Can You Imagine Infant Surgery Without Anesthesia?

infant surgery without anesthesia

Warning! This post is not for the faint at heart!

At best, it will show you how far pediatric surgery has advanced since the 1950s. At worst, it will make you sick to think of the trauma endured by tens of thousands of babies before 1986.

What Happened in 1986?

1986 was the year the Academy of Pediatric Surgeons changed their infant surgery protacol. Finally, they added pain medication to the paralytic drugs administered to infants going into surgery.

Yes, you read that correctly. Before 1986, babies going into surgery were given a paralytic drug so they would hold still. But they weren’t given pain medication.

Why Not?

Before 1986, the standard belief was that babies didn’t feel pain like adults do. My husband and I know this was their belief because we heard it often from the neonatal intensive care doctors and nurses in 1982. During Allen’s recovery, we knew he received no pain meds. Still, we assumed they’d been administered during surgery. That assumption was wrong.

How About Now?

These days, if your infant or child has surgery, pain medication is in the mix. But there are three decades worth of babies born in the 1950s through 1986 who were deeply traumatized during surgery. Many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and their lives are in shambles. Our son avoided a ruined life, thanks to the treatment he received at Intensive Trauma Therapy Institute in Morgantown, WV. One of the therapists at the clinic, Dr. Louis Tinnin, recently started a blog about Infant Surgery Without Anesthesia. You can read what he has to say at this link.

What About Those Babies?

Wendy, now a grown woman, was one of those babies. She writes about her struggle to overcome trauma at My Incision Blog. A poet and a painter, she faces her past with creativity and emotion. You might find it enlightening.

If you or someone you know went through infant surgery during the decades of the 50s, 60s, 70s, and early 80s, please pass this information on to them. A life that began with searing pain doesn’t need to be consumed by it. Help is available. I’d be glad to talk to you more about it, so leave a comment if you have questions.

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infant surgery without anesthesia PIN



  1. Christine Christine
    March 23, 2011    

    WOW! I had heard about this happening years ago, but had NO idea it continued into the 80’s. It makes my heart hurt just thinking about that. Can’t even imagine. Thanks for sharing, as always.

  2. March 23, 2011    

    Recovery Is Possible
    Permanent cure of the posttraumatic symptoms from pain in infancy is possible. The treatment is intense but short, usually requiring a week. It does not require reliving of the trauma. It does require thorough study of the nonverbal experience when the infant lapsed into primitive survival instincts and finally with innate resiliency survived a near-death experience. The therapeutic study is promoted by guided imagery followed by graphic narrative trauma processing and externalized dialogue with dissociated inner parts. This treatment is done by a team of expert therapists, all devoted to the goal of full recovery, not simply amelioration of symptoms. For more information see

  3. March 23, 2011    

    Hard to believe, isn’t it Christine? Thankfully, times have changed. I’m so glad Billy didn’t have to endure surgery without pain meds.


  4. March 23, 2011    


    Thank you for describing ITT’s treatment in more detail. This wonderful man is one of the therapists who worked with our son during his week of outpatient treatment at ITT. Thanks to Dr. Tinnin and the rest of the therapists, our son has made a full recovery. We are indebted to them for restoring our son’s life.


  5. Lori Lori
    March 23, 2011    

    Truly thankful that times have changed. Surgery back in those days was very different. I know as I had many, many surgeries on my ears as a young child that left me very traumatized into adulthood. The nursing staff back then was very different and there truly was not as much compassion then as there is now. However even nowadays with pain meds there are still residual effects from all the surgeries which we live with in our son Brandon and all his surgeries.

  6. March 23, 2011    

    Hi Lori,

    There’s no doubt that invasive medical procedures and surgeries still traumatize children. An entire chapter in Different Dream Parenting is devoted to the topic. Have you looked at the books by Peter Levine and Maggie Kline? They give parents step by step instructions for exercises to help resolve trauma in kids.


  7. March 23, 2011    

    Thanks for bringing this information to us – I clicked over from my site, My son benefited from pain meds during multiple surgeries and he is still traumatized. About a year ago I learned from him that he remembers being awake during a surgery. One that had a very painful recovery.

    It is no wonder he was suicidal, depressed, disconnected. With proper mental health treatment (a team of people) he’s recovering but I feel like he always will be.

    Thanks also for linking to Wendy’s site.

  8. March 23, 2011    


    You’re welcome. I highly encourage you to get in touch with the people at ITT. They can help your son. If you only knew how completely different our son is since treatment you would RUN to the clinic that treated him. The PTSD is still there, but he understands it and knows what to do to avoid being dragged down by it. The people at are amazing.


