The Death That Saved My Life (Part 1)

This is an excerpt from the family history book I am working on.  I hope you enjoy it.  Have a great weekend.

The doctor arrived at the Gordonville train station.  In 1898 there were four tracks slicing their way through the small town (population 413), and nearly 200 trains passed through every day.  I can imagine the Amish relatives of my great-great grandmother (Catharine Lapp at the time – she was also Amish, as were all my descendants in the late 1800s) waiting by the tracks, perhaps still sitting in their buggy.  This doctor was their last hope.

The intriguing part about history is that we know what will happen.  We know who will live and who will die.  And in his own strange way, this doctor saved my life that day.

I can only imagine what the doctor was feeling on his way to the house.  Had he done many appendix operations before?  Doctors had only recently begun treating appendicitis by removing the appendix, as opposed to draining it as they had for centuries.  Opening a body up, removing organs, cleaning the infection, sterilizing and suturing the internal areas, knitting the flesh back together, stopping the bleeding – the skills that allowed these things  to happen were still in their infancy.

In the late 1800s appendectomies were rarely successful.

Apparently our kind doctor was nervous – he arrived intoxicated, wreaking of the alcohol he had been drinking all the way from Philadelphia.  In those days the patient needed alcohol to dull the pain.  The doctor sometimes used it to calm his nerves as an antidote against the violent, bloody scene an operation like that could become.  He was driven to my great-great grandmother’s house on a cold December day in 1898.  He got down from the buggy and carried his bag into the house.  The horses’ mouths threw steam up into the air, their hides smoking with heat.

The doctor was ushered inside.  The panes of glass were coated with a frosty glaze from the cold, but that didn’t stop the neighbor kids from huddling around outside, wiping away the frost with their cold fingers, watching as the doctor asked the family to lay Samuel Lapp on the large kitchen table.

(to be continued on Monday)

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