Pandemic Overload (1918) – WIF Medicine

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Facts About

the Spanish Flu

Pandemic 1918

A Little Perspective

Spanish flu, the deadliest pandemic of the 20th century, struck the world in a series of waves, and left between 50 and 100 million people dead in its wake. It may have appeared in the trenches of World War I in Europe as early as 1916, according to some researchers. It first appeared in the United States in the spring of 1918. Numerous contending theories of its source of origin continue to be debated. Some say it began in the United States, some say in Europe, and still others argue it originated in Asia. There is no debate over its impact, though, with one-third of the world’s population contracting the disease during its peak in 1918-19. It continued to appear well into 1920, though with significantly less impact.

Differing from other forms of influenza, the virus had a significant impact on young, otherwise healthy adults, who usually had stronger immune systems. It struck the wealthy and the poor. Franklin Delano Roosevelt contracted the illness. The King of Spain nearly died of it. A young nurse in Toronto, Amelia Earhart, contracted the disease, which damaged her sinuses to the point surgery was required. The scars left her with sinus problems for the rest of her life. In the United States, 675,000 Americans died from the flu, most of them during the deadly second wave in 1918. That year American average life expectancy dropped by 12 years as a result of the flu. Here are 10 facts about the Spanish flu pandemic at the end of the First World War…

10. Nobody knows for certain where it originated

While there is some disagreement among scholars over the place of origin, the consensus is that Spanish flu did not originate in Spain. When the pandemic spread rapidly across Europe in 1918, wartime censorship conditions affected most news reports. Censorship did not apply to neutral Spain. News reports of the flu’s virulence there appeared in newspapers and magazines, with references to “this Spanish flu.” The name stuck. Reports of the disease in Spain increased substantially when King Alphonso XIII contracted the flu in the spring of 1918. Ironically, as reports of the King’s illness and being near death for several days increased references to the Spanish flu in Western newspapers, the Spanish referred to the disease as the French flu.

Since the pandemic (and in part during it), China, Great Britain, the United States, and France, as well as Russia, have all been suggested as the disease’s starting point. The first case in the United States appeared in March 1918, at a Kansas army post. More recently, researchers identified potential cases as early as 1916, at army receiving and marshaling stations in France. Another earlier outbreak occurred at a British Army base in Aldershot in the early spring of 1917. The UK staging camp at Etapes, in northern France, saw 100,000 troops go through daily, either returning from the front or on their way to it, in densely crowded conditions. Hundreds exhibited symptoms of the pandemic flu during the spring and fall of 1917, a fact later identified by army pathologists.

9. More American soldiers died of Spanish flu than in combat during World War One

Americans were stunned at the casualties suffered by their troops during the First World War, though in comparison to the European combatants they were low. Mobilization placed 4.7 million American men in uniform. Of those, about 320,000 became ill and recovered, or suffered wounds in combat from which they survived. 116,516 American troops and sailors died during the war. Combat deaths totaled 53,402. The rest — 63,114 — died of disease, with most of the deaths occurring from the Spanish flu in the camps in the United States, in Europe, and in ships bound for Europe. Once such ship was a former German liner. In 1917 the United States converted the German steamship Vaterland, interned in New York, into a troopship, renamed USS Leviathan.

On September 29, 1918, Leviathan departed New York for the French port of Brest, carrying 9,000 American doughboys, and a crew of 2,000 sailors (one of the sailors was a young New Yorker named Humphrey Bogart). Spanish flu appeared in the ship during the crossing. When Leviathan arrived at Brest it carried 2,000 men already diagnosed with the Spanish flu, which wreaked havoc in the crowded conditions aboard, and overwhelmed the ship’s medical facilities and personnel. 80 men died during the crossing, many more after landing ashore in France, during the height of the pandemic. A similar outbreak occurred on the ship’s return voyage to the United States.