  9. March 24, 2011    

    I could not imagine putting my little girl through surgery (over a dozen so far, with another heart surgery coming up this year) without pain medication. My heart goes out to those now dealing with PTSD.

  10. April 2, 2011    

    Thank you, Jolene, for bringing this issue to people’s attention, and thank you for mentioning my story and my blog on your post. I have tears in my eyes as I take in Paul’s compassionate wishes for those of us who have suffered so deeply from infant surgery without anesthesia. I am grateful to have survived and been able to heal to a great extent, and I am fortunate to be able to educate or, at least, inform others and serve, hopefully, as a role model of some kind. Your post affirms my work and gives me the courage and energy to keep going. Additionally, I am so happy for your son and just may find my way to Dr. Tinnin’s clinic yet.

  11. April 2, 2011    

    Oh Wendy, I was happy to mention your story. The healing you have accomplished is amazing. And I hope you do get to ITT so they can help you with the rest of your healing. If they say they can help, don’t walk. RUN to the clinic. To have your life back in a week. What a blessing!


  12. Robert Clover Johnson Robert Clover Johnson
    November 6, 2011    

    In 1945 I was circumcised without anesthesia. This procedure is so common that it usually isn’t even thought of as surgery, let alone serious surgery. After more than 30 years of various kinds of therapies to deal with emotional problems, I began to re-experience my circumcision. There was no coaching. In fact, I’d scarcely ever thought about circumcision, but the buried memory came back once I was in the right kind of therapeutic setting. I hope the Intensive Trauma Therapy Institute is including this particular trauma in its list of infant surgeries that have lasting impact on American males. There are millions of us, though there is little cultural acknowledgment of the horror of this particular surgery.

  13. November 7, 2011    


    I’m sorry it took me so long to reply to your comment. Yes, ITT does include circumcision on its list of traumatizing infant surgeries. Any infant surgery is included on the list, and they work with many, many clients concerning that issue. If you feel you have lingering issues, I urge you to contact ITT. They can make a huge difference in your life.


  14. Robert Clover Johnson Robert Clover Johnson
    November 8, 2011    

    Thank you so much for your message. I’m very glad to hear that ITT does include circumcision on its list of traumatizing infant surgeries. Do I have lingering issues? Let me count the ways . . . . Well, I’m thinking about this. My suspicion is that the problem is so little recognized or understood that there are millions of men with “lingering issues” who simply have never made the connection to an infant surgery. I’m doing my bit to raise awareness. Thank you very much for your response! Robert

  15. November 10, 2011    

    You’re welcome, Robert. Best wishes to you.


  16. A. Hill A. Hill
    December 6, 2011    

    I’m sorry, but I just have to call bogus on this. Going through my mom’s vag had to have been painful, since my whole body including my head got completely smooshed, but you don’t see me crying in a corner about it now as an adult. And I’m sorry, but no, you don’t remember going through a surgery when you were 8 days old. You can’t even properly process what sight and sound until you’re several MONTHS old, let alone sense everything perfectly and then place it into memory perfectly when you’re less than a month old.

    Besides, why don’t you mention anything about the negative side effects of giving extremely potent and addictive medication that has nervous system effects (sometimes permanent even for an adult) to a newborn?

    To be brutally honest, there are people out there with real problems, and you are not one of them. Rape, murder, physical abuse, starvation, disease, acts of nature, robbery, racism, genocide – millions of people around our planet are plagued with these things. They’d be happy if all they could say they’ve been through is a painful surgery before they could even remember it.

  17. A. Hill A. Hill
    December 6, 2011    

    And I would just like to clarify that I don’t condone NOT giving pain medications to infants. I just was making the point that we should study how these medications interact with the nervous systems of newborns, because their nervous systems are drastically different than our own. Damage, even temporary damage, to a baby’s nerves can result in extremely dramatic complications later on. Even if you just cover up the eye of an infant for a few months (no damage at all!), the eyesight in that eye will be permanently damaged for the rest of that baby’s life! So the effects of pain medications in babies needs to be talked about and established before you talk about the immorality of not administering it to babies for pain.

    Secondly, even assuming that there are no negative side effects (which I’m sure isn’t true), babies simply won’t remember. What CAN you remember if the facilities aren’t even in place yet for you to process the incoming signals to your brain from your eyes or your ears? In other words, what is your memory if not sight memory, or sound memory, or memory from some other sense? If those senses aren’t developed yet, you just can’t have memory. What would the memory be OF?

