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The current flu epidemic is bad, but I don’t think people realize just how serious it can be if it decides to mutate into something even worse.
I am at a loss for words when people mention in conversation that they do not get flu shots for themselves, or their children, because they think the shots do not work, or will actually cause the flu.
In the interest of enlightening some of these folk I am sharing something my dad kept secret for his entire adult life.
Interestingly, most Americans who lived through this period of time would not talk of it either.
The following is a just a portion of a hand-written memoir my father left in an envelope to be read after his death. No family members were ever aware of the time he spent working in Boston Hospital during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. He was 12 years old.
Since so many of my fellow citizens, as well as members of my own family, refuse to take “the flu” seriously and get the readily available flu shot, I think it’s time for me to share my father’s story:
Early Memories of Carl F. Douse: 1906 – 1986
“1918 came and with it, the Spanish Influenza. I got the flu. Mom had to work, and as I was deathly sick, I went to the Boston City Hospital. In a short time I recovered, but the custody suit came up, and when the judge learned where I was, and the effort to kidnap me and the fact that mother couldn’t really take care of me and work too, he, the judge, ordered me to stay in the hospital as a ward of the court.
I was in the hospital nearly six months. All through the epidemic I had a small room, and, having recovered from the flu, I was immune, so I was put to work. My job was to push the gurneys to the basement where trucks would take the bodies to the island to be cremated or to designated mortuaries.
I would also have to check the bodies for identification. Name and number would be written on the stomach or thigh in indelible ink. Flu death was particularly hard. Eyes staring, facial muscles in grotesque position and fecal matter, etc., over them.
Every available space had a bed. Patients were everywhere, and nurses were very scarce. The wards were huge rooms, holding 200 to 300 people.
The heat was stifling. Air conditioning and refrigerators were not invented then. Ice was in short supply. Boston is unbearable in the summer. In the early morning the hallways were lined with those that died in the night. Nurses did not have time to close their eyes or anything else. They shoved them in the hall for me, and moved in a live one.
The moaning and groaning and the smell of ether was almost unbearable. I pushed the gurneys to the huge cargo elevator that was propelled by pulling ropes and got them to the basement where the trucks could take them to the island for cremation or to designated mortuaries.
I had troubles. A wheel would lock or I’d bump into a post and have an arm or leg out, or a whole naked body on the floor. A few peak days I carried over 100. In the big New York hospital they had over 300 a day. I figured I carried over 5,000 bodies to the basement.
The dead included old, young, men, women, babies, young men and pretty girls. As many people died of the flu as were killed in World War I. The flu disappeared as quickly as it had come, and there is still controversy over its origin.”