Sunday, February 17, 2013

A brush with mortality

Seventy one years ago, my grandmother had appendicitis. She was one year older than I now am. Her presentation was not typical, leading to initial misdiagnosis and thus delay in treatment. Her appendix ruptured. She developed peritonitis and died. 

While I never met her, I feel close to her from the stories I heard about her and the photos I have of her. I recall meeting her youngest sister when I was nineteen. She had not seen my grandmother since she left Poland for America in her late teens. My great aunt insisted on calling me by my grandmother's name, which is my middle name, because I looked so much like her, though she said it looked like I had been dunked in bleach since I am a bit fairer than she was. She also commented on similar mannerisms and speech patterns, though I knew little Polish at the time and my grandmother knew no English when she left Poland. Others, too, have commented on the similarity, mistaking a photo of my grandmother and mother for my mother and me. 

Perhaps this connection has led me to trying to learn more about my family's past. So, in a sense, my grandmother has led me to researching and writing histories of relatives who were not able to tell their own stories. And that has lead to this blog.

A few weeks ago, I almost followed my grandmother. I had appendicitis though thought I simply had the flu. Unfortunately, my appendix also ruptured. But, fortunately for me, antibiotics are now available to treat the resultant infection, so now I am home recovering. While I was in the hospital sick with the infection, I thought of my grandmother who died of the same disease. A friend who didn't know my grandmother's story, but who also is exploring her family's past, commented that if I  had this happen to me during WWII, I likely would have died. My grandmother did die during WWII, not in Europe or Siberia, but in Ohio. I thought, too, about the 19 year old sister of one of my teachers, who also died of appendicitis during that time, at a Japanese internment camp in Wyoming.

I am indeed lucky. I have never experienced such hardships as so many others have. Instead, I have lived my life in freedom. And, when I got appendicitis, I was treated with antibiotics and am now recovering. But, I can't forget the sufferings and stories of those who were not so lucky.

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