    I don’t like to see any creature, human, animal, adult, or baby in unnecessary pain, but I think there’s a lot more to the story than what you say. And I’m not convinced that going through a painful procedure without anesthesia is going to cause more long-term trauma than psychological, physical, or sexual abuse. I apologize for being blunt earlier, but I get angry when time is wasted on an issue like this when the need is so great for people to be attentive to other, much more serious problems.

  18. December 8, 2011    

    Dear A. Hill,
    Thank you for responding to this post. Until three years ago, I would have responded as you do to the idea of adults remembering something as infants. But three years ago this week, my son was treated for PTSD caused by invasive medical surgery (without anesthetic as it occurred in 1982, four years before the Academy of Pediatric Surgeons changed that protocol) at birth and throughout his first three years, and the treatment changed his life.

    Rather than respond to everything in both your comments, I will make just a few points. First, I am thankful for my son’s surgery in 1982, even though it was done without anesthetic. But now newborns are given anesthetics during surgery. Second, newborns do remember pain and carry it with them, just as they remember and carry with them the loving touch of their parents and the sense of security it creates. If not, why bother holding babies, talking to them, snuggling them if they have no memories? Third, those memories of pain are “remembered” not as scenes and events, but as an ever-present sense of dread or doom. Finally, you mentioned real problems like rape, starvation, physical abuse and such. I agree they are very important. What would happen if newborns were subjected to them? If they can’t remember, it doesn’t really matter, does it? And yet, if your newborn faced such circumstances, my guess is that you would try to shield him from it. Why is that?

    If you would like to discuss the topic further, please contact me via my personal email rather than through the comment section of this website. I think our discussion would be much more productive on a one-to-one basis.


  19. December 8, 2011    

    Dear A. Hill,

    Please see my response to your second comment. It covers the points you bring up in both of yours.


  20. Sharla Sharla
    December 15, 2011    

    Oh wow! I never knew this. It makes me wonder. I was born in ’82 and the next year I had both my tonsils & my adenoids taken out. I’ll have to ask my mom if I was ever given pain meds. I’m so thankful that we now administer pain medications, or my son would definatly be hurting. He’s had numerous surgeries already, before the age of 3.

  21. December 16, 2011    

    Hi Sharla,

    I’m not sure what to tell you. At some age, they do start administering pain meds to children, so you may have had them. Your mom may not know for sure, but it’s worth asking.


  22. Craig Carson Craig Carson
    January 3, 2012    

    I had knee surgery at 18 months of age in 1953. I have led a productive life but have experienced much resentment anger and frustration throughout. I have only recently become aware of the lack of anesthesia during my operation. This could also explain why they would not let my mother see me for days. I suspect the paralytic drugs would have made me unresponsive or failing that I would have been in intense pain. My mother told me that I went to the hospital a normal loving baby but left screaming and inconsolable and that I remained that way. I would not allow hugging and disliked touching of any kind. I am fortunate to have been able to discover and fit the pieces of my puzzle together. I continue to explore and improve my situation. Thank you for this opportunity to share.

  23. January 3, 2012    


    Thank you for leaving your comment. How good to hear of the healing you’ve experienced, Craig. My prayers go with you for more healing and wholeness in the future.


  24. May 19, 2012    

    All trauma is stored in the body, for the body is the subconscious. I am a hypnotherapist – a regression therapist – and this has been my finding.

    Tension or pain in the body indicates trauma that has been stored and has not yet been released. And healing is inevitable, once we release the fear behind the trauma, it is gone.

    Robert Clover Johnson asked if the ITT includes circumcision in its list of surgeries… and I ask if the ITT is aware that female circumcision was not uncommon between 1850 and 2000, for the same reasons that male circumcision is still practiced in the USA.

    Since I wrote my book chronicling the discovery of my circumcision, I have met several women who were also circumcised. I suspect many women were circumcised in the USA, but since it is an embarrassing chapter in medical history, few women know that they were circumcised. My mother never mentioned it to me, although she did say, like Craig Carson’s mother, “You never were the same after your surgery.” I assumed she meant my tonsillectomy. It was only after she died that I realized I’d been circumcised. Many women circumcised, yet they, like I, imagine they are “normal”.

  25. May 20, 2012    


    Thank you for your comments. ITT is aware of infant surgery in general and works with patients traumatized by whatever surgery they endured. But medically induced trauma is only one type they address. They also treat those traumatized by sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, divorce, accidents, natural disasters, and more. To learn more about the clinic and their treatment methods, visit their website at


  26. June 6, 2012    

    I remember a school nurse telling me about watching the doctors in the ED straighten the broken arm of a student. Apparently, the meds they gave him meant that he was ‘sensing’ the pain, but he would not be able to remember it. This was in the 1990’s. Interesting theory.

