An old gag goes like this “I opened the door… and in flew Enza.” In 1957 an influenza pandemic struck. It flew in with a vengeance. A description follows from the web site WWW.Flu.gov.
“In February 1957, a new flu virus was identified in the Far East. Immunity to this strain was rare in people younger than 65. A pandemic was predicted. To prepare, health officials closely monitored flu outbreaks. Vaccine production began in late May 1957 and was available in limited supply by August 1957.
In the summer of 1957, the virus came to the United States quietly with a series of small outbreaks. When children returned to school in the fall, they spread the disease in classrooms and brought it home to their families. Infection rates peaked among school children, young adults, and pregnant women in October 1957. By December 1957, the worst seemed over.
However, another wave of illness came in January and February of 1958. This is an example of the potential “second wave” of infections that can happen during a pandemic.”
The flu came to Syracuse U. in the late fall of 1957. It was a very nasty disease and the Infirmary was full, almost overflowing.
Some cases that developed complications such as pneumonia or called for more complete care transferred to the Hospital of the Good Shepherd behind the Infirmary. I was in it myself maybe 2 times for X-rays, no treatment. The building appears severe and grim, the Gothic Revival style popular in mid 19th Century. I, and many others were re-assured that a good hospital was so close the University. The photo and data are from the Syracuse University Archives.
Materials:: Wood, with brick and stone additions
Renovated and Expanded: 1916 and 1918
Location: Marshall Street at University Avenue
Margery contracted the flu in Mid December after I had met her. We were not dating but did know each other. Look carefully at the Infirmary and you will notice a covered walkway to the right of the admitting building. The building to the far right is the women’s wing of the infirmary. The women’s wing was full at the time of which I write, with beds located in the walkway as a temporary measure. Marge occupied one of these beds.
I don’t remember how I learned that Marge contracted the flu. Perhaps someone who knew both of us passed this on to me. Men not part of the medical staff weren’t permitted in the women’s wing for obvious reasons. However, one of the nurses on duty allowed me to come in and spend a few minutes with Marge. I was thankful for the nurse bending the rules and told her so.
Marge did not look good at all, very ill really. She was one wan woman. The Angel of Death was not hovering, but the Angel of Feeling Really Bad was there. I blathered on about how sorry I was for her, hoped she got well soon, etc. When Marge got well enough for discharge she was physically exhausted. She was in no shape to attend classes, especially in December. I believe she went home for a week to recuperate. I thought I had a letter to her mom about this, but I can’t find it. However, this absence did not harm her grades for the semester. That was the good news.
My part of this story requires you to take the way-back machine to 1946. My parents rented a home on Main Street, Morrisonville, NY in 1939 just after its construction finished. The owner planned to move in himself when he retired in a few years. Mom and Dad knew this and the owner decided to retire in 1946. Dad then rented half of an older duplex on Church Street. How did it get that name? Because the Roman Catholic church was in the middle of it. The street ended about two lots down from us with a T intersection at Maple Street.
A teen-aged girl lived with her parents on the second house around the corner on Maple Street. Her name was Anne, though I can’t remember her last name at all. St. Anne is venerated by both the Orthodox and Catholic faiths. I am neither, though I do respect their theology. Since upper NY in the 30s was perhaps 85% Catholic, I believe Anne’s namesake may well have been St. Anne. Our parents used Anne as a baby sitter occasionally until we bought our own house in Dannemora, NY and moved there in 1949.
A new nurse came to work in the Infirmary in the middle of the 1957 semester. An other nurse introduced me to her informing me her name was Anne. Anne was now married, had two children, and credentials as a nurse. We didn’t recognize each other right away. You know how it is; you see someone who looks vaguely familiar but you can’t place him/her. It was like that with Anne and I. It was very pleasant re-connecting with someone from an earlier stage in life. We would chat briefly from time to time about what we were doing now, gossip from the old hometown, etc.
OK, that’s the back story. Now to my flu episode.
By January 1958 the flu had peaked and I did not contract it. I attributed this to working in the Infirmary with the place full of flu patients and figured this boosted my immunity to it. WRONG! I came down with the flu and it was truly horrible. I suffered from these symptoms: fever and chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle and body aches, and headaches. The fever, body and muscle aches, and headaches were the worst.
I cannot remember feeling so miserable even when I had pneumonia twice as a child. Penicillin was gradually available to civilians after the end of WWII. I would not have lived until my 10th birthday otherwise since I was very ill with pneumonia in the fall of 1946. Flu can develop into pneumonia and I was quite worried about this possibility.
Since I already lived in the Infirmary, the staff did not have to find room for me. The flu was viral and treatment was to rest, drink a lot of water, and regularly take the all-purpose APC pills for some pain relief. I lived in my bed in a sickly haze, staggering to the bathroom, and lurching back to my bed of pain. Poor me.
About half-way through my bout with the flu, unknown to me, Anne came on duty and asked where I was. One of the other nurses told her I had the flu and Anne could go up to see me if she wanted. I was in my bed, hurting and feeling sorry for myself and in comes Anne. A pleasant surprise. she said “Bobby, I heard you too came down with the flu. Turn down your sheet and I”ll give you an alcohol rub. It will make you feel better for a while.” (I hate the diminutive of Robert “Bobby” but anyone who knew me when I wore short pants knew me as that regardless of my age, and I accepted it.”)
I was only wearing my shorts, no hospital gown, so it was easy to pull the sheet down for the rub. It was wonderful!!! “Pack up my cares and woes” as the song goes. I had those in abundance and wished for them to disappear. Anne’s Tender Loving Care yielded results almost immediately. My bodily aches and pains were greatly reduced and the evaporating alcohol reduced my fever. My cares and woes were gone, I knew I would be OK in a day or so and I knew I was not coming down with pneumonia, which I feared. The total sensation was better than sex. Not of course that sex would be even a remote possibility. As I reminisce about that time, here was a woman who had looked after me when I was a child, had now taken the time to look after me again, albeit shortly, as I was an almost adult. That meant a lot emotionally. The alcohol evaporating and cooling me, the feel of a woman’s hands massaging my back, was soothing and sensual. Professional while still being caring. I treasure that memory yet, after almost 60 years.
I recovered enough to get dressed and walk around in a few days. I knew Anne’s back rub had a definite healing effect. We were having a thaw then, and I got dressed in a sport shirt, sweater and my corduroy suit. Yes, they were in fashion in 1957-58 for a casual but a bit dressy look. Mine was a very dark green color. I walked around the block, checked my car to find out if it still started and was OK, and returned to my room. This did tire me, so I rested, though I think went to one class in the afternoon.
After that, my schedule returned to the normal routine. I believe Marge’s did as well when she came back from her rest at home. We both survived the flu pandemic, started dating in February, and moved along in our life together for a very long time.