8. It affected the Treaty of Versailles

The combat during World War One came to an end via an armistice, which began at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of November, the 11th month of the year, 1918. Many issues of the war remained unresolved. The leaders of the Allied nations agreed to meet in Paris in early 1919 to discuss the issues facing Europe. Woodrow Wilson, then President of the United States, went to Europe to join the discussions, present his famous 14 Points, and to argue for the establishment of the League of Nations. He favored more lenient terms for Germany than those proposed by the leaders of France, Italy, and Great Britain. Wilson intended to use American prestige to obtain less punitive measures against the Germans, especially in the form of reparations.

During the negotiations for the treaty, which took place in Paris rather than the Palace of Versailles for which it was named, Wilson came down with the Spanish flu. Several members of his entourage suffered through the flu during the voyage to France. Wilson’s illness was covered up, though he became severely ill in Paris, unable to attend multiple sessions of the negotiations. His physician, Navy Admiral Cary Grayson, wrote of the President as “violently sick.” When Wilson did partially recover and returned to the negotiations, several participants wrote of his lack of attention, fatigue, and listlessness. He failed to ease the reparations imposed by the Allies on the Germans, and the resulting Treaty of Versailles created conditions in Germany that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the war which followed the War to End All Wars.

7. The federal government did little regarding the flu’s impact

In the United States, the federal government did relatively little to combat the Spanish flu, other than issue advisories telling Americans of the dangers presented by the illness. Congress adjourned in the fall of 1918, with the second wave of the pandemic at its peak. The Supreme Court did the same. The United States Public Health Service, then an agency within the Department of the Treasury, issued posters warning against spitting on sidewalks. It also advised workers to walk to work, which seems strange to modern eyes, until one considers that most commuting at the time involved streetcars or railroads. It also warned Americans to avoid becoming over-fatigued.

Before Woodrow Wilson went to Europe, Edith (the President’s wife) sent 1,000 roses to young women serving in the war effort in the District of Columbia, who were sickened by the flu. That was about the extent of the federal effort. Battling the effects of the pandemic, the lost work hours, burying the dead, and combating the spread of the disease was left in the hands of local governments, which responded in varying ways across the country. Some imposed severe restrictions on movement, crowds, and schools, easing them as the pandemic passed through their communities. Others continued to promote large gatherings to support Liberty Bond drives, including a parade in Philadelphia after which thousands died in the city from the rapid spread of influenza which ensued.

6. Some cities made wearing masks mandatory, with criminal penalties

The first wave of Spanish flu in America occurred in the spring of 1918. Compared to what came in the second wave it was mild. The second wave came in September 1918, in the Eastern cities, and gradually moved westward. San Francisco escaped the first wave, and its Chief of the Board of Health, Dr. William Hassler, assured citizens of the city the second wave would not affect them. On September 24, a recent arrival from Chicago became ill with the flu. By mid-October over 4,000 cases were in the city. That month the city passed an ordinance making the wearing of gauze masks mandatory, with Hassler touting them as 99% effective in stopping the spread of the flu between persons.

In truth, the masks were likely of little benefit, and on November 21, 1918,  the city rescinded the order to wear them. Several other cities issued similar orders, with varying degrees of punishments for violators. In San Francisco, violators went to jail. The city suffered 2,122 deaths during the lethal second wave. The third wave struck in December, and lasted through the winter, raising the death toll in San Francisco to over 3,500 out of a population of about half a million. Nearby Oakland was similarly hit. Oakland also enacted an ordinance requiring masks, virulently opposed by the city’s tobacco store owners. One such owner designed a mask with a flap over the mouth, allowing smokers to enjoy their cigars, cigarettes, and pipes while remaining in compliance with the law.

5. The 1918 baseball season was shortened, though not because of the flu

Major League Baseball shortened its season in 1918 in response to the American war effort. The last game of the regular season was played on September 2, 1918. Teams played just over 120 games that year. When the season ended, the second wave of Spanish flu was underway on the East coast. The league champions, the Boston Red Sox of the American League and the National League’s Chicago Cubs, met in the World Series. Public health officials in both cities argued against playing the World Series due to the crowds gathering during the course of an epidemic, but baseball went ahead. Boston’s only concession to the flu came in an agreement to play in Fenway Park, rather than in the larger Braves Field, where they had played in the preceding World Series.