  27. Debbie Debbie
    November 12, 2012    

    I am 57 and am facing surgery after many horrible medical experiences. I am also dealing with PTSD over medical things. This unfortunately rings a bell with me. I am not sure of everythng that happened in my childhood. I know that I had a tonsillectomy before I was six. I had lots of throat problems. I was forcibly held down while they gave me painful antibiotic shots for several years, then the surgery. I remember being totally scared to death and crying myself to sleep. The rest I’ve blocked out. Around 1980 they stitched up a cut on my 2 year old daughter without pain medication while I held her and tried to console her. That still causes me extreme emotional pain. She never said anything about remembering it. I lost her in a car accident when she was 15. It is horrible what they do to children. All the shots and things. I can’t even go to a clinic or hospital without feeling as though I’m going to climb the wall. I just can’t even catch my breath. Its such an extreme fear at the thought of going for medical procedures that I can’t even describe it. Everyone thinks I’m nuts. I need a elbow replacement and I just can’t force myself near them. I’m an adult. Poor kids.

  28. November 12, 2012    

    Dear Debbie,

    You are not nuts. Your experience is very similar to that of many people who had invasive medical procedures when they were young. My best advice is that you visit Intensive Trauma Therapy, Inc’s website and read what’s there. Then, consider giving them a call and talking to someone. They can help you get over this so you’re able to have the surgeries you need.

    Please come back and give an update sometime!

  29. Robin R Robin R
    November 23, 2012    

    Unfortunately, the practice did not magically stop in the 1980s. Even if the official recommendations were changed, actual practice was very slow to catch up.

    I was in a class in 2005 when the subject came up, and there were two different parents of young children who had both been subjected to unanesthetised surgery recently; like around the year 2000. One of the children had had heart surgery and another one major orthopedic surgery. Both parents said that their children were exhibiting long term behavioral effects that they attributed to the trauma.

    And even today, far to many infant circumcisions are done with no, or minimal and ineffective pain control.

    So even if you had infant surgery after the 1980s, it still may very well have been done without anesthetic.

  30. November 26, 2012    


    Thank you for adding to the discussion. Your story shows how vigilant parents must be as advocates for their children going through surgery. They must insist on pain meds in their kids’ anesthetics. They also must insist to be present with their children until they go under and be there when they go light. Finally, they must watch for a trauma response, which can occur even in the best circumstances, and advocate for treatment for children who have been traumatized.


  31. December 23, 2012    

    Excellent information. I had Pyloric Stenosis operation without anaesthetic back in 1952, and one’s life is a nightmare. I have battled with the effects, and from it, has become a Global vision which is emerging based on my book A Child Unheard. Please share with others. God Bless. David

  32. December 27, 2012    


    Thank you for stopping by. I’m sorry to hear of your surgery without anesthetic, but glad to know you have addressed the issue. Best wishes for your work in Africa.


  33. December 31, 2012    

    Good evening all , may I wish you all a blessed 2013, the year which will finally see the message/vision of A Child Unheard
    Flow across the world, with new ACU centers being established in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda, music which will touch the heart
    and souls of folk across the world, and so much more………….

    To share at this time, the below insight, to my personal journey, and how the A Child Unheard message/vision has come into being.


  34. Tea Tea
    January 2, 2013    

    I had to demand pain relief for my newborn sons’ circumcision in 2006. I had read that some doctors still won’t use it, and when I asked was told that she didn’t. I said that he MUST have it, and she tried to convince me to allow her, to have him suck on a rubber nipple coated with sugar instead…….I said NO! I signed a paper and wrote an addition to it saying that he was absolutely to be given local anesthetics, even my husband thought I was over the top. But when he watched them perform the procedure (I couldn’t bear it) he happily stated that he fell asleep during the procedure after the sting from the local wore off. I am happy I insisted. But then they failed to tell us (first time parents of a boy) to pull his foreskin back every few hours, and it adhered, he was then given the circumcision again in the doctors office, and only my husband was present. My husband did not demand pain relief, and was himself traumatized by the experience. Our second son is not circumcised because of it. Performing surgery on baby’s without pain meds is still alive and well in medical practice….BE CAREFUL!!!

  35. January 3, 2013    

    Thanks for sharing your cautionary tale. Parents, remember to advocate for pain meds no matter how young your child is or what the docs say. Your child will remember the pain, and pain meds can be given safely. Stand firm on that.


