Deeper Into Circumcision: An Invitation to Awareness

"He Didn't Even Cry" / Febo

"He Didn't Even Cry"

"Circumcision is extremely painful -- and traumatic -- for a baby. The often repeated statement that babies can't feel pain is not true. Babies are as sensitive to pain as anyone else. Just being strapped down is frightening for a baby. Most babies scream frantically when their foreskins are cut off. Some defecate. Some lapse into coma. The reason some babies don't cry when they are circumcised is that they can't cry because they are in a state of shock."
"Answers to Your Questions About Infant Circumcision"
(NOCIRC pamphlet)

"Another explanation for the absence of crying during circumcision is that for some babies the shock of the assault is so intense that they cannot cry!"
Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma, by Rosemary Romberg, p. 298

"[A] lack of behavioral responses (including crying and movement) does not necessarily mean a lack of pain."
American Academy of Pediatrics and Canadian Paediatric Society
Policy Statement. Prevention and Management of Pain and Stress
in the Neonate. Pediatrics 2000 Feb; (105)2:454-461.



       Febo used to spend long hours curled up at my feet, and every so often he would get up, walk over to the door, and turn and look at me. I would go and open the door for him, and he would go out, coming back after an hour or two.
       One day he went out and never came back. I waited for him until evening, and when night fell rushed through the streets, calling him by name. I returned home at dead of night and threw myself on my bed, facing the half-open door. Every so often I would go to the window and call him again and again in a loud voice. At daybreak I again rushed through the deserted streets.
       As soon as it was daylight I rushed to the municipal dog prison. I went into a grey room where I found a number of whining dogs, shut up in stinking cages, their necks still bearing the marks of the noose. The caretaker told me that my dog might have been run over by a car, or stolen, or thrown into the river by a gang of young hooligans. He advised me to go the round of the dog-shops: who could say that Febo was not in some dog-shop?
       All the morning I rushed about from one dog-shop to another, and at last a canine barber in a dirty little shop near the Piazza dei Cavalieri asked me if I had been to the University Veterinary Clinic, to which dog-thieves were in the habit of selling cheaply the animals that were subsequently used for clinical experiments. I rushed to the University, but it was already past midday and the Veterinary Clinic was closed. I returned home.
       In the afternoon I returned to the University and went into the Veterinary Clinic. My heart was thumping, I was so weak and in such agony of mind that I could hardly walk. I asked for the doctor on duty and told him my name. The doctor, a fair-haired, short-sighted young man with a tired smile received me courteously and gazed at me for a long time before replying that he would do everything possible to help me.
       He opened the door and we entered a large, clean, bright room, the floor of which was covered with blue linoleum. Along the walls, one beside the other, like beds in a children's clinic, were rows of strange cradles, shaped like cellos. In each of the cradles was a dog, lying on its back, with its stomach exposed, or its skull split, or its chest gaping open.
       The edges of those dreadful wounds were held apart by thin steel wires, wound round wooden pegs of the kind that in musical instruments serves to keep the strings taut. One could see the naked heart beating; the lungs, with the veins of the bronchial tubes looking like the branches of a tree, swelling exactly as the foliage of a tree does when the wind blows; the red, shining liver very slowly contracting; slight tremors running through the pink and white substance of the brain as in a steamy mirror; the coils of the intestines sluggishly disentangling themselves like a heap of snakes waking from their deep slumber. And not a moan came from the half-open mouths of the tortured dogs.
       As we entered all the dogs turned their eyes upon us. They gazed at us imploringly, and at the same time their expressions were full of a dread foreboding. They followed our every gesture with their eyes, watching us with trembling lips. Standing motionless in the middle of the room, I felt a chill spreading through my limbs; little by little I became as if turned to stone. I could not open my lips. I could not move a step. The doctor laid his hand on my arm. "Courage," he said. The word dispelled the chill that was in my bones; slowly I moved, and bent over the first cradle. As I proceeded from cradle to cradle the colour returned to my face, and my heart dared to hope. Then suddenly I saw Febo.
       He was lying on his back, his stomach exposed and a probe buried in his liver. He was staring at me; his eyes were full of tears. He was breathing gently, his mouth half-open, and his body was trembling horribly. He was staring at me, and an agonizing pain stabbed my heart. "Febo," I said in a low voice, bending over him and stroking his forehead. Febo kissed my hand, and not a moan escaped him.
       The doctor came up to me and touched my arm. "I can't interrupt the experiment," he said. "It's not allowed. But for your sake I'll give him an injection. He won't suffer."
       I took the doctor's hand in mine. "Swear to me that he won't suffer," I said, while the tears rolled down my cheeks.
       "He'll fall asleep forever," said the doctor. "I would like my death to be as peaceful as his."
       I said: "I'll close my eyes. I don't want to see him die. But be quick--be quick!"
       "It will only take a moment," said the doctor, and he moved noiselessly away, gliding over the soft carpet of linoleum. He went to the end of the room and opened a cupboard.
       I remained standing before Febo. I was trembling horribly; tears were running down my face. Febo was staring at me, and not the faintest moan escaped him. The other dogs, lying on their backs in their cradles, were also staring at me and not the faintest moan escaped them.
       Suddenly I uttered a cry of terror. "Why this silence?" I shouted. "What does this silence mean?"
       It was a horrible silence--a vast, chilling, deathly silence, the silence of snow.
       The doctor approached me with a syringe in his hand. "Before we operate on them," he said, "we cut their vocal cords."

[From The Skin, by Curzio Malaparte (Alvin Redman Limited, London and Sydney, 1956)]

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