Category Archives: Long-term Hazards

How Japan handles infant Pyloric Stenosis

Most readers of this blog are more than interested in Pyloric Stenosis (“PS”), either because they or one or more of their children had infant PS as a baby.

PS is the most common form of bowel blockage to affect newborns in their first 4 or so months.  In most developed countries, all but the mildest cases are treated surgically. The surgical technique is a long-standing and firm favourite among surgeons: once mastered it is quick, simple, almost bloodless, and usually immediately effective. Parents who had been traumatised by their baby’s uncontrollable and violent vomiting and then by having to surrender their little one to be anesthetised and then cut open receive their little one back alive and with the promise: All done, you have a new baby, sick no more, home soon, and nothing to worry about in the future!  No wonder surgeons just love the Ramstedt procedure!

But if you look up “pyloric stenosis” on any of the larger social forum websites, you learn more.

  • The parent trauma resulting from PS and infant surgery can be deep and long-lasting,
  • this can affect the child also, and
  • the surgery is not always free of long-term problems, in both the immediate and long terms.

Such problems are probably far from the rule, and most Py babies seem not to look back. However, there are no substantial studies on this subject, and the ongoing effects of infant surgery on parents and sometimes the whole family, let alone the patient, can certainly be significant.

During my 20 years of researching the many issues related to PS, I have been surprised to learn that in some developed countries far from the Anglo-European world, surgery is the exception rather than the rule for PS babies.

The reports relating this are few but persistent.  For many decades now, academics and medical practitioners in countries including Japan, Taiwan, and Turkey have reported on regarding PS  surgery as a last resort.

Their policy is to treat most infant PS medically as the first option. The drugs involved are atropine sulphate and Ranitidine, drugs that reduce gastric acidity production. Very small or fragile babies, and those that do not respond to medical treatment within a stated time, are referred to a surgeon.

The outcomes are comparable by almost every standard: morbidity, mortality, and short-term problems. The hospital stay is longer, but the total cost is lower. Parents are happier and less traumatised.

Now a  2018 Japanese study has reported a small trial of adding a second drug, nitroglycerin or glyceryl trinitrate (GTN), in those cases that do not respond to atropine sulphate.  GTN is widely known as an explosive but is also often used to treat heart conditions.  Using both drugs meant success in treating all the PS infants in the study.

It is well worthwhile clicking on the link in the previous paragraph to read the full article, published by Open Source publisher Science Direct.

This is a story worth recording also! Most medical reports are published by large for-profit companies that first charge researchers for publishing their work and then the readers for access to the reports and discussions.  Open Access publishers believe that new research and discoveries should be published online without cost to the authors and should be freely available to anybody interested.

Posting this great news makes me soooo happy!

I am one of many millions who have gone for years hating our scars from infant surgery. PS survivors know that without this damage most of us might not be alive today!

But what if we knew that our parents had had a choice between a few days or weeks of supervised medical treatment – and disfiguring surgery?  And that they chose surgery without considering how we their child might be affected by that in years to come? We PS babies had no say in our treatment – but our parents were our advocates!  And parents who learn that infant surgery not only saves lives but can come with adhesions, collateral GI damage, and/or long-term psychological effects… who would not give medical treatment a try first?

This free medical article from Japan explains how treating infant PS medically is their first option – and it’s all that’s needed for up to 90% of PS babies to survive. This case reports details 2 cases when old-established medical treatment failed but was successful when combined with skin patches of another drug!

But… can our surgeons wean themselves off their favourite surgery?

Advertisements

Pyloric stenosis can be for adults too

Infant pyloric stenosis (“PS”) is not well-known in the general community.  Many of those who have been affected by it had never heard of it before.  But today far, far fewer people know anything about the adult form of PS.  As I will explain below, this is (in large part) a measure of the tremendous progress that medical science has been made in this area.

The stories of adult PSers vary even more than those about the infant form of the condition.  Some may find that hard to believe but it’s true!