  36. SKE SKE
    January 12, 2013    

    I had Guillian Barre Syndrome as a child in the 70’s. I had been complaining that my legs hurt and then one day (Halloween actually) I awoke and was unable to move anything but my head. The local children’s hospital staff had never seen a case and was unable to diagnose me. I remember doctors coming into my hospital room when I was alone and telling me various things like “we think it’s juvenile arthritis” and “maybe this is psycho-somatic”. All very scary for a 7 year old (my parents had three other small children and couldn’t stay with me 24/7. The doctors put me on massive doses of aspirin which made me very sick. They ran so many tests – some very invasive and painful – I remember screaming in pain during one test – my Dad was with me for that one and even he couldn’t take being a witness to my pain. As soon as it was over he took me out of the hospital against medical advice and we drove to the nearest city with a big university hospital. They diagnosed me within 24 hours without all of the painful tests. The university happened to be his alma mater and later became the alma mater of my older brother, older sister and I.

    Honestly I do not feel traumatized by the experience – I just have very clear memories of it – maybe I still harbor some resentment – which is kind of sad since it was so long ago. I try to not think about it and push it out of my memory (which I know is unhealthy – but it’s the truth)… I tell myself it was 30 years ago – get over it. However, I find it abhorrent that any trained medical staff could willingly hurt a child. Malpractice. Cruelty. How do they sleep at night?…

  37. Debbie Baldwin Debbie Baldwin
    January 12, 2013    

    I believe my son, who is now 40, is suffering from PTSD. He was a patient at Boston Childrens Hospital at 2 1/2 days old. He had surgery for Pulminary Stenosis. This was 1972. Is it probable that he did not have anesthesia? Can you tell me how and where I could start to get him help? All of his adult life he has struggled with depression and problems related to depression Family members have judged him all of his life. I am his mother, so of course it pains me to see what he goes through. I want him to lead a happy, healthy life and have been on some sort of a mission for 20 plus years. I am currently trying to get him SSI because I cannot afford to support him, he can’t hold a job, and I cannot have him homeless on the streets. Where should I start?

  38. January 12, 2013    

    Hi Debbie,

    Since your child was born before 1986, his surgery was most likely done without anesthesia. Have you contacted the Intensive Trauma Therapy (ITT) Clinic in Morgantown, WV? That’s where our son was treated, and it was highly successful. Their website is You can call and talk to their intake counselor free of charge, though the week of treatment is not inexpensive. However, it was the best investment we ever made!

    Best wishes,

  39. January 12, 2013    

    Dear SKE,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. How wonderful that the experience, though unpleasant, has not resulted in lasting trauma. You are one of the resilient ones!

    Don’t be too hard on surgeons and medical practitioners from before 1986. They were doing what they thought research supported. Unfortunately, the research was bad, but protocols changed as soon as the results of good research became known. Therefore, we can only be hard on those practitioners who still insist babies don’t feel pain and don’t need anesthesia, and those who say young children can’t remember early trauma. As parents we have to advocate for and protect them from such malpractice.


  40. SKE SKE
    January 12, 2013    

    A very good point – thanks for the reminder. While I understand the societal problems with pain medication, I’m sure it can be very difficult for parents when they encounter practitioners who are hesitant or even unwilling to prescribe pain medication. I have lots of respect for all parents in that situation who are advocating for their child.

  41. Rebecca Rebecca
    January 14, 2013    

    I just sort of “flashed” on this subject while musing upon the weirdness of my life. I had surgery for a congenital dysplasic hip sometime in the Fall of 1964. Lots of old photos of me in a half body cast and iron braces. In my early forties I started Pilate’s and that really helped me to get to know my body as I had missed a lot of development as an immobilised infant. Just recently I found out that infants were not given pain mess during surgery. Maybe this is the reason for a very high physical pain threshold? I gave birth without pain medication. I have had chronic knee problems since age 8 but physical pain just seems “doable”. Emotionally I tend apologetic and defensive. Wonder if there might be a connection?

  42. January 14, 2013    

    Hello Rebecca,

    You have an interesting story. I don’t have enough expertise to comment on your high pain tolerance. However, there could be a connection with the defensiveness and tendency to be apologetic. Have you ever visited with a counselor about it?


  43. Jared Cook Jared Cook
    January 26, 2013    

    Hi Everybody

    Well, this blog has certainly been a bit of a revelation.

    I’d like to start by thanking everybody who took the time to share their experiences on here. Although I would certainly never wish for anybody to have to go through any of what I read, I do draw some comfort from know I am not alone in my struggles.

    Back in 1974 I had a pyloromyotomy ( I think I spelled that correctly? I copy & pasted from wikipedia ). Thinking back now through my childhood, it always felt like life in general was piling on. Certainly not feelings normal for this age group.

