Understanding Grampa's 1938 death certificate re cause

My grandpa died in 1938, well before I was born. I came across his death certificate, but I don’t understand it. Can you help put it in plain English?

Here’s what is says, to the best I can read it:

What likely happened here?

Not due to external cause (violence).

He was born in 1890 and was 48 at the time of death.

WAG–he died during cancer surgery.

Intestinal obstructions, combined with pulmonary embolism…if this were all a big joke on a cartoon show, he’d have died of constipation, straining on the john.

But in all seriousness it sounds intestinal in some way, at least.

Colostasis could be cholestasis, which means that bile cannot empty into the small intestine. This is a Very Bad Thing. Carcinoma is a type of cancer. He apparently had some form of intestinal obstruction, perhaps a malignant tumor. On Oct. 20th, he had surgery to remove it.

On October 31st, he threw a clot, which lodged in his lungs, deprived him of oxygen, and killed him. There’s a high likelihood that the clot originated at the surgical site or in his legs, forming there because he was less active due to the cancer and the surgery.

Just to add to what the others have said.

  1. “carcinoma recto…g…d [illegible to me]” is likely carcinoma of the rectosigmoid. That refers to a cancer in the area of the junction of the rectum and sigmoid colon (look here). (Note that colon = large intestine)

  2. “colostasis” is probably cholestasis which, in turn, refers to sluggish or absent flow of bile in and from the liver (often associated with yellow jaundice). Given the setting of cancer of the colon, the cholestasis here is very likely to have been due to metastases from the cancer to the liver (which is actually a very common site of spread of bowel cancer).

  3. Pulmonary embolism, again, as others have noted, means a blood clot in the lungs. In fact, “venous thromboembolism” (the medical term for that type of blood clots) is a fairly common complication of cancer. Somewhere around four or five percent of people with cancer develop clots (i.e. are diagnosed with them), but autopsy studies show a much higher rate (i.e. undiagnosed clots). Indeed, blood testing shows that essentially all people with cancer have some abnormal clotting going on.

Hope this helps.

Just to add to what Karl said - the proximate cause of death likely was carcinoma of the rectosigmoid colon, which predisposed to the formation of blood clots, and the immediate cause of death appears to have been pulmonary embolism.

This is very similar to how my little sister died.

She had a mass/tumor in her stomach that had attached itself to the lining of her stomach wall. It ripped free, causing a tear in her stomach and the blood clots like phouka said.
The blood clot travelled to her lung, causing the pulmonary embullism and her subsequent death.

The scary thing was that some friends were taking her out for her birthday. She had just been complaining of a stomach ache and decided to stay home. One of her housemates then found her in the bathroom and called the paramedics. She died before they could even get her down the stairs on the stretcher. This was all in the course of a few hours.

We had her funeral on her 33rd birthday - buried her in the vets memorial cemetary the next day - and on the third day was my birthday. It’s all very morbid.

Thanks for all your input. Fascinating.

I had heard that he possibly died in an oil well accident, as he was an oil man. This death certificate puts an end to that rumor.

Sorry melodyharmonius for your loss. That sounds horrible.

Well, it’s entirely possible that he fell or was injured in an oil well accident, and that was what caused the tumor to tear from the lining and resulted in the embullism - and the operation could have revealed that.

Thanks for your kind words - it was quite a shock for me - but I just focus on the happy stuff now. Our birthdays are in April though. So ask me again in a few weeks.

The spots on the death cert. are blank for accidents or other violence.

Back then, in many cases, the cause of death was chosen from anything plausible they could find wrong with the body, in order to hide something the family found embarrassing. My grandmother, for example, died in some mysterious fashion that the family won’t talk about. Death cert says pneumonia, but how she contracted pneumonia, and whether or not that was the actual immediate cause of death seems to involve something the family has been covering up for over 60 years, now. Many of her descendants in my generation have been trying to dig up the dirt for years, without success.