Monday, May 16, 2011

Medical Family Histories

Today, I am finally going in to have an x-ray taken of my knee that has been extremely painful for a month. After trying the basic pain reducing or eliminating options, it seems to not be changing much.
In reflection of this I thought we should discuss medical family histories. How much do we know about the medical conditions of our immediate family or those who have passed on before us? Do we have a way of maintaining such information?

First a quiz. See how many of the following medical conditions you are familiar with. To keep this brief I will limit myself to ten.
1. Glioblastoma Multiforme
2. Left Cerebral Infarction
3. Arteriosclerotis Cerebral Thrombosis
4. Diabetes Mellitus
5. Coronary Artery Disease
6. Causes Related to Advanced Age/Natural Causes
7. Parkinson's
8. Epilepsy
9. CSF Leak
10. Basal Cell Carcinoma

The first seven are from death certificates. The last three are medical conditions I have encountered in the last two years and are medical conditions that would not be readily apparent to even a trained physician. For the average person this medical terminology is difficult to understand. On death certificates and other medical forms it can be hard to read the handwriting, so one can be easily confused.
Two years ago when confronted with the ongoing drainage from my ears after having tubes placed in them several times, I was ready to have the tubes removed and look into hearing aids. The night before my appointment I finally used my Internet research skills, which I developed in doing genealogy research, and did a google search for ear fluid drainage.
The best web site I found provides excellant articles about medical terms and can now be found at:
The article I found clearly described my condition (CSF Leak) and the tests to confirm such a diagnosis. It certainly was not something I wanted to discover. The diagnosis was confirmed and that spring I had two crainiotomys to resolve the condition, one for each side of the brain. In between these, I had a Basal Cell Carcinoma removed. It was a rough summer, especially when I lost my ablitiy to communicate for a couple of weeks. Genealogy research played a major role in my recovery.
The purpose in my sharing this personal information is to put into perspective the necessity of learning about medical conditions and causes of death for those people to whom we are related. Many conditions are hereditary and medical staff often wants to be aware of them as they treat their patients.
To keep track of this information it is probably best done in a separate file from our family history. It is very personal and when sharing it with others we should be discrete. In looking through my family notebooks I realized that I am missing death certificates for two of my grandparents. Now I am off to obtain copies of those documents to add to my medical knowledge of my ancestors.
As Benjamin Franklin noted, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

1 comment:

  1. You are the only other person I've encountered who used genealogy as therapy. I have rheumatoid arthritis, and the complication for tendon tears. Then, breast cancer last December. 12 surgeries in the last 4 years,with two to go this year. Genealogy is my salvation. Good days, I can go to the NYSL. Bad days, I sit at home and organize and process. I'm not a daytime television person. I love the challenges from genealogy. The thinking and finding...