    These feelings continued through to the time I was 18. I was bullied in school, never felt like I fit in etc From a very young age I always felt out of step with my peers, ( not just physically, which seemed obvious to me at the time, but now thinking back, also emotionally and socially); but I though it was just a case of them being ‘better than me’. I had no clue about the forces that were shaping who I was.

    I scraped by through high school and barely graduated.

    Then alcohol hit.

    Flash forward through 20 years of alcohol addiction and emotional hell. I came in to a bit of money and managed to go on a working holiday for 7 years ( between the ages of 27 and 34 ). Yeah, I had a bit of fun, but it was only a temporary band aid for the emotional scars that I had to come to terms with.

    When I got back home, I moved back in with my parents.

    I could not put my finger on why I was so angry with them.

    My Mom used to always say that she wished that my ol’ Man had spent more time with me. As I continued to peel back the layers though, it has now all come out that he was completely ignoring me as a child. Which I have now come to learn in a form of child abuse. I have just come to this realization in the past week, or so.

    Ugh! No wonder I have been a mess all these years.

    Talk about damaged goods. I do not where to even start to put the pieces together. I have blamed myself all these years for my struggles. People always telling me that ” Oh you choose to drink”. True, nobody put a gun to my head. But I needed my escape.

    Where do I start to fix this?



  44. January 27, 2013    

    Dear Jared,

    The good news is that your on the path to fixing it because you know what’s going on. There are many excellent ways to treat PTSD. You can find a counselor in your area trained in treating PTSD. If you aren’t satisfied, keep looking until you find someone interested in healing you, not just teaching you to cope with it.

    If you can afford it, I recommend the Intensive Trauma Therapy (ITT) clinic in Morgantown, WV. They can treat you faster and better than anywhere else I know of. Whatever you decide to do, please visit their website at and read up on the subject. You can contact them, fill out their assessment forms, and have them analyze them to decide if their clinic can help you–all before you decide whether or not to go there.

    Please ask any other questions you have and best wishes on your journey!


  45. Ron Switzer Ron Switzer
    February 18, 2013    

    I have no idea what effects I have from the operation I had in 1954 but I know there must be some.

  46. MT MT
    February 26, 2013    

    I know this is an old thread, but I wanted to throw in my two cents. I had open heart surgery (a rare and just emerging pediatric surgery) in 1955 when I was four. I remember (and was forever traumatized) a great deal – being rolled into the operating room, tied down in my crib, the cut-down being done on my leg for a feeding tube (they didn’t use peds sized tubes and instruments at that time), parents weren’t allowed to visit for long periods and much, much more. I have suffered from anxiety and depression my entire life. Every time I have to visit the doctor or dentist (my childhood dentist didn’t use Novocaine either), I literally panic. I am facing some scary medical procedures in the near future and am just freaked out. I hate living like this. I AM grateful for the surgery – I’m alive – but I hate what was done to me. My dad was a doc and I know he was distressed by what happened, but that’s how things were then.

  47. February 27, 2013    


    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. It is an old thread, but people keep finding it and sharing their stories. Please know that you don’t have to live like this. Treatments exist to ease your mental pain and help you cope and live a normal life. I suggest you visit Intensive Trauma Therapy’s (ITT) website to read about what they do. You sound like someone they could help. The website is

    Best wishes,

  48. Suzi O. Noi Suzi O. Noi
    March 18, 2013    


    Thanks for bringing this to the attention of the public. For many years now I’ve wondered if my sister’s facial surgery in 1954 at the age of two was the cause of some of her emotional problems, depression, anger and her “hole in my heart”. My mother said the doctors told her and my father not to visit my sister during the post-surgical period and that when they did arrive, my sister’s arms were bound to the hospital bed. Now at age 59, my sibling has lived an unhappy life and nothing anyone says or does to convey their love is enough for her. I have suggested the possible source of her lifelong unhappiness and she seems to be open to the possibility but lacks motivation to seek possible treatment.

  49. March 19, 2013    

    Dear Suzi,

    Thanks for your comment. You obviously love your sister very much. The folks at ITT could help her a lot. Do you think she would look at their website,

    Best wishes,

  50. Higa Guiam Higa Guiam
    March 20, 2013    

    In 1999, at the age of 16, I had an appendectomy. They gave me medicine to make me drowsy, so I slept, and then it was supposed to be inhalational as well as paralytic. I awoke during the procedure, fully aware and fully feeling everything, but unable to move. This continues until the end of the procedure when I was again given a sedative, and some pain medication prior to the end of the inhalational medicine. It was then that the anesthesiologiet realized that he had never given me the inhaled anesthetic, an I believe he gave me a powerful sedative and pain medicine in the hope that I would not remember the experience. I did. To his credit, he was very forthright in revealing his error. All I can tell you about the pain was that it felt like someone was burning me with a very hot flame through to my back, and my chest and upper back were hurting. After about a week, I felt that I was over the trauma, and I don’t have any issues with PTSD, and the memories do not haunt me.