During the World Series a young Red Sox pitcher started two games, winning both, despite suffering from the flu at the time. He started in the outfield in the other four games. His name was George Herman Ruth. Throughout the games he lay down between innings, weakened by the fever and body aches symptomatic of the flu. Some of his teammates assumed Ruth was simply suffering from a bad hangover, a common problem of ballplayers of the day. But throughout the series, Ruth was notably absent between games, even spending time on the train to Chicago in his sleeper, rather than consorting with teammates. The Red Sox won the series four games to two. It was the only World Series in history played entirely in September. That winter, Ruth was sent to the Yankees.

4. Franklin Roosevelt contracted the flu while returning from France

Franklin Delano Roosevelt served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Wilson Administration, and in that capacity went to Europe in 1918. His mission included the coordination of naval activities against the German U-boat threat, and arranging for convoying and port facilities used by US Navy ships. In September 1918 he returned to the United States aboard USS Leviathan. Upon arrival FDR was carried off the ship on a stretcher, having contracted the flu either in France or, what is more likely, aboard the ship. Leviathan’s crew had been exposed to and ravaged by the flu on several voyages. FDR returned to the United States deathly ill, and required several weeks convalescence at his family’s Hyde Park home before resuming his duties.

FDR’s illness and its severity are often overlooked, largely because of his being later stricken with polio, which left his legs paralyzed. His flu is often described as a mild illness, though he left Leviathan with double pneumonia, high fever, and debilitating weakness. His distant cousin, former President Teddy Roosevelt, who had encouraged him to go to Europe, wrote him during his convalescence. “We are deeply concerned about your sickness, and trust you will soon be well,” wrote the former President, adding that, “We are very proud of you.” Had FDR not survived the flu, which killed so many Americans who went to Europe in 1918, the remainder of the 20th century would have been very different indeed.

3. The flu’s second wave was its deadliest by far

The second wave of influenza in 1918 swept across Western Europe and the United States from September through the end of the year and into January. It was the deadliest of the three main waves of the pandemic. In Philadelphia, America’s hardest hit city, about 16,000 died after city leaders refused to cancel a parade scheduled to promote the sale of Liberty Bonds. Cincinnati closed schools and businesses, shut down streetcars, and ordered the wearing of masks. For a time it closed all restaurants, though it allowed saloons to remain open. At one point in November, believing the worst to have passed, the city reopened businesses and schools. Within days the death rate skyrocketed, forcing the city to shut down again. Over 1,700 Cincinnatians succumbed to the flu in the fall of 1918.

Sailors at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center brought the flu to Chicago. In September Chicago’s Health Commissioner announced the flu was under control. At the end of the month there were fewer than 300 cases reported in the city. By mid-October the city reported 1,200 new cases per day. Chicago shut down schools, businesses, banned public gatherings, closed parks, and requested for churches to curtail services. Chicago reported over 38,000 cases of influenza, and 13,000 cases of pneumonia attributed to the flu, before restrictions were lifted in mid-November. One restriction imposed, vigorously opposed by conservative newspapers and businesses, had been the banning of smoking on streetcars and elevated trains. The Chicago Tribune opposed the ban and referred to the Health Commissioner who imposed it as “his highness.”

2. Authorities in Philadelphia announced the flu was no worse than seasonal flu and held a parade to sell war bonds

In mid-September 1918, influenza was present in all the major Eastern cities of the United States, with Boston suffering the highest number of cases. Philadelphia had seen some cases of the flu, though health officials in the city regarded it lightly. The city’s Health Commissioner, Wilmer Krusen, a political appointee, ignored the pleas of doctors and public health experts to ban large public gatherings. Krusen announced the flu was no worse than any seasonal flu, despite the evidence presented by other cities. The Health Commissioner warned the people of Philadelphia to be careful, covering their faces when they coughed or sneezed, and allowed the city’s scheduled Liberty Bonds parade to take place on September 28, a patriotic spectacle attended by an estimated 200,000 people.

