Tag Archives: Louis Tinnin

Recognising and treating the pain of long-ago infant surgery

Early this year saw the passing of someone I have never met but whose work has formed a very important landmark in my life, one I would not like to do without.

Dr Louis Tinnin

Dr Louis Tinnin

Dr Louis Tinnin was an American psychiatrist, therapist, medical school professor and reformer of the care of those affected by mental illness and trauma.  He died of congestive heart failure last February at the age of almost 82 years.  Interested readers can read an obituary online.

In 1992 Lou Tinnin began to research new approaches to the healing of trauma sufferers, and four years later, now retired, he set up the Trauma Recovery Institute (TRI) with his wife Linda Gantt.  This was a clinic based on his findings and new therapies.  In 2006 the TRI was closed and the two set up Intensive Trauma Therapy (ITT), an institute committed to the research of trauma, to its treatment and to training therapists.  Lou and Linda became known as “Ma and Pa Trauma”.

I have posted about Dr Tinnin on this blogsite several times in recent years.  For the countless people like me who have been affected by trauma but are unable to benefit directly from the ITT’s programs, the ITT’s website has been very informative and generous, and it was linked to Dr Lou’s blog – which I’m very grateful is still online.

This blogsite is not a large “read” but is a “must see” for anyone who has had infant surgery, especially if this was before 1990, and if they struggle with mystery symptoms which may have resulted from trauma.

Wendy P Williams is my blogging partner on the effects of infant surgery and the treatment of trauma-caused dis-ease; she has also posted a tribute to Dr Tinnin and it is well-worth reading.

How have I been helped by Dr Tinnin’s work?

Like many others, I developed infant pyloric stenosis (a form of stomach blockage) and had surgery, in my case just 10 days after my birth in 1945.  My parents must have been so traumatised by this that they would never talk about it to me.  Much infant surgery was shockingly crude before the transformational work and writing of Dr K J S Anand in the later 1980s about which I wrote (again) in my previous post.

Anesthetising under 2 year olds was especially hazardous before the advent of current materials and methods, and so doctors were taught and spread the mantra that “babies don’t feel or remember pain”.  It is now known that this rough-and ready surgery is indeed not remembered by the conscious memory, but is recorded as trauma by the sub-conscious or body-memory – in another way and by another part of the brain.

Added to that early operation, I was affected by some 2 weeks of maternal deprivation during the standard recovery period in hospital when mother and babe were kept separated to minimise the risk of infection, and by my growing up with my parents unable or unwilling to help me with my internal turmoil.

How this kind of trauma affects people in their growing and adult years is remarkably typical, and deeply troubling.  I experienced that.  Before the internet made it possible to share stories and compare notes, I and those like me were left to ourselves in isolation, feeling “different”, troubled, even wondering if we were crazy.

1          Dr Louis Tinnin’s blogsite tells of his “search for tell-tale characteristics of adult victims of infant surgery without anesthesia”.  Here at long, long last was a medical doctor who
(a) did not deny the past practice of infant surgery without anesthesia,
(b) described exactly all those troubling feelings and weird hang-ups with which I had struggled for most of my life, and
(c) gave hope: there were therapies, treatments and places where people like me could find a way forward.

2          Dr Louis Tinnin’s blogsite also shows very clearly how he made himself accessible to people like me.  Just look at the 75 comments (to date) below his key post.  His patience, humility and faithfulness in responding to the questions and comments I and others like me had was truly exceptional, in fact unique!  As mentioned in my previous post, in recent years several people have shed valuable light on recovering from old-style and crude infant surgery, but only Lou Tinnin has made himself so available.

Thank you, Lou Tinnin!  We miss you but you have left a legacy that will not be soon forgotten.

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Pyloric stenosis – untangling the emotional baggage

Another happy birthday and another poignant anniversary of my first and very early brush with death have just passed, and this cast me into a reflective mood.  This was focussed by some delightful time I recently spent with family members.

1940s surgery looked and was different from today's

1940s surgery looked and was different from today’s

As my previous post has recounted, I had pyloric stenosis (or “PS”, a blocked stomach) soon after my birth and escaped death by starvation by having an operation when I was only 10 days old.  I’m sure the trauma affected my mother, and this in turn affected me, added to by the crude way infant surgery was often done until the 1990s, plus the maternal deprivation that was part of 1940s hospital routines and infection control.

