#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Health

I’m a week late finishing this post that’s part of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project. I usually end up writing my posts, or finalizing them, on Sunday, one day before the new topic comes out.

Last Sunday, I sliced my finger on a box cutter. It wasn’t too deep, but it bled kind of a lot, and it was right on the knuckle. My husband helped me clean it and put on a Band-Aid, but I figured I needed to let it heal before I had to type all day at work on Monday.

Bamboo cutting board with serrated knife on top.
A knife like this one can slice a finger pretty well.

It reminded me of another time I sliced my finger. A few years ago, I had strained a tendon in my right wrist, and after giving it a good year to get well on its own, I had surgery. Two weeks after the operation, I had my stitches out. A day or two after that, I decided to make a ham sandwich for lunch before my mom picked me up to drive me to physical therapy. As I sliced the ham, I noted to myself that I was holding the ham the wrong way. If the knife slips, I thought to myself, I’m going to cut my finger off. I didn’t change how I was holding the ham, and the first slice was completed without bloodshed. I started cutting the second slice and the knife slipped. I was using one of those big serrated never-needs-sharpening-and-will-cut-right-through-a-nail knives, but I did not cut my finger off. I think the bone probably stopped it. I didn’t want to go to the hospital, because I figured they’d want to stab it 85 times with a needle and then put stitches in. I picked up the knife off the floor (thank you, Lord, for not letting it stab my foot), then washed the finger with soap and water. Then I put hydrogen peroxide on. Then alcohol. Then triple antibiotic ointment. Then I bandaged it. Then I called my mom and said she needed to come a few minutes early to help me get dressed. When I arrived for PT, there I was sitting with both hands propped up, and my mom filling out the forms for me, when we get to a question that went something like, “Do you have trouble using utensils?” and I busted out laughing!

I’ve been fortunate with my health. Those wrist surgeries and having my wisdom teeth out have been my only surgeries. My mom says I was almost never sick when I was little. I had chicken pox, of course, and maybe one other childhood illness. The first time I had tonsillitis was in college. Since my marriage, I have had the flu once (an inconsiderate family member brought it to a holiday gathering), bronchitis several times (all it takes is a mild cold), and COVID-19 (when it first got to Florida, while health officials were denying that there was any community spread). I’ve sprained my ankle (running in high heels in college), cracked my ribs (slipped in the tub), and had whiplash (rear-ended at a stoplight). I’m overweight now and have been diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. I lost weight and my blood test went back to normal, gained weight and the numbers went back up. I’ve been taking a Jarrow-brand prebiotic for several months, and it seems to be helping lower the numbers. Not bad for age 55.

Looking back through the family tree, I see many of my ancestors lived to a pretty good age. My maternal grandfather, Hoyt Cook, died on his 88th birthday after a series of strokes. His wife, Willie Stevens Cook, died at 86 with dementia. My paternal grandmother, Malzie Silcox Hahn, was the youngest of all my grandparents, and the first to die, of lung cancer, at age 73. Her husband, Charlie Hahn, died – also of cancer – at age 82.

Four out of eight great-grandparents lived into their 80s. The oldest was Mollie Pittman Stevens, age 84, the same age as my mom now. The one who died youngest was Mollie’s husband, J.W. Billie Stevens, who was my age, just 55.

Newspaper article from 1908 includes this sentence: Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Stevens left Wednesday for St. Louis, where Mr. Stevens will enter a hospital for treatment.

Billie had a lot of health problems over his life. I found a newspaper article about him and Mollie traveling to St. Louis so he could receive medical treatment. I gather he drank a lot. He also got struck by lightning once. I know who Billie’s mother was. Mary Reid was born around 1855, and she was still alive as of the 1920 Census. I don’t know when she died or what killed her. I have a name for Billie’s father, William A. Stephens, according to the marriage record, but I know nothing else about him.

My biggest fear as I get older is cancer, especially after watching my dad wither away with it. Knowing the health of our ancestors may help us understand our risks and even guide us to make better life choices, but ultimately, our fate will be our own.

About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have two cats and a husband.
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