Sunday, January 15, 2012

Floyd Taylor—An Appendectomy at Home By Pat Kinsella Herdeg

Floyd Taylor
Back Row: Floyd, his father Bryant Waller Taylor,
Front Row: Rex and Bryant, Floyd's sons

Another slice of life from the journal of Emma Carson Taylor, my great grandmother.

In January of 1910, Bryant and Emma Taylor live on their farm in Oakfield, NY with their children and Bryant’s father, Daniel. Daniel’s wife, Cordelia (yes, if she is familiar, it is because we have often quoted from her voluminous journals) died eighteen months earlier and Daniel still talks to his Delia as if she were alive.

Floyd, twin of Lloyd Taylor, is seventeen years old. Just two and a half years earlier, the family watched their darling Millie die at age six in their home. Emma brings flowers regularly—pansies were Millie’s favorites--to the cemetery and her journal is filled with missing her littlest girl. To witness Floyd become so sick so quickly must have been very scary for all.

Less than ten years earlier, British doctors were not recommending surgery for appendicitis. So, it must have been a fairly new operation—and to take place at your home!

January, 1910:

“Thursday Floyd helped the boys husk corn and got some chilled. On Friday morning, he was taken with a stomach ache which kept up until we thought best to call Dr. Messinger. He came twice New Year’s and has been here twice today.

January 16th, Sunday:

Everything is beautifully white with snow and frost this morning. Sleighing is good.

It has been two weeks since the last writing. Since that time, we have had another never to be forgotten time of our lives. On Monday following that writing, the Doctor came once. Floyd was growing better.

Floyd read and stayed around all day; at night, he felt some worse and tired, went to bed only to roll and toss all night. Was sick on Thursday morning, so remained in bed. Friday I decided to call the doctor who came and we did all we could for him in the line of poultices and salves, but he steadily grew worse and more feverish, with a rapid pulse and symptoms worsened.

Doctor came twice, holding off the thought of an operation, for he knew Bryant and I did not think best to have one unless it was necessary. When he came Sunday morning, January 9th, we soon saw that he feared to wait longer. The swelling was growing larger.

So it was decided that Doctor and Mrs. Cottis of Batavia and Dr. and Mrs. Messinger should meet and perform our operation in the afternoon.

Leon, Lloyd and Florence were at church. They had not been home but a short time when the Doctors and their wives came. All thought of dinner was dropped and soon everything was in readiness.

The picture it made in our dining room shall not be forgotten in years to come (which I think means the dining room table was the operating table!). Floyd was brave as a boy could very well be, and while I could hardly make up my mind that it must be, he said “Now Momma, don’t you go and upset any plans made.” They gave him chloroform in his bed, carried him down, spent two hours over him—from 3:30 until 5:30—and carried him back.

It was some time before he began coming to. As he says, he spent one of the most miserable nights he ever had or wishes to—sick, thirsty, terrible. He can scarcely describe it. He couldn’t have but a few drops of warm water at a time all through the first twelve hours, then we gradually gave him cold water until the doctor said he could have all he wanted. For three nights, Papa and I were up with him so never changed our clothes. Last night, he slept all night without waking. We surely would not like to pass through such an experience again.

What about Leon and the rest of the children? Well, we might say they have suffered a great deal in thought during this ordeal, as we surely all have. I hope we are stronger and better. We surely have had to face probable death, and life looked frail at best during the worst of it. Work that had to be done was done, the rest has gone undone. We are all very happy today for things look brighter.

Oysters and ice cream for dinner.”

Oysters were special treats, usually only for holidays in their house. Ice cream too meant it was a festive event.

One week later:

“All of our relatives are some concerned about not knowing about Floyd. Carlton (brother of Bryant) speaks of Walbridge not getting well as fast as they might wish (Walbridge—fourteen-year-old cousin of Floyd-- would die two months later from complications with diabetes—insulin was not used yet). Mary Taylor tells that a baby boy came to Jessie and Arnon Taylor Henry but never drew a breath. So the world jogs on and as we live each day we are trying to be more as our Savior would have us be and are well and happy with the dear ones about us.

Father Taylor knows nothing of Floyd’s troubles.”

As you may have guessed, by Floyd later marrying Aunt Goldie and having two boys, Rex and Bryant, Floyd survived his home operation. I try to think of what Emma and Bryant must have been coping with—this home filled with children and doctors and operating instruments and on top of that, they never told Grandpa Taylor, who also lived in their house! And, Emma’s last sentence, ‘to be well and happy with the dear ones about us.’ She so missed Millie but was trying to move on.