If you have had PS and are troubled by ongoing issues you suspect or know are related, you may want to reflect along with me!  A little background will help …

Only in the 1950s did some doctors begin to specialise in pediatric (infant and child) surgery, and only much later still did this and advances in medical technology see the development of anesthetics, anesthetic management and surgical techniques that are safe for infants in their tenderest first two years.  I have posted that Dr J Everett Koop in the USA was an early pioneer in this.

Only in the late 1980s did a few brave people in the U.S. medical community dare to address the commonly believed mantra that “babies don’t feel or remember pain”.  Among them, Drs K J S Anand and P R Hickey explored the facts and then available information and challenged the established beliefs and practices.  The late Dr David Chamberlain wrote articles and books about the infant mind and memory.  And the late Dr Louis Tinnin amongst others developed therapies to help survivors of crude early surgery to recognise, manage and overcome the post-traumatic stress that could result.

In recent years I have been able to connect online with many who have been affected by old-style infant surgery like I was, and I honour and thank those researchers and doctors who have done so much to give us the present safe and usually fairly damage-free ways of treating infants who need early surgery.

Thanks to the work of the above people (and others like them) I can now understand the mysterious, unsettling, embarrassing and scary inner struggles with which I’ve had to live for most of my nearly 70 years.  Only in the last ten years has the light and help given by these heroes and spread via the internet been moving me towards healing and inner emotional peace.

Here are some of the “issues” with which I struggled –

  • People02All my life I have had an overpowering and insatiable obsession with the 10 x 3 cm scar-web on my belly and the operation it represents. I recently posted about this obsession which has troubled me in a list of ways, some private and worrying, some quite public and embarrassing.
  • For the first 20 years I was afraid of hospitals and all my life I have had passive-aggressive problems with medical people and to some extent with anyone in authority.
  • Since the dawning of my self-consciousness I have had a deep “need to know”, to understand in some detail what this strange thing on my belly was and what exactly happened to put it there. When my parents fobbed me off I went to books, libraries and bookshops, and much later there was the internet.
  • I was often upset by visitors’ curiosity about my scar, my parents’ stonewalling whenever I asked them about it and my PS story – while I overheard them talking with visitors about this page in my life!
  • Certain words and seeing certain things were triggers that made my heart jump, made me blush, and funnelled my thinking to that first medical problem and procedure I had. I have posted about some of my triggers recently.
  • Digestion problems seemed to affect me more often than others in my family.
  • It became clear to me that my mind wasn’t as good as my 4 siblings’ was, that I was less well coordinated and confident than they are, and that I was regarded by my parents and others as rather sensitive and easily put on the defensive.

Most of these frustrations were obviously linked with my first illness and surgery, and I came to suspect the last two might well be too, as I found medical reports that linked PS and its surgery (pyloromyotomy) with them.  Very early starvation damages the baby’s developing brain, including intelligence and motor coordination, and PS survivors and their parents frequently report any of quite a list of abdominal complaints, including vomiting, irritable bowels and reflux, confusion over hunger or feeling full, and discomfort to severe pain often suspected as being caused by adhesions that had developed within from the scar.

Many of my posts on this blogsite discuss these matters.  Interested readers can find them by using the “Categories” search box at the upper right of this page.

How did “family time” get me thinking?

