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.
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.
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.
Within, 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?
The 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!