Infant surgery without anesthesia (1): choices have had consequences

Last week something happened that was highly significant for me and the reason for this blogsite.

On the site of my fellow-blogger Wendy Williams, a correspondent called Dean made this Comment

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I have for a long time known that I had PTSD and knew that I had been through an experience where I was near death, but I struggled and struggled to know where it came from.  Now I am sure.  I have had the nightmares of operation lights and surgeons standing over me with the accompanying teeth grinding and terror response along with the neurosis that accompanies these nightmares.  I couldn’t believe that people (doctors) would be so ignorant as to think that babies did not feel pain.  I started research on the web and found your site.  Now at 55 years of age I am confident of where these visions come from…

Please follow the link and read Dean’s several Comments in full.

Why are these comments so significant?

Dean reported the same key symptoms of PTSD resulting from infant pyloric stenosis surgery as Wendy has done on her blogsite.  There is just a small community of people who have not only recognized their symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) as being caused by infant surgery, and who have also written publicly about this.

Baby unhappy01These PTSD symptoms have much in common but also differ from person to person.  My symptoms are very similar to “Mark’s” who also follows Wendy’s and my blogsites.  All four of us had surgery to remedy pyloric stenosis in very early infancy, but it seems that both Dean and Wendy have lived with an almost identical set of painful after-effects which like Mark’s and mine are clearly linked with their infant PS surgery as it was often done (at least in the USA) before the late 1980s.

If “one swallow does not make a summer”, two swallows and many similar birds must be significant!

The medical records of people of our age have long been destroyed and our parents are not only deceased but were of a generation that didn’t say much about painful experiences.  This has made it impossible to verify any details of our respective surgeries, and explains why I am so enthusiastic whenever I “meet” somebody who has experienced what I have!

Why would long-ago infant surgery leave people with lifelong PTSD ?

Several of the links to the right will take the reader to reports of infant surgery without general or local anesthesia, using curare (a paralysing drug) to immobilize the baby – which in turn required “intubation”, the insertion of a breathing tube to maintain the paralysed baby’s respiration.  During the past 25 years we have established that although babies’ immature brains cannot recall such early trauma, their bodies can carry what are called “somatic memories” of pain and harrowing experiences.

Baby crying1Is it any wonder that some of those who have been through this kind of early and body- and mind-overpowering trauma continue to carry nightmares clearly related to the operating room, times of feeling frozen in fear and helplessness with agonized teeth grinding, and a phobia for things such as people in white coats, lying down in a vulnerable situation (such as a doctor’s consulting room), and bright lights?

It is not possible to discover with 100% certainty what actual technique(s) of infant surgery traumatised people 40, 50, 60 or more years ago.  But in my next post I want to record some of the discussions held and comments made in medical journal articles of the 1930s to 1960s on the subject of using anesthetic for surgery on PS babies.  I believe this is a key issue.

Only in the late 1980s did Drs K J S Anand and P R Hickey (1987) publish the results of research into the possible effects of early infant trauma after medical procedures.  The New York Times (1987) and writings such as those of Dr David B Chamberlain (1989) and Dr Louis Tinnin have brought Dr Anand’s work to the attention of the public.

bub sick1So in the USA (at least) it was not until 1987 that the apparently common practice of not anesthetising babies for surgical procedures ranging from heart operations to male circumcisions started to become indefensible.  Hospitals and associations of medical professional reviewed and enforced their policies.  Parents were demanding to be more involved.

Up to that time it was believed by many people within and apart from the medical world that “babies don’t feel pain” and / or “babies cannot remember pain.”  It seems that such mantras were less commonly heard outside the U.S.  After all, pediatric anesthesia had become a separate discipline since the late 1940s.

Next week: how was some pediatric surgery done before 1987 and why?

3 thoughts on “Infant surgery without anesthesia (1): choices have had consequences

  1. Wendy

    Way to go! Thank you, Fred, for putting all this info in one place. With just a click, readers can get mounds of important information.
    Here’s something I’ve been wondering about. Dean and I were both operated on at about 4 weeks; we’d both lost significant weight. Weren’t you operated on at 10 days? I know you too lost significant weight. And through your research, isn’t it true you believe you received a local anesthetic? I’m not measuring or comparing suffering here; I’m simply trying to connect the dots and understand the differing expressions of post-traumatic stress disorder.
    Btw, that photo of the operating “theatre” is amazing! I couldn’t look at it for too long – if you know what I mean.

  2. Fred Vanderbom Post author

    Thanks so much for these comments, Wendy.
    Yes, I think we’re all trying to connect the dots, as it seems to me that none of us has a clear picture of the details of what happened to each of us. Just unquestionable symptoms and the patchy historical record in contemporary medical journal articles. I’m glad I wrote a series of posts on what (very generally) PS surgery looked like in each of the decades of the past century. A useful “general education”!
    So if we’re able to connect the dots including those Dean has contributed, they point to him and you having been given curare instead of any form of anesthetic, and that possibly Mark and probably I had some form of pain control but were traumatized in other ways, though still clearly linked with our infant surgery.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s