Oral histories are sometimes the only histories we have of our family. Last night I was chatting with my Uncle Joe and for the first time learned the details of my grandfather’s—his father—near death experience.
My grandfather was always frail. My sister and I had always believed he was a victim of polio, but we could find no records of this. When my aunt and uncle stopped in for a visit, I was able to get the full story. It wasn’t polio at all; it was appendicitis.
Uncle Joe emphasizes that he learned this by oral history. He cannot verify the details.
One Friday in 1914, my grandpa came down with a severe stomachache. When he went to see the local doctor, he was diagnosed with a case of “green apples.” In other words, the doctor though he had indigestion from something he ate. However, by Sunday, he was in great pain and family members decided he needed to go to the hospital.
Getting Grandpa to the hospital was no simple undertaking. The hospital was in Richmond, Virginia; my grandfather lived in rural Lunenburg County. With no cars, they would have to transport my grandfather by train. The nearest train station was about 20 miles away from his community of Pleasant Grove. Richmond was another 70 miles from there.
Family members (again this is an oral history, Uncle Joe doesn’t know exactly who) sent someone ahead to have the train held for a person with appendicitis.
They put double springs on the wagon and put a mattress in the back for my grandpa to send him to the train station in Meherrin. As soon as the train arrived in Richmond, four to seven hours later, Grandpa’s appendix had burst. He was rushed to the hospital, but in the pre-penicillin world, there was little they could do. Gangrene set in. The best doctors could do was to put hoses inside his abdominal cavity to drain out the corruption.
Later, the doctors told my grandpa that if he had arrived 15 minutes later, he would not have survived. As it was, he was in the hospital for three months.