FAMILY MEDICAL HISTORY – Marilyn Armstrong

We do not know nearly enough about the health of our parents and grandparents. We don’t know enough because they didn’t care to tell us about them. The freedom we feel know to discuss our ailments and cures is relatively new. When I was a kid unless it was lethal or it directly affected our day-to-day lives — no one said much.

Sometimes we got “hints.” Clues. Listening to the grownups talk sometimes dropped information that we could later put together. We learned more as we got older, especially if we were nosy enough to ask, but mostly, people in general across races, ethnicities, and religions, people didn’t talk about their medical issues.

It simply wasn’t done.

I knew, for example, about my mother’s breast cancer because it was unavoidable. And also, because my mother talked to me about grownup things to a degree that was unusual in parent-child relationships at that time. Also, knew about her radiation therapy because she had to explain why she could not go into the sun at all. They don’t do radiation (or surgery) like that now, but back then — well, let’s just say they have come a long way since then. They may not be able to cure cancer, but they treat people who have the disease with considerably more kindness.

I also knew about my father’s bone disease that came from being dragged by a car when he was a child and because they didn’t yet have antibiotics, it got into his bone and was not healed until he was in his fifties.

I knew who needed eyeglasses. Who was near-sighted. Who was far-sighted. My mother’s far-sightedness was a bit amusing because as she got older, the books she needed to read needed to be farther and farther away. At one point, she could only read the phonebook when it was on the floor and she was standing up.

What I didn’t know was close to half my family had been born with club feet. I knew my then-husband had been born with club feet (it was hard to miss), but because I knew nothing about its presence in my DNA, I didn’t know that Owen had a pretty much 100% chance of coming up with the same problem. As did Kaitlin, too. It turns out — and no one told us — that club foot is a very common genetic ailment among children. Almost every family has traces of it in their DNA.

But no one mentioned it so I was genuinely surprised when Owen showed up with it.

I didn’t know my father’s heart problems were genetic or that I had the same problem because they are not typically tested for. I’m pretty sure my father didn’t know he had it. He was told he had “congestive heart failure” which is a bucket term the medical community uses to describe just about every kind of “old age” heart problems.  Except that they don’t just show up only in old age. Young athletes die on basketball courts and football fields because no one knew they had Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. It’s not something a family doctor can hear in a stethoscope. You need a specialist and unless someone knows it runs in the family, no one checks.

Garry knew about deafness. It was kind of obvious. But he didn’t know that both parents suffered from Glaucoma. Now he has tests coming up. Bad news? Yes, but not terrible news because treatments for it have come a very long way. Use your eyedrops, get regular exams and you are good to go.

But he didn’t know. Because people didn’t talk about it. He did vaguely remember his mother using eyedrops. When he called his brother later in the evening, he discovered both parents had it.

My thoughts? Tell your kids about your medical history. A lot of things are genetic and we don’t always know it. Some things are genetic and the link has yet to be discovered.

Discovering your newborn has something you had no idea ran in your family is a hard way to discover the truth.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Opinionated writer with hopes for a better future for all of us!

17 thoughts on “FAMILY MEDICAL HISTORY – Marilyn Armstrong”

    1. It’s useful to know so you can watch out for it. Sometimes, it doesn’t help, but with things like diabetes and glaucoma and breast cancer, it really IS genetic — at least sometimes and if you know, you can pay attention and get on top of the problem before it gets on top of you,

      Liked by 2 people

  1. My mum was not a healthy person, but many of her problems came from malnutrition as a child. Families in the East End were very poor and their nutrition was according to what they could afford. My dad came from a country family and he rarely had health problems. There must have been diabetes in the family, but it was not so obvious. I have it and so does my son. I can blame no one for my MS, it does not have genetic causes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A lot of people have a subtle kind of diabetes that doesn’t show up early. My father’s whole family were diabetic, so I’ve been on the lookout for it most of my life. So far, so good. As for malnutrition, a surprisingly large number of technically well-fed people were mal-nourished too. If you came from a family that had not idea of what a healthy diet was, it was easy to wind up fat or scrawny and missing major vitamins and minerals. They had been trying to fix that until whats-his-name got into office. Now we are back to serving junk food to kids and for the poorer ones, that’s often their one and only real meal, so it matters.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I was interested, so I got a lot of information from my mother and father before they died about their family tree’s possible medical histories. I know a lot about my family’s health issues. But nobody in my immediate family is interested and if I try to share something, I usually get told off for it or that I’m making it up because my mother liked to embroider her stories (part of her mental illness). The diabetes I have came out of left field. If anyone had it prior to me, it wasn’t talked about nor shared. Both my mother and her sister (maternal aunt) got diabetes in their old age, but it was assumed that their pancreas just gave out. Then I was diagnosed at 40 years of age, and now there are three cousins (possibly more) from my mother’s line that have been diagnosed too. I’ve tried to warn my siblings and their children about the likelihood of it cropping up for them and all I get is crap. Sometimes you just can’t educate people. It takes interest first or a bad event happening for them to take notice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s too bad people don’t talk about it. It can be quite a hard hit when you realize if someone had just TOLD you, you would have been prepared. But most people don’t know and aren’t told. It isn’t even a secret. Most people don’t think about it, so they don’t talk about it. In today’s world, it’s kind of stupid too.

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  3. Yes my husband’s half brother had operations on his feet as a child to break all his toes. His children all had varying degrees of problems with feet and legs. We have never known what was wrong. His half brother did not know who his father was – nothing happened to the rest of the family with a different father. I once asked one of the nieces when she was grown up what was wrong – ‘-my legs are knackered’. Have no doctors ever explained to any of them?

    Liked by 1 person

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