Bessel van der Kolk., Incubators., IV infusions, Medical trauma., past trauma, Premature infants., present trauma, PTSD symptoms, Surgeries., The body keeps score., Trauma and the body., Trauma triggers.
Trauma And The Body.
I thought I could cut off the past and put it behind me. I am older now and find It doesn’t work. We do not know what the present or future holds for us. This is the dilemma: sometimes the present or future holds triggers for us which become reactivated when an experience from the past is like the one in the present. Most of the time it is nothing big. Sometimes it can be a smell, or something that your mind registers, or what a friend unwittingly says or does, that takes you back in time. It isn’t really anyone’s fault. It just happens. It happens most of the time without warning. “The body keeps score,” van der Kolk wrote.1 By that he meant, that our body remembers traumatic stimuli and reacts to it and the way our body defends itself is remembered. Feeling states are recorded in the body. We may handle it by not remembering consciously the incident. The body may just react. We may suddenly feel fear without knowing why. But the body remembers and the senses remember.
For example, I was born prematurely back in the 1940″s. I weighed about four and a half pounds. Incubators were first being used, believe it or not, in circuses. They would show how little the infants could be. The boxes were crudely built, made of wood. Only the bigger hospitals got the chance to use them and they often made arrangements with the circus to use them. Most hospitals were small and didn’t have access to them. The staff left the infants in the boxes for long periods of time because of lack of help. In those days, more premature babies died than lived. There was little knowledge in working with premature babies. So infants placed in the incubators experienced a great deal of trauma from the experience. The mothers went home and left them there because of germs, and the fear of the infants catching a disease. I was in the hospital for two to three months. I am sure a lot of stimuli got recorded regarding smells, sounds, body sensations, sights, that I was too little to process cognitively. I certainly didn’t have the capacity to understand it, and I have no cognitive memories of that time. What I could not forsee is my body would remember for me in the surgeries I had many years later and the infusions I take every two weeks. I am in the hospital infusion center for about eight hours a day and have to be infused at a very slow rate to tolerate the solution given to me by IV.
My surgeries were traumatic but I never understood why. I knew there were feelings of fear and I was hypervigilant while in the hospital. I cut myself off from the experience. When home, I ended up depressed, anxious, had difficulty sleeping and eating, and had flashbacks. It took longer for me to heal.
When I was told I would need infusions about a year ago, it wasn’t until I actually went to the first one, that I would again experience trauma. I had to make myself go. Putting my legs in my car was the hardest task. Getting my legs out of my car and going in to the infusion center was very difficult. I had extreme fear, feelings of abandonment, anger, grief, depression, anxiety, troubles sleeping and eating, difficulties with body functions, weird body sensations, and side effects from the IV solution, I experienced some flashbacks. I went to and from the infusions alone. I still do. I am learning through therapy to deal with the trauma and am better than I was. It is difficult, but I am making headway. Sometimes, whether we like it or not, trauma must be dealt with because it is a sure thing, the body does not forget it.
1 Bessel van der Kolk,MD, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. (New York: Viking, 2014).