Those terrible sick days |

Those terrible sick days

It was two weeks ago that my son Doug and I woke up feeling just plain terrible. Of course, the first thing we thought about was the flu, but we had our flu shots and neither of us had a fever. We spent the next three days slumped immobile on the sofa.

The two of us then spent a lot of time watching television wrapped up in blankets, our two puppies giving us “what in the world is wrong with you two?” and “when are you going to feed us, please?” I opened a lot of Coke bottles since liquids really helped. It was the blind leading the blind those few days. We were just glad we’d kept up with stocking the pantry with canned soup.

I don’t think I’ll ever again want a cup of chicken noodle soup, tea or dry toast. It was what we survived on all of that time. Just when I thought, “we had the flu,” a friend called. When we finished with our conversation I realized that we’d both had some kind of virus that had been going around town. It might have been something different, perhaps the virus that hit some schools recently?

When we’d received our annual flu shot last fall, I turned on my television at an odd hour. There was a documentary about the horrendous deadly flu epidemic of 1918. Not many people realize that more people died during that terrible time than during all of the wars fought in the last century. I remember my mother talking about what it was like to live through that epidemic.

She and her sister Ida were not allowed out of the house. They lived on 15th Street in Philadelphia, just one block off Broad Street, which is known as one of the longest, straightest streets in the country. It’s also one of the busiest in that city. During this time ambulances used 15th Street – the closest street to Broad Street – to wend their way to a very large hospital that was nearby.

Because Broad Street was paved with cobblestone then, causing a terrible bouncing motion as vehicles drove along, and due to the heavy traffic, 15th. Street was the preferred route. My mother often talked about hearing the clambering bell the ambulance used then as they passed her home. But most of all she remembered something that must have been very traumatic for those two young girls.

Horse drawn wagons would come down that narrow city street and stop. Men, their mouths covered with masks, would get out and go from house to house, enter without even knocking and bring out the dead Sometimes entire families had perished, leaving not a single living soul in the residence. When the wagon became too full, they’d leave and another would continue this grisly search.

My mother’s grandmother would go to the corner grocery when she absolutely had to, her mouth covered with one of those masks everybody was using. According to what we now know, these masks were useless. Since a virus caused that particular type of the flu, which no one understood viruses back then, a mask was as useless as trying to keep a mosquito out through a chain link fence.

Philadelphia was the hardest hit city on the East Coast in that influenza epidemic. According to history, it all started somewhere in Kansas and spread worldwide, especially by the soldiers who were shipped overseas during WWI. Military hospitals here and abroad were inundated with the sick that died by the thousands. Now we’ve come a long way since my mother’s day, and mine for that matter.

I also remember how it was when my school was closed due to the polio epidemic. My sister and I weren’t allowed out of the house. When school reopened, many classmates were missing, others returned using canes and crutches. It was because of this that Franklin D. Roosevelt began the March of Dimes to fight this dreaded disease, now almost extinct.

While scientists and doctors have found ways to handle some terrible diseases; like smallpox, chickenpox measles, influenza, polio and others, the fight continues to find a cure for others like cancer, AIDS and heart disease. .

We’ve made wonderful strides in the fight against diseases. I keep thinking about what my mother thought while watching the dead being taken from their homes.

When it comes my turn to get a flu shot, I really don’t mind a bit.

Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer and columnist. She may be reached at