When did problems start?
What happened?
What did the doctor say and do?
Did it work?
What happened then?
What choices did you face?
How are you doing now?

Think about it:  for adults there are many more variables than a baby might have: diet, wellness, lifestyle, age and stage of life…

However, the basic cause of all PS seems to be the same: high gastric acidity.  And one of the symptoms is usually the same: vomiting that is often severe and possibly (especially in infants) life-threatening.  But unlike babies with PS, adults usually find that with the loss of weight and wellness come pain, bloating, food intolerances, and reflux.  These are usually not a problem for the hungry but (at first) happy infant PS spitter.

In the infant disease, the high gastric acid level over-stimulates the pylorus (the circular muscle valve at the stomach’s exit), causing it to thicken, toughen and choke the muscle’s ability to relax and pass food.

Adult PS is also caused by high acidity, and often also by a virus, Helicobacter pylori, which has the nasty habit of stimulating acid secretion.  The acid erodes the stomach lining and creates conditions which enable the virus to trigger the eruption of gastric ulcers, which then scar as they heal, so thickening the walls of the stomach and pylorus, ultimately narrowing and blocking the stomach outlet.  If left untreated these ulcers can also give rise to stomach cancer.

These differences do not affect the name of the condition: “pyloric stenosis” means a “narrowing” of the pylorus (which means “gate”).  The term “hypertrophic” means “enlargement” and is only used of the infant form.  The effect of PS, whether in its infant or adult form, is also the same: the narrowing of the stomach’s exit ring muscle, causing vomiting and a reduction of food throughput, and thus starvation.

The difference in the development of the two forms of PS explains why the relatively simple “fixes” for infant PS (medication or surgery to relax the pyloric ring) do not relieve the adult form.  The PS baby’s problem is the thickening of the pyloric passage’s muscular outer layers, whereas the adult’s scarring, narrowing and blockage occur inside the pylorus or at the antrum, the tapered (narrowing) part of the stomach closest to the pylorus.

Adult PSers suffer from a range of symptoms including vomiting, reflux, pain, lack of appetite, and inability to maintain body weight.  The adult patients’ general practice doctors and GI specialists will try various treatments, starting with drugs to kill the virus infection and reduce acidity, and then relaxant medication and repeated stretching (“dilation”) to widen the pylorus.  Dilation is often repeated several times but is hardly ever successful as a long-term remedy. Sooner or later the patient usually decides to continue to one or more of a short list of surgical remedies, all of which are more severe and often less effective than the rather simple pyloromyotomy which is the usual surgery of choice for infants.

Pyloromyotomy

The simplest surgical remedy is pyloroplasty, a technique that was modified to become the pyloromyotomy which has usually remedied infant PS since Ramstedt’s accidental discovery in 1912.  Ramstedt discovered that it was not necessary to stitch the cut pylorus after he’d split it to relieve the enlarged muscle. He left the gaping pylorus wound to heal by itself in time.

[Select an image to enlarge it if you wish.]

Pyloroplasty

Pyloroplasty

But very sometimes the infant pylorus will not stay open for various reasons, and then a surgeon may return to the pyloroplasty: here the pylorus is split down to the mucosa or inner lining lengthwise (as in a pyloromyotomy); in a pyloroplasty the split muscle is then stitched closed across the pylorus, thus forcing it to stay open.  But because the adult pylorus is often scarred (thickened and hardened) by ulceration, it is often not in a fit condition to be modified.

Gastroenterostomy

The second option is commonly adopted: gastroenterostomy is a bypass of the pylorus by joining the duodenum to the stomach.  This removes the pyloric “gate” between the two which understandably has an effect on digestion.  Dietary changes and smaller, more frequent meals are necessary and often the “dumping syndrome” becomes part of daily living, as the body struggles to maintain a regular and appropriate source of energy.  Gastroparesis is a fairly common problem after gastric surgery: damage and interference cause the nerves and muscles of the region to stop working as they should.

