1972   |   The Sounds of Silence

Repercussions and Reverberations

It was 1971,
the VietNam Era.

Silent dissonance
reverberated and rippled throughout my body
in uncommon reactions
to anesthesia.

The Sounds of

Simon & Garfunkle,
arr. Soren Bebe

Warning Signs

Marriage during the Viet Nam War era carried weighty risks for those of a certain age and a certain draft number.
The Sounds of Silence takes me back to Atlanta, Georgia…
our first home after college graduation while awaiting The Draft.

I learned I was pregnant with my first child while standing in a telephone booth, having received a phone call from a Ft. Lewis army nurse. Our ‘home’ telephone was located in the phone booth outside a diner across from our ‘temporary’ trailer housing because there was no room at the “inn” (base housing at Ft. Lewis, Washington).  Later that very same day, I received a second call from the diner phone booth with my husband informing me he had just received his orders to View Nam and would be shipped out before Christmas. Our son arrived two months after Christmas while he was flying around the Mekong Delta in a helicopter as a petroleum officer.

During the VietNam tour, all our possessions were placed in storage.  I relocated to Arizona where my ‘newlywed’ mother had recently moved. We had attended her wedding enroute in our move from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean – our Army relocation/ USA tour from Ft. Lee, Virginia to Ft. Lewis, Washington.

“Why are you giving her a saddle block now?! The baby’s here!
challenged the resident, questioning the obstetrician who was hurriedly preparing a syringe.

Sitting on a metal table with two doctors having a heated disagreement
with my baby’s head crowning was most disconcerting.
The obstetrician vehemently explained,
“She wants to see the delivery!” and the needle plunged into my spine.

I remained paralyzed for four days. 
In retrospect, this was a foreshadowing of things to come.

It was February 24, 1971.

After VietNam, ordinary life evolved with another cross country move from Arizona to Tennessee. Taking advantage of the GI bill to return to school at our alma mater, my husband enrolled in law school. Two warning signs – red flags waving – went unnoticed as our daily life became routine and normal.

  1. Sinus surgery was recommended.
    Chronic sinus infections became the norm after the extraction of two upper wisdom teeth. Nine months of ruining my stomach with antibiotics resulted in no resolution of the chronic infections.
  2. We wanted another child.
    My back and legs would no longer let me do my daily routine of 100-200 sit ups. Often, my legs would ‘go to sleep’ while I was simply sitting in a chair.  A consult with an orthopedic surgeon and an MRI scan confirmed  a ‘congenital anomaly’ in my low back at L5-S1.  I was reassured that having another baby would not be problematic.

Anesthetic Trauma

I was aware of ‘something very wrong’ as I ‘woke up‘ into the anesthesia before I could breathe and vaguely remember a nurse yelling at me. A rope-like twist in the roof of my mouth created a radiating pressure upward into my mouth and my left sinus felt like it was stretched tight. Panic enveloped me as I was unable to breathe.
This surgical procedure left me with tightness across my cheekbone and extreme dryness with thick glue-like mucous. My upper teeth on the right side and part of my face were numb for six months.  
I felt ‘short-circuited’.  Transformed into a walking bundle of nerves, always anxious and  nervous, I would pace the floor of our cozy university-housing apartment, holding my baby on one arm with tears running down my face,  the other hand rubbing my face and head trying to get relief from the weird pressure that plagued me day and night. 

At the follow up surgical consultation, I described my new symptoms and  my agitation that something was very wrong with not only my mouth but also my face. 

“We were in your sinus, not your mouth. Everything’s fine!”

This unknown ‘Voice of Authority’,  an associate of the surgeon who had performed the procedure, unequivocally assured me of this fact as he hastened out of our consult.

Anesthetic awareness and PTSD were not in my vocabulary as a 25-year-old female in 1972.  

During the early 90’s, I discovered these words
in an ‘”Anesthetic Awareness” workshop
on Hilton Head Island presented
by the head of anesthesiology from the
University of California at Davis.

 Mesmerized by this information, I ventured up to the podium after the presentation and thanked the doctor

for his lecture. He asked me if I had been involved
with such an experience.

I then proceeded to describe what had happened
during the sinus surgery. I was unable to finish my story because he interjected into the conversation a definitive “Without Question!”:  

I had undergone an anesthetic awareness experience coming out of anesthesia. The synchronization between awareness and breathing had been jeopardized.

And therein, I had confirmation from the creator of the FACE mask – a  facial monitor to measure the depth
of anesthesia – that my “Awareness” experience would have traumatized my autonomic nervous system.

 One piece of the puzzling aftermath of the 1972 sinus surgery serendipitously
materialized at this conference… t
otally unexpected, twenty years later.
Further validation of this trauma occurred in an unforeseen manner
in the office of an oral surgeon during the summer of 1998. 
Today, these adverse effects from ‘awareness’
would be classified as a form of PTSD.
….more than thirty years after the sinus surgery injury with an awareness experience,

…more than fifty years since the initial damage from the trauma.

~  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ~

I was 25 years old, trusting and naive.

These frightening moments awakening from anesthesia shaped my life.
The follow up ‘medical encounter’ after the sinus surgery procedure was the onset of
of being dismissed, patronized, and ridiculed
by physicians, well-meaning friends and even family.

This uncommon happening triggered
…a short circuit in the brain,
…an assault on the body, and
…an injustice to the mind.

imprinted within and throughout every cell, 
etched into the very substance of my life…
inconceivable, inexplicable, unrecognized, and silent.

I was unaware.
“It” was invisible.

The Sounds of Silence

Fear, the childhood Wolf that hid under my dust‐ruffle,
thus assaulted my body,
a silent invasion from within.

Memory shook hands with Fear and was offered a home in the
sacred spaces of my Soul.
A dissonance with vibrations of varying volumes 
burrowed deep into my cells throughout the days of my life.

A creative nonfiction writing class at Arizona State University during the 90’s
prompted this story about the sinus surgery and anesthetic awareness experience.

Take a brief Detour from the Path and
 Meet the Wolf