By the middle of November, over 12,000 Philadelphians had died of influenza. The city’s morgue, designed to hold 36 bodies, was obviously overwhelmed, and bodies were stored in the city wherever space was found. A streetcar manufacturing company was hired to build simple wooden boxes to serve as coffins. In the tenements, whole families were stricken and died, undiscovered for weeks. Only three days after the parade, every hospital bed in the city was filled. Over 500,000 cases of the highly contagious flu struck Philadelphia before the end of the year. The final death count was over 16,000. In contrast to Philadelphia, the city of Milwaukee, which imposed the most stringent social distancing laws in the nation, also saw the lowest death rate of any city in the United States.

1. One-third of the world’s population contracted the flu during the pandemic

The 1918-20 influenza pandemic, the worst of the 20th century, caused at least 50 million deaths, and probably as many as 100 million across the globe. In remote Tahiti, 10% of the population died. In British ruled India more than 13 million citizens died, with some estimates ranging up to 17 million. German Samoa lost 22% of its population. American Samoa imposed a blockade, and escaped the pandemic unscathed. Brazil’s 300,000 dead included its President, Rodrigues Alves. In the United States over a quarter of the population contracted the flu during one of its several waves. Official death counts usually cite 675,000 American deaths, though some estimates include deaths on Indian Reservations and in Alaskan communities, and elevate the count to 850,000.

Bacterial pneumonia, a complication brought on by the flu, served as the primary killer. When the flu returned for its third wave in the late winter and early spring of 1919, rates of death were comparatively low. Sporadic outbreaks continued in the fall of 1919 and the winter of 1919-20. As the 1920s began the pandemic faded from memory, and remained largely forgotten until the coronavirus pandemic restored it to public attention. All the weapons used to control the spread of coronavirus — distancing, closing of schools, banning large crowds and gatherings, shutting down businesses, and others — were deployed against the Spanish flu. History shows that those communities which deployed them most stringently, throughout the first and second waves, were most successful saving lives.


Flu Pandemic Song – The Flying Fish Sailors


Pandemic Overload 1918

WIF Medicine

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #219

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #219

…George Eastman, the inventor of the Kodak camera, a captain of  industry, reduces himself to nursemaid, helping his brother-in-law cling to life…

captains of industry

 “That damned flu hit him from out of nowhere. I found him in bed, after the magazine called me wondering if I had seen him,”  George Eastman recalls the events.

  “And I was across the country, oh what kind of wife can I be!?” She is distraught. “Why didn’t he let us know he was coming home? I would not have gone away in the first place.”

 “He is upstairs. The hospitals are full. Here, put this on, we don’t need anyone else sick.” He hands her a mask.

 “Is it that bad? I mean if the hospitals are full, that would be thousands.”

“Didn’t you read the papers in California?” George asks like she came from another planet.

“No, had no time, just heard talk of us winning some big battles in Europe.”

11,000 are dead in Philadelphia alone.”

 She hangs her head. “That is why the streets are deserted isn’t it?”

“People are afraid to talk to anybody. And poor Harv, he was shaken badly when he came home, only ten men survived on the Navy ship he crossed the ocean in. He was putting together a story when it got him.”

“Oh, my God – I want to see him,” she rushes to his side.

“You may not recognize him, lost a lot of weight, and he sleeps all day, it’s all I can do to get him to take in fluids, but I think he’s getting a little better.” George Eastman, the inventor of the Kodak camera, a captain of the photographic industry, reduces himself to nursemaid, helping his brother-in-law cling to life. “The good news is that he has made it past the first day. Most people who die go fast, mostly younger too.”

“He’s got a strong heart… oh, Harv I am so sorry I wasn’t here for you, can you ever forgive me?” She kneels beside their bed, sobbing, not expecting an answer.

“Do you think I would die without being able to ask my partner why she abandoned our magazine, to be a movie star no less?” Harv Pearson’s speech is slow, but lucid.

“I can’t hug you, you rascal, but when I can, look out.” She looks back at George, mouthing a hearty, ‘thank you’.

MeanwhileThe Spanish influenza leaves as quickly as it had struck, erasing thirty million lives along the way, in time to allow dancing in the streets when the Armistice is signed and the Great War ends on November 11th.

  The balance of power has shifted… for now.


Alpha Omega M.D.

