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Preventing Infant Pain

When my first son was circumcised without any anesthetic almost 20 years ago, he cried with shattering intensity for a few moments, then stuffed his fist into his mouth and calmed down. Though he was only 3 days old, his pediatrician told us that "he already has good coping mechanisms. He knew how to handle the pain."

Two and a half years later, with my second son  -- premature, 7 days old, and recently released from the hospital  -- the procedure was overwhelming. My husband and I were assured that he'd recovered enough from his first few days' experience of monitors, stomach tubes, and blood tests in the intensive-care unit, and that he could easily handle a mere cut to the foreskin. I was surprised no anesthetic was used, but instead of questioning this, I waited outside the pediatrician's office, assuming that the doctor knew best.

When I heard the shrieks from behind the closed door, I realized that I had made a major mistake. My son had already been disconnected from me during his three days in an incubator and was distressed by so many medical procedures. I was sure that this pain was the last straw.

Following his circumcision, my son cried constantly, and every disturbance, from diaper changing to burping, seemed too much for him to handle. It was several months before he showed any improvement.

When Glenda Grunzweig's daughter, Katy, was born severely jaundiced, she was subjected to blood tests repeatedly for the first two weeks of her life, along with a procedure in which a needle was inserted into her kidney. "The doctor asked me to hold her arms down while he put the needle in. He told me to trust him, but he gave no anesthetic," Grunzweig recalls. "I'm convinced that from then on Katy associated being held with pain. We failed to establish a nursing pattern, and we both became depressed for the next few months.

"Katy's 11 years old now," Grunzweig adds, "but still fearful of medical situations and overly worried about her physical safety."

Diana Reynolds Roome received the 2000 C. Everett Koop Award for medical journalism. She lives in Mountain View, CA.