  51. March 21, 2013    

    Hello, Higa,

    Thank you for telling about your surgery experience. What you described is called “going light” in medical circles and is a well-documented occurance. From what you said, the event did not lead to PTSD for you, and that is wonderful. Many, in fact most, traumatic events don’t develop into PTSD. For that we can all be very grateful. And we can be grateful that treatments exist for those who do develop PTSD.

    Best wishes to you,

  52. robin robin
    September 1, 2013    

    I had infant surgery on a cleft palate/hare lip when I was eight months, eighteen months and two and a half years old. I am now 67 going 68 and in thereapy again realising that my many continuing struggles are directly related to these early events. What is most significant to me is that the state and experience all humans desire is to be ‘happy’, and experience ‘joy’. I now know that my life has been an inordinate and painful search to experience that. The layers and layers of ‘ignorant and wilfully blind surgical abuse’ towards my mental self has blighted my sense of identity and the relationships to those I consider loving and caring. My quest for true healing of my infant self continues.

    I’m grateful for this being here. rpb

  53. September 2, 2013    

    Dear RPB,

    I hope your quest for emotional healing is successful. If you can get to the Intensive Trauma Therapy(ITT) clinic in Morgantown, WV, they can help you find the healing you crave. Their website is

    Best wishes,

  54. DeeDee DeeDee
    January 12, 2014    

    I am a now 40 yr old woman who went through major surgery at two months old without anesthesia. My mother told me that I was not given any meds and a result had two hernias from screaming that had to be operated on as well. It was so traumatizing for her that she couldn’t tell me this until about 10 yrs ago.

  55. January 12, 2014    

    Hi DeeDee,

    Obviously, the event traumatized your mother. Do you think you were traumatized also?


  56. May 21, 2015    

    Thanks for sharing your story best of wishes

  57. Catherine E. Heiby Catherine E. Heiby
    January 24, 2016    

    As a child, I suffered multiple surgeries without the benefit of any kind of pain killer, including analgesia. I have suffered night terrors because of it along with a serious fear of knives and being cut. I never knew why and then several years ago I read an article in a medical magazine while sitting in clinic waiting room. I learned about what infants might have to endure suffering surgery/surgeries without benefit of analgesia. I wept as I read the article and was very shaken to my core! I did ultimately find information in that article very helpful. Then at another time I happened to see a board with body, arrm and leg straps on it. I asked about. I was told by a nurse that it is used to restrain infants during surgeries. I nearly fainted but dropped to my knees andcould hardly breathe! I suddenly remembered being forcefully strapped onto one of those devices when I was very little and couldn’t speak! I remembered those painful surgeries over the next few days!

    I have never been able to handle harsh treatment, being grabbed and being restrained for any reason! I can become quite forceful myself but I can’t speak out for myself, which I find is quite odd. I now require pain killers for almost anything being done to me and everything! I find I no longer have the nightmares about being chased by knives and my phobia of being cut or sliced has calmed down some.

    I think no one however young should ever have to go through and/or endure what I suffered as a neonate, an infant, a toddler and a small child!

  58. January 25, 2016    

    Dear Catherine,

    Thank you for stopping by Different Dream and sharing your story. It sounds all too familiar, and I am glad to hear you are better able to handle the memories of those memories than previously. Have you gone through any therapy to address them?

    All the best,

  59. Catherine E. Heiby Catherine E. Heiby
    February 7, 2016    

    No I have not had therapy for years and do not plan to have any now. What I do for myself works great. I spend some time alone almost everyday. I write in a journal regularly and engage in spiritual meditation, along with other relaxation techniques, drink warm herbal teas and take some herbs in capsule form to help me relax so I can sleep well. I try to get 6-8 hrs of sleep every night. I also find remembering & recognizing painful events along with allowing me to feel my emotions related to those painful events and then I find I’m able to better let them go. All of these techniques along with others too numerous to mention have helped me the best, even better than therapy ever did help.

  60. February 8, 2016    

    Somehow, you have intuitively found wonderful ways to address your trauma issues. I’m so happy for you. Best wishes! Jolene

  61. Catherine Heiby Catherine Heiby
    September 27, 2016    

    I stoppe going through therapy when I realized my therapists were not helping me with the therapy sessions but rather were feeding their curiosities about my extremely abusive childhood but I bought some self-help books, talked to others with similar experiences and eventually worked out a plan that has helped me deal with past memories as they come to the surface and Im taking herbs to relievemy depression and insomnia but Im still learning to deal with public anxiety attacks created by triggered memories while out in public. Im managing my problems positively while continuing to be social.