So adult PS is more complex in its causes, symptoms, and available treatments.  And all these several treatment options are far from assured of success, as our gastric passage is easily unsettled and has a mind of its own: it is part of a complex network of different and linked organs and chemical input and processes.  Moreover, like any worker our abdominal organs can protest against being handled with less than good skill by working more slowly or sometimes a complete stop-work.  Medication and especially surgery can be quite successful or can result in unwanted and significant continuing physical side-effects.  Some “survivors” are pleased with the results of their choice, and others find they have to “adjust”, sometimes struggling to do so.

“Major adjustment” is thankfully something that is needed by only a very small minority of infant PS survivors.

Scared_DoctorDespite the dismissive words and comforting promises of pediatric surgeons, infant PSers also run a risk of a short list of abdominal and other complaints, some of them after their early surgery and then possibly also in later life.  Remember that the pyloromyotomy does not deal with the baby’s high gastric acidity.  One of the long-term risks is reflux and developing gastric ulcers – and as a result the adult form of PS.  Deja-vu!

But there’s also good news.  Today, thanks to effective and modern surgery, deaths from infant PS are almost nil.  And adults will find that with antibiotic treatment, H. pylori infection is usually quite easily dealt with, and so gastric ulcers and related surgery peaked in the 1970s and are now far less common.

Some personal observations are indicative despite being anecdotal rather than based on a careful study.  Adult gastric ulcers and PS used to be quite common but the only person I have ever known with it in 70+ years was one of my uncles – possibly a family linkage there?

Contrast this with the 8 or so infant PS patients and survivors I have known of or met.

The reader may discover similar figures!

Another measure is Facebook: following its PS Groups for 10 or so years I have logged 1,020 infant PS survivors but “just” 56 adults struggling with the condition of adulthood (several of tham after having survived infant PS).

The medical journal The Gut published an article in 2011 titled, The scars of time: the disappearance of surgery for pyloric stenosis – referring to the virtual disappearance of the adult form of PS, usually caused by peptic ulcer disease.

If medical science had made similar progress in reducing the incidence of infant PS, many parents and survivors would really party!

For readers who have stories or questions about adult (or infant) PS and its treatment and who use Facebook, I can recommend its “closed” Pyloric Stenosis Support Group which includes more than 50 members who have experienced and have posted (in great variety) about their adult form of PS.  (Any Facebook subscriber can find a “closed” Facebook Group, but it cannot be opened and read only by those who have joined that Group.)

Can Pyloric Stenosis come with long-term effects?

Ask your General Practice doctor or a pediatric surgeon about the long-term effects of infant pyloric stenosis (“PS”) and you will almost certainly be told there are none.

However, the volume of questions, complaints, and feedback to online social forum sites such as BabyCenter/Centre, Facebook, MedHelp, Patient, and Topix is a clear sign that the answer to this question is not quite as clear and simple!

The issue of possible long-term gastro-intestinal (“GI”) and other complaints after PS is in fact a complex subject.  The social forum interest mentioned above shows that there is a short list of long-term effects that those affected suspect may not be unrelated to having had infant PS and/or the surgery to remedy it.

However, many of these complaints are hard for medical science to study and possibly recognise, and therefore for your doctor to treat.  So unfortunately for us, many busy doctors will brush off patients’ attempt at consultation about them as a waste of their time; others will recognise the problem but can usually offer little more than sympathy!

Besides this, GI problems in general (apart from PS) are the most common complaint we take to the doctor, so unravelling their cause and getting effective treatment is a painstaking business! In fact, a small but significant percentage of GI complaints have no verifiable cause at all – and even have a name: “Functional Abdominal Pain Syndrome”.

So… what is beyond doubt?

All surgery (even today) comes with short and long-term hazards, which are acceptable if a life is at stake.  These hazards have been minimised and some virtually eliminated in recent decades – but several remain.  The list of possible immediate and short-term hazards includes anesthetic complications, an unsuccessful procedure (so repeat surgery), wound disruption, and infection.