Colorized photo shows the German delegation, as they arrive to sign the Armistice provisionally ending World War One, in a train dining car outside Compiegne, France. (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty)

Episode #219


page 204 (end ch. 11)

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #213

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #213

… “It would be a good idea to confine everyone to their deck, to keep mixing to a minimum,” Harv suggests…

Pandemic

Writer/director JOHN DRYDEN

As Harv and the ship commander chat, the subject turns from boats sinking, to young men dying.

“What do you think about some medical experts’ assertion that troop and transport ships are to blame for the outbreak of Spanish influenza?”

American Troops Embarking, Southampton, 1918 by Sir John Lavery

“What do I think? As far as I can see, we are damned if we do or damned if we don’t. If we don’t have a million American troops at Argonne, we are not going home right now.” Admiral Sims speaks about an enemy more invisible than the submarine. “I would avoid interviewing the crew. Keep your distance if you do.”

“Good advice. I hear that IT is killing one person a day onboard. That’s pretty scary.”

“We have twenty sailors in sick bay as we speak. I’m told they are bad off.” He takes off his cap, running his hands through his graying hair. “And we are only one day out to sea.”

“It would be a good idea to confine everyone to their deck, to keep mixing to a minimum,” Harv suggests.

“Did you hear that crewman?” he speaks to the helmsman. “Make an announcement over the loudspeaker. Everyone is to be confined to their deck and avoid physical contact with each other. And tell them not to cough!

“We will figure what to do about the mess hall later. Do you have an idea on how to handle the mess hall, to feed 200 men, scattered all over this boat?”

All suggestions would be welcomed.

“Are there any crewmen who have successfully recovered from the influenza?”

“Two, I believe, but I don’t think they want to get sick again.”

“That is the idea. They can’t.” Rear Admiral Sims looks at Harv like he has lost his mind. “No really, we did an article on disease specialists and one of the things they were working on was figuring out, why once a parson has contracted an illness that they seem to be immune from getting sick from that same disease.”

“I see, so they can mingle with the crew!” He gets it. “You would make a great officer, Pearson.”

“I am a little too old to join the Navy.”

“That may be true, but I lost my First Officer to the sickness and I am hereby appointing you second in command.”

“I’m not very fond of uniforms… no offense intended.”

“Since we are going to spend the next eight days on the bridge, I am going to need your help, if you are wearing a uniform or not.”


Alpha Omega M.D.

Influenza WWI

Episode #213


page 200

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #212

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #212

…Battles will continue to be fought and armistices forged, but Harv has had his fill, saying his goodbyes at his P-E J Paris office…

“The Last Victory” by Roy Grinnell.

far from the glamour of the movies, Harv Pearson has witnessed the wonder of America’s contribution to the Great War, Col. Billy Mitchell in particular. On one day in late September, watching from the ground, he sees the sky above is filled with allied Related imageairplanes, spanning the horizon and headed for Saint Mihiel. They will total 1400 or more, he learns from Mitchell and quite a sight to see at that.

The sound of all those rotary engines will forever echo in the recesses of his mind. War produces sights and sounds that no peacetime event can and places a stamp on the human souls therein.

It also helps when you are on the winning side and thanks to American contributions, i.e. the air war, submarine warfare and fierce ground assaults. An end to the Great War can be seen.

Rear Admiral William S. Sims

Battles will continue to be fought and armistices forged, but Harv has had his fill, saying his goodbyes at his P-E J Paris office, leaving a skeleton staff to tie up the many loose ends. Personally, he is thankful that they had not lost any of his rotating reporters to the war, which is not the case for other news organizations. In fact, they are the only journalistic presence not to lose a correspondent.

For his last assignment, Harv is going to go back to the U.S. on a convoy ship, under the command of Rear Admiral William S. Sims. Sims has been at it for longer than most anyone, coordinating the transport of war materials, then troops since back in ‘15. He too is making his final voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

Historical Image

USS Chesapeake Bay (DD61)

He has a wealth of stories to tell, many of them end with the sinking of one of many defenseless civilian ships. Until the Navy was allowed to convoy, a safety net surrounding as many as 10 supply ships, millions of metric tons is lost to U-boats… and the bottom of the ocean.