  • During a recent reunion I enjoyed with my four siblings, we discussed our gastro-intestinal behaviour – among many other things of course, but yes, we did! We found we had remarkably similar problems with diet, GI problems and necessary food cautions.
    This does not take away my gastric challenges but puts them in a wider context: it is well-known that PS is caused by high gastric acidity and quite often both these have a hereditary element, affecting more than one baby in a family.
    So my mild gastric problems caused my PS and it seems are not its result, nor that of the surgery.
  • I continue to feel confirmed in my observation that compared with what I see of my family’s gene pool, I have reason to believe that my very early days of starvation seem to have somewhat affected my brain development. However, I also recognise that PS survivors are represented on the full range of the emotional, mental and physical spectra!
  • Especially two of my grandchildren have come to remind me very much of some of my own emotional architecture. While happy to do things in public they hate with a passion situations where they feel “exposed”: having their named called out in a school assembly, being asked to pose for a photo.  They are emotionally sensitive, and clearly “people people” but can also be so focussed (or obsessed?) that we wonder if they are at the low end of the autism spectrum.
    Seeing these kids grow up shows me that some of my “issues” seem to have been caused by a combination of some of my personality traits and unhappy (even traumatic) remembered experiences that arose from my PS scar.
  • This leaves the first three items on my list as totally or largely unexplained except by the fact that some others with PS in their past have reported similar signs of trauma: obsessions, sensitivities, passive-aggressiveness especially towards authority, and “triggers”.
    The specialists in medical science, psychiatry and counselling I highlighted above, together with others who have worked on this, are able to tell us that indicators such as the ones I have mentioned are (or can be) symptoms of PTSD. PTSD has been long recognised in a relatively small group of people (usually war veterans) but was usually brushed off as “too bad, be glad, you’re a survivor”.  Only in recent years has PTSD been taken seriously, explored and much better understood, and as a result it is now better managed and treated.

QUANTUM2The coming of the internet has made it possible for people to network and share territory they have in common.  Much that was previously ignored is now shared, explored and explained.  I have learnt so much about my lifelong discomfort with aspects of myself!  I know now that my “secret inner self” is well within the bounds of what is normal after early surgery in a now hopefully bygone age.  I no longer have to worry about being weird or unique.  Others share and understand my pain and yet have lived a pretty normal life, as I have in fact!  I have been carrying the symptoms of mild ptsd, and counselling and therapy could reduce them but will never remove them.

So I can join those of a more outgoing and confident spirit and carry and show my scar with some pride: I am alive today because I’m part of the history of surgery, I’m grateful to God that I was born at a time when I could benefit from this, and I enjoy being part of the community of PS and infant surgery survivors.

And though I have missed out on certain gifts (how I sometimes long for a quick mind and body), I’m also grateful for the gift I have to explain things clearly, simply and patiently, and that in my senior years all this has come together in my blogging and online participation in the interactions of PS survivors.

When infant surgery causes ongoing trouble (3) – signs of PTSD

If you had surgery as a baby before the 1990s, it is quite possible this has resulted in undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with its clear symptoms probably undiagnosed.  The general belief that babies don’t feel or remember pain was conclusively challenged in 1987 and thereafter gradually abandoned (see my previous post).  Until this research was published much infant surgery included the use of a paralysing drug to keep a baby still but it gave the baby no general anesthetic because of its hazards.  Some local numbing or a sugar cube was all the infant was deemed to need.

PHowever, the symptoms of PTSD caused by infant surgery may be hard to diagnose.

Problem #1: Very few if any of us have conscious memories of our first years.
Problem #2: It has been established that a traumatic event of even very early infancy will affect the body (“somatic memory”) for life in ways similar to how conscious memories affect us.
Problem #3: Some of the signs of PTSD are similar to certain character traits.

So diagnosis takes special care, awareness and thoroughness.

The work and therapy of Dr Louis Tinnin is very important in this regard: his post on infant surgery is a “must read”, together with the lengthy discussion that follows it.  This is Dr Tinnin’s paragraph on the possible symptoms of PTSD after infant surgery –

Adult survivors report life-long symptoms of anxiety (constant nervousness and spells of terror or panic), hostility (temper outbursts and urges to smash or break things), depression, self-consciousness, distrust of others, and a high vulnerability to stress.  The life-long aspect of these symptoms leads to the faulty clinical perception that they are personality disorders instead of recognizing them as persisting reactions first elicited by the brutal surgery.  That recognition opens the way to curative treatment of the adult survivor.

He then adds 10 diagnostic questions –

1)      Did you have an infant operation before 1987?  If so, what was it?

2)      How old were you then and how old are you now?

3)      Do you feel it has affected you over the course of your life constantly, only at times, or not at all?

4)      How would you describe your symptoms or if no evident symptoms then your quality of life in general?

5)      Had you connected the operation with your symptoms and if so how did you make that determination?

