Friday, January 16, 2015

Brain Surgery 1903

I had forgotten that I had a short lived blog several years ago. I came across it tonight while searching for something else via google. This entry was very interesting so I'm reposting it here.

I have been busy going through some old family letters and making copies for a cousin. My paternal grandfather, DeForest Olmstead, was a very good letter writer. He started out his career as a teacher, then became a bookkeeper for the Erie Railroad, and finally became a coffee broker, his longest career. I want to share one of his letters here. It was written in October 1903, before my Dad was born, and relates the story of his son Francis having brain surgery. That’s right, brain surgery in 1903. It really surprised me that they were doing such surgery then. And in the irony department the doctor was a Dr. Carroll. My former husband is also a Dr. Carroll, and Carroll was my surname for 32 years.

Dear Blanche 

I suppose you heard that Francis was operated on last Monday. I wrote home and thought that letter would suffice for you all. Francis has gotten along remarkably well. We brought him home today, less than six days since he underwent the operation. The wound is all healed over and the doctor took out the stitches yesterday. He takes more notice than he used to of everything and has not had a convulsion since he came home (seven hours), and prior to the operation he would have had a half dozen or more in that length of time. Of course it is going to take considerable time for him to learn and pick up knowledge for the past has been far worse than lost time to him mentally but his condition is now so encouraging. We feel we have good reason to hope that in time he will be all right in every way. It is of course uncertain. Since reaching home he has been running around most of the time and while somewhat compared to when he went away, yet considering what he has been through he certainly is in much better condition than would be expected.

The doctor says the difficulty was a depressed fracture of the skull, probably caused by a fall, and an inflamed condition of the membrane which had become firmly adhered to the skull. This constant pressure on the brain caused the convulsions and the whole trouble.

I am going to get from Dr. Carroll a technical report of the details of the case and the operation and will send you a copy which I presume will be of interest to Morris.

Blanche was DeForest's sister, and her husband Morris Cowden was a M.D. Francis, the patient, was born 6 December 1900, making him not quite 3 years old when he had this surgery. In the one photo I have of him, which unfortunately I haven’t scanned yet, he has that special needs look about him. He died on 31 December 1903, 2 months after surgery. At this point I haven’t yet learned what he died of. He could have had a seizure and died from that. I know several of my Dad’s siblings died of diphtheria so it could be that too. My Dad was born 6 weeks after his brother’s death. It must have been so difficult for my grandparents, especially in a day where there were no grief support groups.

If DeForest got the more technical report from Dr. Carroll it is no longer among the family. I have tried getting medical records from several Passaic, NJ area hospitals but no luck so far. I would really like to know, in the words of Paul Harvey, the rest of the story.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


When I was not quite six years old we moved to a small town in Western New York called Cassadaga. It was in Chautauqua County. Chautauqua was frequently mistaken for Chappaqua, which was no where near Western New York. Chautauqua County was next to Cattaraugus County. There was a Canandaigua not too far away, in the Finger Lakes area. My nursing school roommate was from there. There were other strange, difficult to spell town names beginning with C in New York, but I learned early to spell them correctly. I can do pretty well with strange sounding words that start with the letter c.

I recently saw a post from a friend on Facebook talking about chikungunya and I thought come again. Chickabunga?  Oh no, it’s cowabunga. Chick - A Fil? No, isn’t that a chicken place? So chicka...what? Chikungunya is the word. I did what any reasonable person does upon seeing a new word, I went to google. Google is nice because if you’ve misspelled the word it gives you the correct spelling. I put “chickungunya” in the search box and was directed to many references for chikungunya starting with the Center for Disease Control, the CDC. I learned that Chikungunya (pronunciation: \chik-en-gun-ye) is a virus transmitted to people by mosquitoes. “The most common symptoms of chikungunya virus infection are fever and joint pain. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash.” Now that doesn’t sound too bad. My son had Dengue Fever once and it sounded kind of similar. He was pretty sick but within a week or so was better.

Well, a clinical description of a disease on a web site really doesn’t convey what it’s like to have the disease. My friend had a fever of 107 degrees, her daughter’s was 106. The joint and muscle pain made you wish for death. A doctor came to see them and prescribed belladonna, which I haven’t seen prescribed in at least 25 years. One of the other names for belladonna is deadly nightshade. It was prescribed for the severe pain my friend had. I’m happy to report she’s back in Hawaii and mostly recovered.

Where do you get this disease? In paradise. My friend, who lives in Hawaii travels to French Polynesia when she really wants to be in paradise. It was her birthday trip. There were many people ill with chikungunya during her visit. Lindsay Lohan was one of them. Sick Lindsay

So, that was the new word and disease I learned recently. I’m probably not at risk for getting it any time soon.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Time to Return

Yesterday I turned 70 years old. I’m not sure as a child or young adult I had any idea of what 70 would look like or what I would look like, what life would be like. A person was either young or old. I did always think I’d live to be in my 90’s, perhaps just wishful thinking, but here I am at least at 70. Twenty years ago I was 50, that doesn’t seem that long ago so if I do live to be 90 it’s coming quicker than I realize. The weeks leading up to my birthday have been difficult, to say the least. I really did not do Christmas this year, just could not. I slept.....a lot. Winters are always hard on me, SAD seems to get worse with age. I don’t need a calendar to know when the winter solstice is here, my body tells me. My birthday is in January naturally, my worst time of year. Then I deal with cancer, not one, but several. I’ve been on the journey since I was 57 and it continues. It takes a toll on your mood. I have developed early COPD which, as a lifetime non-smoker, pisses me off. But I have decided since I am still alive and I am 70 I would like the decade of my 70’s to be the best one yet. My 20’s and 30’s were great so it will be a challenge. But no decade could be worse than my 40’s so forward and onward.

I am returning to blogging, both this one and my photo blog. I have neglected them. I’m not changing the title of this one. I considered it but I still live in a small town in Wisconsin so the title remains. The focus will change somewhat, but there will still be some road trips, I hope, and stories about life in a small town. Often the town will be spelled Cassadaga, not Tomahawk, because Cassadaga is where the majority of my growing up years were spent and where I learned so much of what I know today. I will write about my nursing school and the hospital that made me the nurse I am today. It breaks my heart that the dorms, classrooms, and hospital will soon be demolished. I don’t take change well. When I visit Buffalo, New York I expect the buildings of 3 Gates Circle to still be there, the dorms still to be at 636 Linwood Avenue. And they won’t be. I hate it. I will write some about cancer but not a lot. My main interest is raising awareness of some of the rare orphan cancers that get very little attention but have a high mortality and need research dollars and publicity. I want to keep entries shorter, rather than longer. So, enough for tonight.

My next entry in a few days will be on a subject I learned about just this week. I cannot spell the word and have no clue how to say it but it is timely and, for us public health geeks, interesting. My parents both taught us you never stop learning just because you complete your formal education. There is something new always waiting to be learned.

PS: There will always be occasional cat photos.