Were there an American naval presence around the English Channel, John Ferrell may be preparing to become the father-of-the-bride for Maggie Lou.

“How many ships have you been on that have been struck by a torpedo?” asks Harv after they have been under way for a day.

“8 too many, Mr. Pearson,” he relates with a stare straight ahead; he refuses to think about what is below the waterline of his boat, leaving that vigilant task to his around-the-clock submarine spotters. “If a cat has nine lives, I don’t want to use up that last one”

“It helps that we are traveling on a destroyer, does it not?” Harv is looking for reassurance, wanting to avoid John Ferrell’s fate at all cost. He had a bird’s eye view then and that impression haunt him long after the last shot of this horrible war is fired.

“Well yes, 5 of the boats I was aboard that got hit were civilian and before 1917. I guess the odds eventually even out.”


Alpha Omega M.D.

Episode #212


page 199

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #208

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #208

…the war will be killin’ two ways; if a bullet don’t get ya, the flu will…

During a day of work in early September at Florida A&M Hospital, an institution that he has helped to grow, from modest beginnings to respectability, A.O. attends a staff meeting concerning the sudden outbreak of influenza. Miss Virginia Hilyer supervises a stable of promising young doctors at this mostly black college facility and she is determined to get a handle on the cause of this spreading calamity, utilizing research labs to isolate what they think is an offending bacteria.

She says there is reason for alarm. Not only is this strain deadly, but it kills in a single day, taking down those considered the strongest, vital men and women in their 20’s. It has migrated out of the Orient, as do most flues, making a devastating stopover in Spain, leaving but a small percentage of its population untouched, before making port at Boston in late August. It seems that the increased coming and goings across the Big Pond, with the war as the cause, has provided the disease a virulent conduit… and it is spreading like a wildfire in the jack pine forests native to the Florida panhandle; tinder dry underbrush feeding sappy needles, fanned by Gulf breezes.

“We are seein’ our first cases already and I’m not takin’ any chances. We are closing off the top floor. It will serve as an isolation ward for the whole county. I lost my mother to the plague in 1914 and I won’t be repeating New Orleans’ arrogant mistakes!” Miss Jennie, as she is known, is also on staff as one of the top career nurses in the nation, dedicated to the care of others, even to the expense of her own personal life.

       No better example for a young physician than she; listen, attend, heal are her watchwords. And do not think that any of these qualities is lost on A.O. Campbell, who grew up watching the sternly skilled hands of Doc Ziggy work minor wonders, forever laced with compassion and kindness.

          Before the sun can reach its zenith and much to Campbell’s dismay, two of the first admissions to the isolation ward are familiar to him, one ill leading the other for care. His mother-in-law and his mentor look as though they’ve been to hell and back, sweating bullets on a cool-ish late summer day.

“I’ll be caring for them, Miss Jennie—my kinfolk and such—that’s if you don’t mind?”

There is gravity to the request. “You may have to stay with them until it’s over,” she informs him, as they are led to the electric elevator, too delirious to recognize A.O.

“I’ll have them good as new in a day or so,” he thinks.

“I don’t think you understand. Them means all of them, two or two thousand. Once you are exposed, we can’t have you infecting the rest of Leon County.”

He hesitates for a moment, staring the subtle hazards of epidemic straight in the eye. It is staring back at him.

  “Would you please go to my house and tell my Maggie that her mother and Ziggy are here and I’ll be caring for them… and anyone else who is struck down.” He has made up his mind. “Tell her not to go out of the house with the baby.”

“That is sound advice Doctor Campbell, somethin’ the whole world should do, but I have a feelin’ the war will be killin’ two ways; if a bullet don’t get ya, the flu will.


Alpha Omega M.D.

Self Portrait With Spanish Flu 1919 by Edvard Munch

Episode #208


page 195

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #199

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #199

…The day I penned a letter to my dearest John Ferrell, it was the first time I had experienced the helplessness of the war,..

“I am so inspired by John’s kindness that I myself feel twinges of guilt. I see the suffering, yet continue on with my flights of fancy.”