6)      How long have you been aware of this connection?  If not aware have you suspected there was something deeper at work in your life that you did not understand?

7)      Have you sought treatment and if so what kind?  How did you feel about its effectiveness?

8)      Was the operation ever discussed with you, as a child, as an adult?  What importance did your parents or caregivers place on its possible long-term effects if any?

9)      Have you ever considered suicide?

10)  Do you believe your life can improve with proper treatment?

In a Comment on this post, one of the people greatly affected by his early surgery for pyloric stenosis (PS) “fleshed out” Dr Tinnin’s information with his own experience –

  1. ponderWondering “why”.  Why did they hurt me?  Why did they keep me away from my mother and father?  Did I do something wrong which caused me to be punished?
  2. The last question has led me to blame myself and conclude that there must be something wrong with me.  Otherwise, they would not have tortured me.
  3. Extreme sensitivity to criticism.
  4. Fear of abandonment.
  5. Heightened fear of death and all things associated with it like hospitals, doctors, nursing homes.
  6. Desire to hide or disappear in stressful situations and fantasies of invisibility – in hopes I can escape notice by those who wish to do me harm.
  7. Withdrawal tendencies, especially in crowded rooms.
  8. Introversion.
  9. Difficulty with small talk, initiating conversations.
  10. Submission to authority figures.

I have found it unusually difficult to self-diagnose.  We need to be involved in another’s diagnosis of our personal health or other problems, but we need somebody else who knows us well and knows their subject well to walk with us in diagnosing PTSD after early surgery.  Allow me to reflect personally.

I must answer almost all of Dr Tinnin’s 10 Questions with my “Yes!”

The same is true of 10 points which the doctor’s Comment-poster has listed.

But ticking these two lists is not necessarily conclusive, as the 10 questions and fears are fairly common also among people who have not had old-style surgery in their infancy.

And to make matters still more complicated, I have a grandson who is developing more than a few of the same challenges and has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in the Autism spectrum of disorders (ASD).  And I recognize myself in many of my grandson’s issues.

However, we must add to this that I have found several websites and forum discussions which suspect some link between PS and ASD, and it is known that children with ASD can often largely overcome or manage their symptoms when given loving and sensitive care and guidance through their growing years.

So where do I think I stand?

PS is always recognised as being multi-factorial: it may be caused by one or more of genetic, maternal, biochemical and environmental factors – and quite probably this list should be longer.  I suspect that my personality and life challenges are similarly rooted in several aspects of who I am and what has happened to me, including not least that early and rather rocky time when I developed PS and probably had some fairly rough surgery and after-care.

It would be helpful to hear from others who had a similar bumpy start to life and can also find themselves in the two lists I have quoted above.

When infant surgery causes ongoing trouble (1) – trauma

How much healing can we expect after traumatic stress resulting from early infant surgery without anesthesia and/or the other benefits modern medical skills allow?  And what’s the best way of healing?

When I had surgery for pyloric stenosis (“PS”) at the age of 10 days in 1945, it traumatised me (sub-consciously, of course) and also my parents (consciously, and in ways that added to my trauma).

Think of it: the medical equipment of the past (such as IV lines and breathing tubes) was not designed for babies until the later 20th century, and infants under 2 years were not usually given general anesthesia for surgical procedures in many places until the last decade of the 20th century.  The literature shows that in 1945 some doctors had the skills and confidence of anesthetise a baby, but that it was often avoided as too complex and hazardous.  It is quite impossible to unearth any statistics today, but it seems that many babies needing surgery before 1990 were bound and intubated (a breathing tube was inserted into their throat), and they were then paralysed to keep them still during “the procedure”.  Some infants were given a sugar cube laced with brandy to suck and help them feel happy, and sometimes the incision area was injected to numb the surface.

Then, after the surgery babies were routinely kept isolated from their mothers for some 2 weeks to reduce the risk of infection.  Many of the wounds associated with infant surgery today look tidy compared with those of yesteryear, when babies’ incisions were sewn up with large stitches like a football.  Sadly, even today some pediatric surgeons seem to have an obviously “macho” attitude to their work.

Even more sadly today, many male babies are still circumcised without any or significant pain relief.  Their immature minds will not remember this, but the sub-conscious pain and shock can be expected to affect them for life with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”).