Those that can arise in the long(er) term include surgical adhesions, collateral damage (usually to the duodenum, stomach or vagus nerve), and emotional issues ranging from scar shame and emetophobia to pre-verbal trauma or mild PTSD.

If the baby has been significantly starved for any reason (usually poor and delayed diagnosis) there may be lifelong effects on several areas of brain function.  Emotional damage can also result from (as happened quite often in the past) the baby’s surgery being done with inadequate pain control, accompanied by significant maternal separation, or by the parents’ trauma resulting from the PS and surgery in any way being conveyed to the infant or to the growing child.

Then there is a short list of GI issues, which are common (also) among people without PS and PS surgery in their early history.  However, these problems seem to be experienced more often by survivors, and are acknowledged as possibly linked by some medical professionals and by several (mostly small) studies.  The theory that high gastrin levels (a blood hormone that controls gastric acid release in the stomach) causes PS in babies is one of the most obvious and plausible among the causes / etiology of IHPS, and this theory links strongly to GI problems in later life. It would also explain why GI problems can arise directly from the subject’s history of PS (the condition), and not the surgery.

The list of long-term GI complaints common among PS survivors includes reflux (or GERD or heartburn), several other GI development faults of infancy, high acidity causing IBS, and sometimes gastric dumping, ulcers and cancer.

There have been more than a few small studies reporting all this, and a few social forum reports of medical professionals who recognise the linkage from their own research and experience.

It may come as a surprise that so little is known (or recognised) about the possible long-term medical issues after PS.  It is because PS is so easily and usually successfully dealt with, and I suspect because the long-term problems are not life-threatening, that there have been no large studies of this subject area.  Besides, there are many more pressing medical challenges that need research time and funds.

The only large study that has stood out showed that the risk of PS is very much raised by mother or newborn using any of the macrolide family of antibiotics – which also relates to gastrin levels!

Despite all this, there has been at least one recent attempt to set up a sizable and robust study of the subject – which the PS community awaits with great interest!

In the meantime it must be realised that the medical community continues to submit to the surgeons’ love affair with PS and repeat the med school mantra that there are no long-term issues to keep in mind in relation to PS.

You can find all the above information on the web. If you need or want my evidence of the above, you’re invited to message me with your email address. I have a list of some 1700 reports and other material which can be accessed via the web.

Infant Surgery & PTSD – Links to Publications & Websites

Sometimes it is better not to know…

Some of those who owe their life to infant surgery in times past have become aware of the fact that safe and effective pediatric anesthesia and analgesia have only become almost generally used in developed countries in fairly recent years.

The medical mantra that “a baby does not feel, let alone remember pain” was widely believed and acted on in the medical world.  We can be thankful that many medical workers did nevertheless learn to work on infants using the available rudimentary anesthetic drugs and procedures. A powerful code of silence blanketed what was really happening and how widespread infant surgery without anesthesia was practised.

In 20 years of lay research and networking about this issue, I have yet to find a statistical report or journal article on the relevant facts and figures.  Understandably, parents were never told about the darker facts around their child’s operation, and those who dared to asked were most likely fobbed off – and certainly did not dare to share their concerns with their child in later years.

I have networked with an uncomfortable number of people who like me are grateful to be alive because of early surgery but have always been mystified by living with some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

The medical mantras  about infants feeling and remembering pain were publicly challenged and steadily corrected only since 1987. I have written other posts here about this.

Here is a reading list for those who are interested in learning more about this matter.

Again: sometimes it is better not to know . . .

