Tuesday, March 10, 2009

1918 Influenza Pandemic

It's alright to learn about historical events from lecture, text books, etc, but sometimes I feel like it's more interesting to learn about it from people who lived through it. While I don't know anyone personally who lived through the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 (they'd have to be in their 90s at least!), I found a letter written by a physician who worked with soldiers in Massachusetts. He talks about the conditions in the "wards"...

The normal number of resident Drs. here is about 25 and that has been increased to over 250... We have lost an outrageous number of Nurses and Drs., and the little town of Ayer is a sight. It takes Special trains to carry away the dead. For several days there were no coffins and the bodies piled up something fierce, we used to go down to the morgue (which is just back of my ward) and look at the boys laid out in long rows...

Each man here gets a ward with about 150 beds, (Mine has 168)... I have only four day nurses and five night nurses (female) a ward-master, and four orderlies.

He also talks about the symptoms they see when they treat the infected soldiers.

These men start with what appears to be an ordinary attack of LaGrippe or Influenza, and when brought to the Hosp. they very rapidly develop the most viscous type of Pneumonia that has ever been seen... It is only a matter of a few hours then until death comes, and it is simply a struggle for air until they suffocate

2 comments:

Elise Bell said...

My grandfather was born in 1914, and my mom remembers him telling her about the flu pandemic. He said that he remembered people coming around every day to collect the dead bodies from each house. I think he also said that seeing the flu pandemic was a big part of what led him to become a doctor.

Rachel Jones said...

Wow, that's really interesting. I wish I could ask my grandparents about it, but they were both born in the mid-late 20s.