Dr Louis Tinnin

Dr Louis Tinnin

The US psychologist and therapist Dr Louis Tinnin conducts a center with programs for people struggling with PTSD, and his website includes a blog in which he has very generously made available information for those who may need his programs and an outline of what therapy may involve.  He has also been very kind in his interaction with those who have written responses to his post on pre-1987 infant surgery.

I return to my opening question: How and to what extent can we expect healing after traumatic stress?

We are all different, we find different ways of managing PTSD and we answer the question of healing differently also.  Here are some of the answers I have found…

  1. Many who had PS and other infant conditions treated surgically more than 35 years ago claim they have no continuing problems resulting from trauma.  I feel happy for these hardy people, but also wonder if some of them are denying something.  It is well-known that traumatic events experienced consciously do not affect everybody the same way; perhaps only half will battle with the symptoms of PTSD.
    As for those who have been affected by their early surgery but are not aware of it, knowing what I have learnt from extensive reading I wonder whether some of the anger, violence, and social dysfunction we all experience in and around us is caused by unrecognized and unmanaged PTSD.  This also will be hard to prove, although psychologists and others with trained discernment are often aware of very likely links.  Perhaps “none are as sick as those who believe they don’t need a doctor”.
  2. Among those who recognize the signs of PTSD and are as certain as they can be about its link with the infant surgery they had, there seem to be at least three ways they manage it.
    One approach is to manage it essentially alone: not in isolation but by experimenting with various techniques they discover and follow for themselves.  I count myself and my fellow infant surgery / PTSD blogging friend Wendy in this group.
    Wendy finds that various relaxation and meditation techniques empower her, as well as her reading and writing, art, lecturing and advocacy, and networking.  A look at her blog will give lots of examples of how we can be strong, confident and effective despite struggling with significant for much of our life.
    Like Wendy, I have found reading, writing, and networking helpful, and recognize that my Christian upbringing and faith have been very supportive also.
  3. Dr Kristi Gaultiere

    Dr Kristi Gaultiere

    Embracing the basic Christian truth of God’s acceptance was the breakthrough for Kristi Gaultiere, a counsellor and therapist whose website and story of healing I recently discovered.  I have read similar accounts from fellow Christians – but unlike some, Kristi is very honest and open about the fact that her healing remains a “work in progress”.
    As a long-time Christian pastor I have learnt to be cautious with stories of what I term “aha! healings”!  In my experience it is rare for any therapy, discovery or (religious) experience to wipe out with minimal residue what our mind, emotions and body have lived with for a lifetime.

  4. Therapy programs such as those offered by Drs Tinnin and Gaultiere (above) offer professional skills and a disciplined process to those affected by trauma and other emotionally disabling conditions.  There is often huge benefit in that, but location and cost also make such programs inaccessible to all but a very few.  This is why I so much value Dr Tinnin’s website resources.
  5. It is also known that a knowledgeable, wise and discerning friend or helper can often do as much for us as a psychologist or psychiatrist (provided there are no organic cause for our pain).  I was struck by Kristi Gaultiere’s account of a trusted friend being so vital on her road towards healing.

Therapy gp2There are many degrees of trauma, and that caused by disaster, war, or tragic death can be very deep-seated and life-affecting for some but seems to affect other minimally.  In contrast, PTSD caused by the infant surgery of the past is quite different in one respect: we have no conscious memory of it.  But its effects can be just as deep-seated and life affecting as the ugliest atrocity because its seat is in the long past, not consciously remembered, and triggered at such a formative time of life.

There remains an urgent need for much more research work to be done on this subject area, for infant surgery survivors to network, compare their past and present experiences, and for medical practitioners to become much more aware of and supportive of those who struggle with PTSD after infant surgery and what often happened with it.  Here’s hoping!

In my next post I want to explore the several and often-reported physical side effects of infant PS surgery – and some of the remedies people have found helpful for these.

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?

Scars and sexuality (2)

Why write a post like this and the previous one, on scars and sexuality, beyond doubt a very personal and sensitive subject?

Not from a perverted interest or pleasure.  Although the subject continues to interest and puzzle me, I don’t get any buzz from writing about it.

