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.

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