  62. September 28, 2016    

    Catherine, good for you for dealing with your issues. I’m sorry you were unable to find a therapist whose first concern was you and not their own interests. Many therapists are devoted to their patients’ needs and can help them resolve their traumatic pasts. Jolene

  63. CJ CJ
    June 10, 2017    

    Is this true for most developed countries or just the US? I had my first open heart surgery as a newborn in 1981 in Sweden. I never even considered the possibility that I wasn’t given anesthesia until learning the history of believing infants feeling no pain. I supposed I could ask my mother but her memory of my first surgery is fuzzy due to the stress at the time.

  64. June 12, 2017    

    CJ, newborn surgery without pain medication was the protocol in all developed countries until 1986. So most likely yours was done without it.

  65. Nyclucky Nyclucky
    September 13, 2017    

    I was one of those babies, a 6 week preemie born in 1966 with NEC which created a hole in my small intestines. All these years later, I think I’ve found a good trauma therapist who can help me. I’ve started work with her. What amazes me is how my being could have survived being cut open and cut into with all the suturing and snipping. It reads like a gruesome horror story made up by some sick mind.

  66. September 14, 2017    

    I’m so glad you’ve found a therapist to help you process your surgery. It is indeed an amazing tribute to the newborn spirit that any children who endured such pain survived.

  67. Anna Anna
    October 22, 2017    

    I am 41 years old. I had cancer at 14 mos. and the very day the doctors found the tumors they told my parents I needed to have surgery right away, the next day. So, somehow I happeneded upon this info about baby surgery last year. I want to do the therapy. I had the cancer surgery on my abdominal area when I was 14 mos old in 1977. While I am grateful to have survived, grateful to God, I have no idea how this may have affected me. I do know I am a sensitive person and I broke down when I was 12 because my mother for a science class wanted me to dissect a cow heart. I absolutely broke down and was unable to do it.

  68. October 23, 2017    

    Anna, how wonderful that your surgery was successful when you were a baby. What you are experiencing is probably related to your early medical treatment. I encourage you to seek treatment so you can move on with your life. Jolene

  69. Alan Alan
    November 21, 2017    

    This is absolutely awful. I have heard of this before but wondered if it was an urban myth. Someone might just believe that a new born baby would not feel pain in the same way as someone older (I don’t think this) but how could doctors bring themselves to torture a fully aware 18 month child? I couldn’t find any reference to operations being performed like this outside the US but I know that my brother aged about 3 in the early 60s had a cut stitched without anaesthetic in the UK.

  70. November 29, 2017    

    Alan, it is definitely not an urban myth. There is documented evidence, and I have talked to NICU nurses who matter-of-factly say, “That’s what we did then.” And of course, we have our own experience of being told over and over when our son was in NICU that he wasn’t feeling pain from the day after surgery at birth until his discharge 3 weeks later. Jolene

  71. Keith Keith
    January 19, 2018    

    I was operated on without anesthetic. In 1952 I was the first or one of the first to survive a ruptured liver at birth which led to later complications. On first appearance I am a happy healthy looking 65 year old man. I’ve been successful in my work. At the same time I’m constantly concealing a state of fear. I would like it to end. Of coarse I don’t remember the surgery but I recognize my state of fear from very early on. I would like to know if this is common with people who had experienced abdominal surgery at birth and if they managed to escape the fear.

  72. January 22, 2018    

    Keith, you might want to read my book Does My Child Have PTSD? at this link: provides answers to may of your questions and points readers to many resources. Best wishes as you seek treatment that can help you escape the fear.

  73. June 27, 2018    

    I am one of those survivors. I had surgery immediately following birth in 1948. My biggest question is: did they use post operative pain medications for us, as tiny babies? Or did we have to heal from those physical horrors without any help at all? I suspect there were no post operaive pain meds for us tiny infants 🙁 I’ve spent a lifetime of healing from this surgery on all levels: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual . . . I don’t know if it will ever be finished.

  74. June 27, 2018    

    Hello Francie,

    Thank you for your comment and question. From what I have been able to learn (and the medical community does not like to talk about this portion of modern medical history), newborns did not receive pain medication during surgery or during recovery. I know for sure our son did not, because the nurses told us that repeatedly when he was in NICU. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?

    Your experience of slow healing on many levels from early surgery is far too common. I pray that your recovery continues, and you will one day feel whole again.

    Praying for you,

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Meet Jolene

Jolene Philo is a published author, speaker, wife, and mother of a son with special needs.



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