I passed this story on to Aunt CB (aka Mom) for any input, particularly on the medical side. She replied:

“For your understanding, hospitals were not used very much UNLESS all was lost until the mid to late 1920's. People were generally cared for at home. Surgery was the VERY last resort!

Even at Rochester General Hospital, the operating room was the library; filled with books-- the doctors wore their frock coats, seldom shirtsleeves. First "modern" addition was to wear a butcher’s apron [an idea one of the nurses had to save doctors’ clothes].

Appendicitis was not well known and not understood, so Dr. Messinger was very brave and ahead of his time. Chloroform was used then but rarely as it was so very flammable and remember, very little electricity then, hence must use daylight. Eventually, ether was to be used, still flammable but easier on the patient. With Chloroform one must be very careful not to give too much and kill the patient. Ether was still used in my day, when I was in Waterloo; I gave it many a time for deliveries. Not used much today I think, and even then, not much in big cities.”


Evelyn Taylor said...

Yes, I have read the Journal account, but this time it was more powerful with Pat's comments and those of CB. I am passing this on to my son, Mitch, in New Zealand who is a nurse. I am sure he will be amazed to hear this about his grandfather's brush with death at age 17!

Sue Kinsella said...

Wow. I have heard the outlines of this story before but this was the first time I learned a lot of the details. What an awful month January 1910 was for the Taylors, but especially for Floyd!

I keep thinking about what doctors' lives and practices must have been like then, and that of their wives. I notice that the wives were part of the surgical team and wonder if they also had medical training or were just expected to be the helpers no matter what.

I thought I had heard that Emma or someone else in the family was also involved in helping in the operation, possibly with ongoing anaesthesia - or does it seem to you, Pat, from reading the diary entries about it, that the family waited outside the dining room operating theater?

And then I think of how Floyd's parents had to be the recovery nurses for days after such an operation and especially that first touch-and-go night, which must have been terrifying, when Floyd had had a pretty rough kind of anaesthesia as well as the surgery. I don't think there was much in the way of pain medication at that time, or was there? I guess it was immensely fortunate that Floyd was 17 at the time and not several decades older.

Especially, how incredibly fortunate that there were two country doctors available who were skilled enough to do a successful surgery like this.

How do you think the family kept Grandpa Daniel unaware? Do you think he was senile at that point?

What a story!

Pat said...


Yes, what a story!

Emma does not say much about the operation,just that they worked on him for two hours, so it sounds like she was not in the room.

Afterwards, though, she does write of three tubes that remained in him for days to drain various bodily fluids, so she would have helped with that.

It took a lot to run the farm, and without Floyd, the others had to shoulder more chores, which Emma talks of also. At one point, Leon was sick for two days, so I think they were all near their breaking points.

Father, or Daniel, was quite feeble and out of it, according to Mom. And, Emma writes that he just looks at Delia's photo in his room and talks to her (one year after she has died, he is saying to the picture 'Delia, you have gone so long without food.') So, clearly he is senile. Emma writes that while he wants to go to church, they think it best he stay home and then she says how hard it is for him as all he can do is sit and read.

And, yes, seems very lucky that they found two doctors in rural New York who could successfully perform the operation!

Sue Kinsella said...

I'm thinking also about how lucky they were that apparently they were able to avoid infection. When you think of how much effort goes into avoiding it in hospitals and surgeries now and none of that was available - on the dining room table no less! It's hard to imagine how both the doctors and the Taylors did so well, and speaks to how tough, resourceful and competent they must have been.

Mom/CB said...

Stories like thaat make you realize the strength that has been passed along to us !
I have been in that house and that room is a large one [ 15x18 ft]with a large window in front and a small bedroom in back [where Emma probably died in 1916] Certainly the best for light and as for heat? Well in January it would have been cool [ did they have coal?] but cooler is better!
AT that tome, Daniel was living in the apartment they had created from the parlor and had a bedroom and small DR as well as a living room. This apt was to the right of the main stairs and the rest of the house was to the left. I'd bet Emma was keeping watch over Daniel as someone had to and Clara was still not herself after Millie's death.
AS for Drs and wives, many were nurses . and they learned to almost diagnose over the phone as thay usually took messages for their husbands.
BW, never a hard worker, more a "boss" type, may have been helping Lloyd and Leon. There were surely chores as they had cows, horses and chickens to care for 2x a day and always that pseky corn o shell!
It must have been nerve wracking for them as it took so long for him to come to afterwards. I know there was Quinine available then and my father, [ Lloyd] always used that for headaches when we were growing up. I never knew of aspirin until I went into training. Maybe some of you can look up when that was introduced ? [ugh, Quinine was bitter!]
I am most grateful to Emma ! She had a hard life ! We never would have known of so much of it had she not found the time to write in these journals every 2-3 weeks!