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It’s The Little Things


Details drive me crazy.

The date: Wednesday 3 June 1953

The place: Rehm residence, Hidley Road, Wynantskill, NY

The Person of Interest: Charles W. Rehm

Esther and Charlie Rehm, 40th Wedding Anniversary, November 1947

The scenario:

It was late at night, around 11 p.m. Charles Rehm came home and was headed up the stairway to retire for the evening. But…Charles never made it to the top of the stairway. He fell backwards, and fell down the flight of stairs. His wife, Esther, was home, heard the noise and called for the local ambulance. In 1953, an ambulance takes time. Precious moments of time. They lived in the countryside. Albany Hospital, the closest hospital, was 21 miles away.

When the nearby town of North Greenbush ambulance arrived, Charlie, as he was known, was unconscious. He was declared dead upon arrival at Albany Hospital. It was 12:30 a.m.[1]

Now, let’s think about this. Timing is essential.

Charlie came home and fell about 11 pm. His wife called the ambulance to take him to Albany Hospital …how long was that call? What time did the ambulance arrive at Hidley Road?

It’s a 21 mile drive. It was late at night; roads would have been fairly clear of traffic. Sirens would have helped. How fast did the ambulance go?

Rain was not a factor, as the weather was cloudy and 60 degrees. On the same page as Charlie's obituary was the weather for that evening:[2]

Charlie was unconscious, but breathing when the medics arrived. How long did it take them to analyze the situation, ready Charlie for transport and then, finally, actually leave the Rehm residence? What time was that?

The ambulance arrived at the hospital at 12:30 a.m. Charlie was pronounced dead upon arrival. In 1953, that 21 mile drive was probably longer than 30 minutes.

It is possible that Charlie did indeed die, as the record states, between 12:00 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. on June 4, 1953 on the way to the hospital.

It is also possible that Charlie actually died on Wednesday evening, June 3, prior to arriving at the hospital. Before midnight. Were his vitals being monitored and was he being watched during the drive? In 1953, simple life rescue methods that we use today, were not practiced yet. According to the American Heart Association, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was first practiced in 1955; CPR not until 1956.[3]

No one disputes the fact that he died. But we do have to ask: did he die in those last remaining minutes on June 3? Or did he actually die in those early 30 minutes of the day on June 4? It matters. A death date needs to be determined. An accurate death date.

Esther, his wife, apparently thought he would live. Perhaps because he was alive when the ambulance arrived. Perhaps the news of his death was difficult to comprehend. Perhaps because she hired an attorney. The autopsy stated,

“The patient, a 68-year-old white man, was pronounced dead on arrival at the Emergency Room of Albany Hospital at 12:30 A.M. on June 4, 1953. The patient is said to have fallen backwards while walking p a stairway in his home.”[4]

The lawyer, Mr. J. Howard McIsaac, stated in a letter to Charlie’s wife, Esther “…the important part of the autopsy report is Dr. Wright’s decision that Mr. Rehm’s death was caused by the injuries received in the fall and that the fall was a result of a spontaneous brain hemorrhage.”[5]

The autopsy was performed ten hours after the death, at 9:45 a.m. on Thursday, June 4, 1953.

Now, in the big picture of reality, we are actually only talking about a few minutes in the overall timing of his life through the years. 69 years, 2 months and 9 days, to be exact. So do those few minutes really matter? Is it a big deal? Is death a minor moment in one’s life?

Genealogists are taxed to weigh evidence, be open-minded and see both sides. Make no assumptions. We are supposed to question conflicts, examine evidence in depth and ensure that those very tiny details are not easily overlooked. Our goal is to determine a conclusion.

Charlie’s obituary stated that he “died suddenly last night after suffering a stroke at his home.” It did not mention when he fell down the stairs, nor details of the ambulance ride.

In fact, that fatal evening, Charlie could have been tired. He was alone. It was late at night. He may have slipped, causing his footing to give and he fell down the stairs and then due to the fall, had a stroke, or vice versa. He could have had a stroke first, causing him to fall. He could have died within minutes. Charlie could have died on 3 of June in 1953. We will never know. The truth remains unknown.

The official record: Charles W. Rehm died June 4, 1953.

The looming question remains:

Did Charles W. Rehm die on June 3 or did he die on June 4?

Details matter.

What date would you use?

Sources:

[1] New York State, Bureau of Vital Statistics, death record no. D3777 (1953), Charles W. Rehm, City of Albany.

[2] The Times Record, “Weather” 4 June 1953, p. 25, col. 1, image, Newspapers.com.

[3] American Heart Association, “History of CPR,” accessed 2 October 2017: http://cpr.heart.org/AHAECC/CPRAndECC/AboutCPRFirstAid/HistoryofCPR/UCM_475751_History-of-CPR.jsp

[4] Albany Medical College, Pathology Report, Autopsy no. CA-53-46, 17 August 1953, Charles W. Rehm, Department of Pathology, Albany, New York.

[5] Letter of Correspondence, J. Howard McIsaac to Esther Rehm, 1953, in possession of author.