Inadequate pain management

New York Times – Researchers Warn on Anesthesia, Unsure of Risk to Children – http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/26/health/researchers-call-for-more-study-of-anesthesia-risks-to-young-children.html (link)

Jill R Lawson, Standards of Practice and the pain of premature Infants – (pdf file incl additional articles) – http://www.recoveredscience.com/ROP_preemiepain.htm (link to Jill Lawson’s article only)

McGrath Patrick J – Science is not enough, The modern history of pediatric pain – Moderna historia dolor pediatrico.pdf – (file) – http://www.dolor.org.co/articulos/MOderna%20historia%20dolor%20pediatrico.pdf (link)

Pail’s Health Blog Nov 2010 – A Story of Babies in Pain and the Barbaric Malpractices of Medicine – http://www.theherbprof.com/blog/?p=66 (link)

Louis Tinnin, Awake and Paralyzed during Surgery – http://ezinearticles.com/?Awake-And-Paralyzed-During-Surgery&id=182472 (link)

Dvorsky, George, Why are so many Newborns still being denied Pain Relief? – http://gizmodo.com/why-are-so-many-newborns-still-being-denied-pain-relief-1755495866 (link)

 

Infant Memory

Chamberlain David B – CV & publications.pdf – (file)

Website – Birth Psychology – A Bibliography of Dr David B Chamberlain’s writings – https://birthpsychology.com/journals/volume-28-issue-4/chamberlain-bibliography (link)

David B Chamberlain, Babies are Conscious – (file)

David B Chamberlain, Babies Don’t Feel Pain – a Century of Denial in Medicine http://www.nocirc.org/symposia/second/chamberlain.html – (link)

Levine, Peter A, Waking the Tiger – Healing Trauma, North Atlantic Books, 1997 (book title)

Van der Kolk, Bessel, The Body Keeps the Score – (book & summary article title) http://www.franweiss.com/pdfs/sensorimotor_vanderkolk_1994.pdf (link)

Van der Kolk, Bessel, Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma – http://www.shrinkrapradio.com/436.pdf (link)

Van der Kolk, Bessel, Developmental Trauma Disorder – (book & summary article title) http://www.traumacenter.org/products/pdf_files/Preprint_Dev_Trauma_Disorder.pdf (link)

Van der Kolk, Bessel, The Limits of Talk – http://www.traumacenter.org/products/pdf_files/networker.pdf (link)

 

PTSD from Infant Trauma

K J S Anand & P R Hickey, Pain and its Effects in the Human Neonate and Fetus – http://www.cirp.org/library/pain/anand/ (link)

The New York Times, 24 Nov 1987, Philip M Boffey, Infants’ Sense of Pain Finally Recognized – http://www.nytimes.com/1987/11/24/science/infants-sense-of-pain-is-recognized-finally.html (link)

The New York Times Magazine, 10 Feb 2008, Annie Murphy Paul, The First Ache, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/10/magazine/10Fetal-t.html?_r=1&ex=12 (link)

Monell, Terry – When Pediatric Surgery causes Permanent Damage.docx (file)

Dr Louis Tinnin – Infant Surgery without Anesthesia 130707.docx (file) – https://ltinnin.wordpress.com/ and https://ltinnin.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/infant-surgery-without-anesthesia/  (link)

Wendy P Williams – Are Your Symptoms due to Infant Surgical Trauma? – http://restoryyourlife.com/ptsd-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-dr-louis-tinnin-infant-surgery-without-anesthesia-pyloric-stenosis/ (link)

Wendy P Williams – Ten things to remember about pre-verbal Infant Trauma – http://restoryyourlife.com/preverbal-infant-trauma-preverbal-memory-emotions-sensations-breath-anxiety/ (link)

National Institute of Mental Health (USA) – comprehensive introductory brochure on PTSD – https://infocenter.nimh.nih.gov/nimh/product/Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder/QF%2016-6388 (link to brochure)

Ten things People with PTSD-related Dissociation should know – http://healthiest.pw/10-things-people-with-ptsd-related-dissociation-should-know/ (link)

 

Personal accounts

Kyle Elizabeth Freeman – Blogger at “Gutsy Beautiful Complicated”, Childhood Medical Trauma – 36 Years Later – https://gutsybeautifulcomplicated.com/2012/11/03/coming-to-terms-with-trauma-thirty-nine-years-later/kyle.elizabeth.freeman@gmail.com

 

N B – Chamberlain, Dvorsky, Van der Kolk and some others listed here have other material online and/or for sale

 

N B – this List is a work in progress

Three responses to infant surgery

Infant surgery does different things to different people.