  • As I have mentioned in earlier posts, writing helps me to research and reflect on issues that I find challenging.
  • My other reason for writing is that a blogsite like this one lowers the walls that keep some of us locked in the worry and fear that I may be all alone on the planet with a uniquely strange problem.

Here are some further reflections and discoveries on this subject –

  • I have read snippets about the infant surgery from more than a thousand people during the past 15 years, ranging from cryptic remarks to extensive correspondence.  But very, very few of these people have mentioned a link between being scarred and traumatised by infant surgery and their sexual feelings.  Significantly however, a very few have touched on this area or shown that it’s a factor in other ways.  All of these are men – no surprise to me, and it should not surprise anybody reading this, as I am male and males and females experience our inner life somewhat differently.
  • self-harmA book by Fiona Gardner, Self-Harm: A Psychotherapeutic Approach, Routledge, 2002, which I was able to browse through online included this insight –
    Most adolescents begin to explore something about their developing sexual desires through masturbation.  It is generally acknowledged that girls, in comparison to their male counterparts, masturbate less frequently and more indirectly, and rarely have spontaneous orgasms through masturbation.  For boys the discovery of masturbation leads to the development of a sense of autonomy and can be used as a way of soothing or comforting themselves. … aspects of the repetitive harming of the skin can be seen to provide in part a masturbatory activity for some adolescent girls.  This partly because of the feelings of self-soothing that are provoked and which co-exist alongside the libidinal gratification produced through the activity. (both p. 64)
    What Fiona Gardner writes here complements what I wrote in my previous post.  She also confirms what I have read elsewhere: that self-harm can be a masturbatory activity and is most prevalent among teenage girls – although not exclusively so.
  • At an anonymous website dedicated to helping self-harmers from a (perhaps overly simplistic) Christian perspective I read –
    Self-loathing and/or self-injury is an exceedingly complex issue because it is an expression of the depths of one’s humanity.  Self-harm is a manifestation of a need that totally eclipses animals or machines – the need to comprehend complex concepts and emotions and to communicate them with an equally intelligent being.  It reveals that you, like all humans, are a breathtakingly intricate, sophisticated and noble being with lofty ideals and a deep yearning to understand and be understood.
    2 Corinthians 5:21  God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
    Until making this discovery, whenever anyone criticized me I would go into a tailspin; not only inwardly agreeing with the putdown but telling myself that I’m incurably wicked and deserve to be treated as dirt and ruthlessly punished.  Quickly, the oppressive feeling would balloon until it was so overwhelming that I felt compelled to hurt myself (usually by cutting myself).  After that, I’d feel so miserable that I’d be pressured to masturbate in a vain attempt to comfort myself.
    Now, everything has changed!
  • Self harm is addictive.  The Fix website includes much of great clarity and value.  Among this it states very concisely –
    “When a person cuts, it calms them down, and that registers in the brain as a calming mechanism,” says Hokemeyer.  “Once that happens, it’s a behavior that they will always be drawn to for the rest of their lives.”

I recognize now that I was drawn into this form of addiction in early teenage.  It was all my own work, very private and never shared in any way.  It was absolutely clear to me that there was a connection between my infant surgery for pyloric stenosis, self-harming and my dawning sexuality, but I was quite unable to understand, let alone escape from this super-glue web.  However, I also knew that this addiction was relatively harmless to myself, harmed nobody else, had a negligible effect on my life, and would therefore not trouble God (as I believed in him on the basis of the Bible).

  • managing scarSeveral websites I looked up link massage, tattooing and acupuncture as pleasurable and even addictive to some because they release beta-endorphins.  These procedures are often recommended after surgery because endorphins reduce pain and increase blood circulation, healing, waste removal as well as giving pleasure and comfort.  These effects from the release of this handy hormone may also reduce scarring in the weeks and months after surgery and other injury.

When I was a lad and teenager in the 1950s and ‘60s, trauma and its effects were unknown to people like me.  I have since come to recognize that the trauma associated with my pyloric stenosis was the missing link that connected all my “weird” urges, behaviour and coping mechanisms on a thread that also included the other problems I mentioned in my previous post: anger, shame, mistrust, etc.

Long live the Information Revolution!

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?