In this week’s “Spreading the Word”, I share with you a very short but moving and heartfelt article that tells about the stories of nurses who helped the sick and the needy in Philadelphia a century ago – during the “great influenza pandemic of 1918”. It builds on the first-hand accounts of the nurses compiled by Rev. Francis E. Tourscher and published in several instalments in 1919. At the end of the article you can freely access the research behind it – full published accounts. While I was reading this article I saw some striking similarities to our current pandemic crisis. Sure, medicine, science and technology have all advanced since then. However, just have a look at these quotes from the article:
The immediate effect was to overwhelm the healthcare system. Makeshift hospitals were set up in gymnasiums and event halls—large gathering spaces that were no longer needed as the city’s social life shut down. What was really needed were more nurses, especially as medical workers themselves became ill.
What they found there in the wards, as other Sisters did around the city, were bodies in every bed and not enough hands or resources to care for them. At an emergency hospital at Broad Street and Snyder Avenue, a Sister related how new patients would have to wait in an office until someone died and a bed was free.
For Tourscher it was crucial to make such compilation of personal stories from real life while the memory of them was still fresh. He saw the risk of our forgetfulness:
We have little left now, beyond mere material statistics, and vague impressions drawn from “paper accounts” of the epidemic of cholera which visited Philadelphia in 1832. We know probably as much of the “Black Death” of 1348 in Europe or of the “Sweating Sickness” of 1529 in England as we do of the “Yellow Fever” which raged in our cities of the South, and threatened the North, in 1849 and again in 1854.
Link to the article: https://daily.jstor.org/surviving-a-pandemic-in-1918/
Keeping up the new “Spreading the Word” tradition, every Thursday I hope to share with you an article I’ve read or a video I’ve seen and considered it to be inspiring or enlightening. Especially now, during our increasingly uncertain times and growing social distancing, I feel it is important to take good care not just of our physical but also of our mental well-being. Humans have always turned to storytelling when everything else fails. My Thursdays’ “Spreading the Word” articles are an online version of sharing worthwhile stories.
keep exploring and storytelling!
One thought on “Spreading the Word: Heartfelt Stories of the Nurses from 1918 Influenza Pandemic”
Thank you for this post. It sounds cliched to say, but I think a historical understanding of epidemic response can be helpful. If nothing else, it gives us tools with which to pressure/encourage decision-making bodies; all too often they are first concerned with preserving the “normal” we take for granted.