This post introduces readers to three men whose infant surgery recently prompted them to go public, each in his own way.

yay1Dave Outred went online to express his joy and gratitude for his full and satisfying life, apparently unaffected by the rather messy start to life he had.  After developing pyloric stenosis (“PS”), he was operated on twice in a London hospital in 1955 to remedy this rather common condition when he was about 6 weeks old: when it became clear that the first “procedure” had not dealt with his stomach blockage, it was repeated a day or two later, leaving him with two rather large and untidy scars.

But, he wrote on Facebook (to a “closed” Group) –

I say, be proud of your scars because you are a survivor!  I have had a great life: played sports for my town as a school boy, enjoyed camping and an outdoor life with the scouts, been married twice [currently 31 years], followed my football [soccer] team through good years and bad, semi-retired at 48 after many years of working 6 and 7 day weeks.  Lots of friends and a full life.  Recovery from P.S. is the start of a life you may never have had.

ButchBee02aJay Jacobs’ infant surgery was to deal with volvulus, a twisting of the bowels that like PS blocks the passage of food but can also quickly cut off the blood supply, causing gangrene and death of the affected intestines.  Perhaps because he was not expected to live, perhaps because cosmetic concerns rated rather lowly in 1957, perhaps because of his earlier weight problem, he has also been left with a very large and sunken scar.

Jay Jacobs found it harder than Dave Outred to feel accepting and confident about his disfiguring scar and count his blessings… until he found his niche.  Jay Jacobs always had a weight problem but in his later adult years he succeeded in beating this: he found diets and fitness programs that worked for him, participated in the Biggest Loser program on TV, and developed and promoted his discoveries, weight-loss and new-found wellness to become a successful entrepreneur!

Quite likely because of his accomplishments, he was also persuaded to rise above his negativity about his abdominal scar.  He appeared “topless” on TV and online, and wrote about his former “shame” and new-found confidence about his torso and story.

Henry Fox like Dave Outred also had PS and early surgery to remedy it.

Genes baby1It left him with a lifelong passion for the importance of medical research.  Many PSers realise that up to about a century ago, the diagnosis of infant PS was almost always a death sentence: the surgical remedies then on offer were so crude and horrific and so rarely successful that most parents preferred to see their little one simply expire.

Henry Fox knew this and also that there are still many conditions of infancy that although less common than PS need research funds and workers.  He wrote –

Owing to the type of research now carried out by Action Medical Research, I was able to undergo a small operation to rectify this and am now able to make the most of my ability to digest properly…!
Since then, Action Medical Research together with its most famous sponsor, Paddington Bear, have stayed very close to my heart.  I spent several days as a young child attending Action Medical Research’s Paddington Bear tea parties, over-indulging in a fair few marmalade sandwiches to help raise funds for their life-saving research!!  This association has stayed with me and it is rumoured that (aged 27) I may still possess a Paddington Bear duvet cover.

 Henry is seeking sponsorship for his running in the 2016 London Marathon (24 miles or 40 km on 24 April) to raise funds for medical research.

Nerdy MD2For many years now I have been reading and writing about the many issues around infant PS, and seeking greater recognition of the turbulence that affects a fair number of those affected by this rather common ailment.

I have been intrigued by the unity among parents affected by PS: those who write report as one that it was their most traumatic experience ever – and that all too often it left them feeling cheated in one way or another.

On the other hand, those who themselves have had PS respond and reflect on it in many different ways, and the reports above are typical but only samples of many very different responses.

Who do you think you are?

