It’s flu season and don’t we know it.
News reports indicate as many as 4,000 Americans are dying of the flu each week. Rather large and colorful signs adorn the walls of my doctor’s office detailing the cautionary steps we should take to avoid the flu. Still, no one has to remind me to take influenza seriously. A 100-year-old story related to me by my grandmother is all the motivation I need to get my annual flu shot.
In the early 1990’s, I helped my grandmother write her memoirs. Her name was Anita McElhannon, but her family affectionately called her Dado. Born in 1897, she would eventually live until 2001, dying at the age of 103.
Listening to her tell stories of growing up in rural Georgia during the first half of the 20th century proved to be a fascinating, if not mesmerizing experience. It is still one of the highlights of my life to have helped her put into writing the most precious of all memories.
During one of her visits to my home, I took the opportunity to quiz her on why she named her six children Fayette, William (Bill), Hazel, Stewart, Walter, and Vera. It was during that discussion when I learned something of extraordinary significance………
She had almost died in 1918.
She gave birth to my Uncle Fayette in 1917 and was pregnant with my Uncle Bill the Fall of 1918. She later made an off-hand comment that her doctor was quite surprised she had survived the pregnancy. Responding to my question about the meaning of the doctor’s comment, she explained: “I caught the flu and my doctor told me I was the only pregnant woman in Winder that caught the flu and survived.”
There was something about how she said it that triggered a thought in my mind. I pondered her words. The flu. 1918. Could that have been the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918? That’s when I excused myself and did some research. Starting in France sometime in 1917, the Spanish Flu spread worldwide eventually killing 3% to 6% of the world’s population. Most of Europe was embroiled in World War I at the time and wartime censors limited news reports about the illness to maintain morale. Ironically, neutral Spain fully reported the impact of the flu resulting in it being tagged with its nickname, the Spanish Flu. Hitting the United States in the summer of 1918, this pandemic would kill 675,000 Americans over the following year. Many consider it the worst medical/health crisis in history.
This was the flu my grandmother caught. She survived and lived to give birth to five more children, one of whom was my father Stewart. I must say, hearing her recount that story was sobering.
This past weekend, our Pastor encouraged everyone to be careful and, for the next little while, suggested we replace hugs, kisses, and handshakes with smiles and a nod of the head. Our Doctor has encouraged similar behavior, adding that we should engage in good health habits like the frequent washing of the hands, covering our mouth when we cough and staying home if sick.
The current flu epidemic we are experiencing is not a pandemic and it certainly is not as deadly as the one a hundred years ago. Nevertheless, following recommended health habits is simply good common sense.
Consider this a public service announcement spurred on by a 100-year-old memory from 1918.
Besides, you might live long enough to one day share your life stories with your grandchildren.