the infant patients and their parents, and what long-term effects may continue to trouble survivors.  Not everybody needs or even wants all that detail, but I had craved for it for so long.  At long last I could access publicly available documents which answered most of the questions I would have loved to ask my parents or a doctor, but never had the courage or the open door to do.

Human variety1Infant surgery survivors write in widely different ways about how it has affected them.

Most men (but certainly not all) simply don’t write about having had surgery as a baby and what it’s meant for them.  If they talk about it at all, it will most likely be with bravado and a profession that they never think about their early surgery or scarring and that they are quite unaffected by it.

Men typically like a challenge to “fix” something and to brag about their successes.  They don’t like issues about which they feel uneasy and that cannot be remedied or explained 1-2-3.  Many men bond by telling tall stories and tales of bravery with bravado.  On the surface, it seems that the experience of pain and shame has not touched many men, or they have fire-walled them as a personal and private matter.  The fact that so many men love weapons, powerful bikes and cars, empire building, or may be abusers tells the world that we men are not always “real” about ourselves.

man-woman01I recognize that I am a “gentle” man.  My mother worried about whether I’d survive my life-choice to work with people.  It runs in my family: some of my children and grandchildren struggle with the gentleness for which many people love them.  A nephew lasted only a few weeks in the army (he still doesn’t know how he woke up one day in a hospital bed).  I am grateful that none of my immediate family needed infant surgery as it has touched me!

A quick search of the web will show, however, that I am far from the only man who has struggled with symptoms of trauma after infant surgery.  Though thoroughly outnumbered by women, many men have clearly travelled a road similar or parallel to the one I have described on this blogsite.

With women it’s a somewhat different matter.  It is fairly typical of women that they bond by what may be termed (sorry! a tad roughly) “bitching”: sharing gossip, grievances, and stories of their pain and suffering.  Put more respectfully, women like what may be termed “the ritual lament”.

This divide is not simply gender-based.  Consider the passionate prayers and psalms in the Bible (many of which are also “ritual laments”) and the haggling that goes on in a Middle Eastern market; compare that with the ancient Greeks’ love of philosophy and the Roman Empire’s legal and military prowess.

One wonders whether women on average live longer than men because they are better able to share and deal with life’s hurts and complexities rather than maintaining appearances with the proverbial stiff upper lip.

Is it any wonder that “gentle men” like me often feel more comfortable talking with women than joining in sessions of “men being men”? And that I am comfortable being perhaps “different” but not weird or unique.

3 thoughts on “We survive infant surgery in our own way (2)

  1. Judge Fred Thomson, D.A., J.D.

    O.K. I accept that you have suffered. Please accept that I have not and that I say so without bravado. My pyloric stenosis scar is ugly, but most people don’t see it; those that do, don’t care.
    I readily acknowledge that I did suffer from being blinded in one eye at the age of ten, but that injury had serious repercussions. It affected my military career opportunities and many other things.
    By comparison, my pyloric stenosis experience was like stubbing my toe.
    Judge Fred Thomson, D.A., J.D.

  2. Fred Vanderbom Post author

    Thanks so much for your comment, fellow-Fred.
    Rereading my post, and recalling others I’ve written here, I think we agree. Your perspectives are quite valid: as I’ve written in previous posts, often the challenges we face in life are minor compared with those of others. You also voice well the majority experience of life after infant surgery.
    But you haven’t taken into account here the minority whose experience is different from yours, who have faced serious ptsd and/or health conditions, and as I often mention, whose voices (though a minority) need to be much better heard. A few of their voices may be read in my blogs and the comments.
    I would welcome your response to them.

  3. Wendy

    I’m so glad you wrote of the bravado aspect of men’s expression. “Fire-walling” is one way of dealing with the fact that, as human beings, we are all vulnerable. The male children that I cared for for so many years cried just as loudly as the girls when they were physically hurt or socially rejected. Society sanctions the walls that many men erect to prove they are invulnerable. I’ve always related well with those gentle men–men who still have access to their feelings and fears and who are brave enough to share them. My post about my brother’s reaction to early trauma speaks so well to what you have shared here. In any case, I am so glad to learn your perspective. I’ve seen many men die early from the stress of maintaining and coping with a fire-walled body. And here’s a thought for the first comment: No one remembers their surgery as newborns. The brain has no verbal type of memory. It is now known scientifically that this type of early pre-verbal trauma memory is available through imagery and somatic expression. There are tools to access this early memory. Whether we realize it or not, we are unconsciously affected by early unresolved trauma all our lives until the early trauma is resolved consciously and integrated by both sides of the brain. Here’s a good reference book about all this for anyone who might want more info: The Instinctual Trauma Response & Dual Brain Dynamics: A Guide for Trauma Therapy, Drs. Louis Tinnin and Linda Gantt.


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