Recently I watched the 100th program of the popular TV series, Who do you think you are?

ponderAppropriately, it was a review of some of the most notable of the 100 stories to date.  Two utterly poignant segments joined “survivors” ardent about unearthing the fate of their ancestors and family members.  An Anglo-African woman hoped to find some mention of her ancestors who had laboured as African slaves in Antigua.  Another woman’s relatives were among the Jews trapped in Belorussia during the Holocaust: it was known that 2 girls in her family had been killed horrifically, literally by the hands of German soldiers.

I recalled the absolute apprehension and determination of the children of adoptive parents wanting to find their birth parents.

Some of the Who do you think you are? programs I have found to be rather “ho-hum” – interesting but somewhat lacking in power and passion.  But not so the heart-rending search for what exactly had happened in utter blackness long ago and faraway in Antigua and Belorussia.  Sometimes despite deep sadness or horror we just need to discover what we can find out.  We feel a deeply personal and profound bond with imprecise stories about our kith and kin, with the general facts about certain people in other times and places.

My own search has certainly been nothing as emotional as that of the two women with links to Antigua and Belorussia, but it’s been passionate just the same.

People02But it has also reminded me that my early PS, surgery, hospitalization and parenting have affected me more than many other infant PS survivors.  Most seem never to even think about their PS episode, some can’t identify or even care or want to know about “that scar”.  And others recoil at the mention of what their first weeks were like for them and their parents – like the Facebooker who asked me to delete a photo depicting the starvation that some babies suffer before they are properly diagnosed and treated.  We each manage our life stories in our own way.

My parents were people of bygone times who kept from me the details of the infant surgery I had when just 10 days old.  Before I was 6 years old, I became desperate to know what had created what I later learnt was a surgical scar, running down the middle of my young body, and how I should answer the inevitable questions of the curious.

During my growing years I picked up enough from conversations and books to understand the essence and effects of surgical work, and what pyloric stenosis was.  It didn’t take that long to learn how to avoid the inquisitive queries: I avoided most by covering up and lied away the rest.  Meanwhile I learnt what I could do to remove what I believed was a length of white string caught under my skin… the answer was of course: nothing.  Sure signs of inadequate parenting, an insecure child, an introspective nature, and (I discovered later) signs of PTSD and OCD.

A busy working and family life, plus the now understandable reticence of the then available information sources meant that between the ages of 20 and 60 I learnt little more.  But “the need to know” was kept alive by my continuing episodes of feeling embarrassed, obsessed, and self-harming because of my scar and story.

Q mark2The advent of the internet with its free, rich and growing flow of information and its potential for community-building was a major breakthrough and gift for me.  It gave me many details which I had never heard or fully understood, and which I quickly recognized as some of the missing pieces of my puzzle.

Amongst much else I learnt –

  • most of what I now know about infant PS – and that there is an adult form of this condition;
  • how infant surgery was usually done before 1987 (and still is in the case of many circumcisions);
  • that the danger of infection before the 1960s had a major impact on hospital protocols and procedures – with great effects on all concerned;
  • that trauma (another “hush-hush” subject at the time) affected many of the babies and adults of those times;
  • that PS and its surgical repair leave many with life-long problems, for some minor but for others very disruptive;
  • that many medical workers were and remain ill-equipped to understand and fully help those who seek their assistance;
  • that healing occurs in many ways and that we each seek or find our individual path; and
  • that many of my approximate contemporaries who have had early surgery and are willing to network report psychological and related difficulties very similar to mine.
  • that although my parents both died in the early 1990s without ever engaging with me about what were some obvious “issues”, I have discovered that the very little they did tell me and the main import of what I have learnt since are a perfect match!
  • that I am part of a large number of infant surgery survivors who share my passion to connect our past and present: I receive a steady stream or comments from readers who value my sharing, explaining and honesty about what I have learnt.

woman at PCI have enjoyed years of interaction with countless others who had older-times infant surgery and were able and willing to share their stories.  This blog has triggered many of these passing contacts – and a few deep and revealing friendships.  Forum and social networking sites such as Facebook, Experience Project, MedHelp, Patient, and Topix have been valuable also.  Facebook alone has more than a dozen PS Support Groups (although only a few see significant traffic) with over 700 members!

Something deeply personal which I still don’t quite understand but sense I should is a powerful motivator.  Whilst appreciating and respecting those whose problems are much larger than mine, I too remain both passionate and thankful about what I have learnt about “my story” which my parents kept from me.

I am now much better to join the dots between my past and present!

Reflecting on my 70th

Birthdays and anniversaries are times for celebration, and reaching “three-score years and ten” years is certainly worth a big three cheers! But they are important for reflection as well.

150926-25 sml

Renmark Reunion September 2015

Gratitude to God and to the most important people in my life over these 70 years are features I’d like to be emblematic of me.  I am still surrounded with so many loving and kind people, I have enjoyed wonderful peace and excellent health, and my contribution in several circles is still wanted and apparently appreciated.

Ten days ago Helen and I gathered to celebrate my 70th birthday with our 4 children, their spouses and our 11 beautiful grandchildren.  A wonderful 5 days . . .

October 6th is ten days after my birth-day and  marks the 70th anniversary of the life-saving surgery I had in the Netherlands.  I would not be writing this but for that day in my life!

Together with the country of my birth and background, my weary and expecting parents were struggling to emerge from the ordeal of World War 2.  And then I arrived, their long-awaited first child, but soon clearly defective: scary, uncontrollable and life-endangering vomiting (infant pyloric stenosis – “PS”).  And these were times when medical science was pretty rough and ready by today’s standards and when people didn’t dwell on what they’d rather forget.

Pic 12

Mother with me – October 1945

So October 6th marks what I now realise was the gift of a new and wonderful second start in life, but also the beginning of a life-shaping journey of exploration and discovery – outside of me and within.

Outside, my parents were unwilling or unable to answer my reasonable questions about the 10 cm scar on my belly, and this drove me to look for information elsewhere.  But until the advent of the web, this search yielded only cold textbook medical data about PS and the then 33 year old surgical fix for the condition.  And explanations of my deeper issues were nowhere to be found: there were no pointers to where these might be unearthed and no ways of identifying people who could help me to realise (as I do now) that my pain was by no means wacky.

Book coverWithin, I was tormented with private pain from the dawn of my self-consciousness until recent years.  Even now I am still working to piece my private pain-puzzle together, although the web has given me access to much information, clarification and to networking with fellow-survivors, all of which has enabled me to receive and share much healing.  Since 2012 I have blogged about my journey, and in 2014 a pediatric surgeon friend and I published a small book, in which he explained what many still regard as the elusive cause of PS and I outlined my personal experience of this condition. It so happens (in Australia at least) that October 6 falls in “Mental Health Week” – and my own story has certainly helped me to feel a sense of identity with people challenged by mental health issues.

Time changes things!  The past 70 years have taught us the value of openness in the home, the importance of both listening and speaking for healing, of collaboration in achieving goals, and (by no means least) we have learnt much about trauma.

70 years have also brought huge changes to surgical technique and to holistic care in the hospital and home.  Time seems to have done less to change the unhelpful attitudes of some in the medical profession – but that’s due to human nature being far from perfect.

What do these changes (and their lack in some respects) mean?

120327-07-WgHcThe kind of trauma symptoms I struggled with is rare among more recent PS survivors.  Their surgical scars are sometimes almost indiscernible, usually tidy and very rarely as gnarly.  Affected children’s and their parents’ questions are typically answered much more fully and sympathetically, and the children are helped to understand, “own” and even feel pride about their story.

As I see it, I have discerned this is the growth in myself.  I am indeed a survivor from a bygone era of medical practice and parenting, and my scar is an exhibit of mid-20th century surgery.  I know it’s not socially correct for a cultured older gentleman like me to proudly show off his scar as an 8 year old lad might… but I’m catching up on lost joys and enjoying it!