Escapism Artist Unknown

Escapism artist Unknown

“You cannot think that, Sir James… oh yes, Matthew. If not for you and others, who write of things no one else dare have will to ponder, society would go mad with reality. Time in the theaters is one of their few escapes. If one does not let the child in us out, it dies, leaving a hardened heart.”

“So well put, Judith, I would guess that it is you who writes the words.”

“And I take the pretty good pictures,” Harv jokingly injects.

“Please forgive me, Mister Pearson, my intentions are innocent. I suppose I react too favorably to having my pride stroked by careful hands, but I feel comforted, personal vindication, you see. The day I penned a letter to my dearest John Ferrell, it was the first time I had experienced the helplessness of the war, where position and influence are thrown out the window like yesterday’s table scraps, to be fought over like the starving dogs.”

J.M. Barrie relates a tale his wife likes to tell, “My Matthew had been smitten with disease of the lungs and there were no doctors who had medicine to treat him. Then, while traveling to London, as I do regularly, I was accosted by a gang of hopeless human beings, lusting after whatever they might relieve me of.” He grabs a straight wooden stick, with a persimmon block at the bottom from beside his chair. “It was my brassie that saved me from dreadful harm!”

He tells the story often, so frequently that his wife has her line well rehearsed, “And that is the only good use for those miserable clubs that I can see.”

As in the days preceding the assault on Verdun, no one can count on prolonged periods of peace. John Ferrell receives word that his ship is leaving a day early, with worries about increased submarine activity, even to the coast of Scotland. “Damned scavengers!” They bring a premature end to the time of his life, a month of riches he will carry forth to eternity.

  “Do not let them spoil these days, John Ferrell. Hold them fast, like the smell of heather in the Highlands; until we meet in a more peaceful place.” Long soulful hugs and hopes for tomorrow.

“We will be going, as well,” Harv decides. Their launch awaits a trip to Brest, plus there is strength in numbers. They will negotiate North Sea waters and head to the cargo ship, which is loaded with whatever export goods the Scots can muster.


Alpha Omega M.D.

Haar on the Forth by Alan Reed

Episode #199


page 186

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #196

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #196

…Well, I’ll be. John Ferrell is a Scot – He must have chartered a ship with goods for his people. Now that takes guts!…

“Cargo Ship” by Lia Aminov

There is a message for you,” finally an American uniformed voice, with a Texas twist, “a John Ferrell looking for the magazine people. You guys are well known in these parts, with a German hit squad on your trail and all.”

“Sure, they don’t want the U.S. in the war, cowards that they are. If you don’t want to wake up the watchdog, don’t pull on his tail.” Judith’s tail was tugged the first time she saw a soldier die in person.

“Let me see that.” Harv wonders what has prompted the merchant of Tallahassee to make such a convoluted effort at communication; The Merchant of Venice would be more likely.

The yellow paper reads: looking for pearson-eastman  stop  arrived scotland 10 feb stop relief supplies to perth   stop  would like to meet you there   stop   leaving for home 10 march  stop  will check dundee for reply   stop   john ferrell  stop

Well, I’ll be. John Ferrell is a Scot… isn’t he, sure? He must have chartered a ship with goods for his people. Now that takes guts! Never would have guessed.”

“What a way to top off our story: ‘Private American-Scot shares his bounties with war-torn countrymen’.”

“Good title,” Harv affirms. “I have had enough of bombing to last me the rest of my days. Time for a heartwarming story, Lieutenant, please wire this message to Dundee, Scotland,” he hands a short note to the communications advisor, “and if you could ring Bologna. We have a launch ready to cross the channel.”

   “Got some mean “fish” in those waters, sir, but I guess they won’t waste a torpedo on a launch. Good luck.”

Unfortunately, the North Sea turns nasty once they make it to England, freeing up a few days to experience a few nights of German air raids on London. “How do people get sleep around here? Work the mills by day, then you are rewarded with a 2 ton serenade by night… in a bomb shelter at that.” Judith has had it with war; the sights, the smells, the sounds.

“The winds are dying down to the north; the launch owner believes we can slip up the coast in the morning. Two days with Ferrell in Scotland and we are back on the Oscar, steaming for New York.”

“That sounds wonderful! I miss Rochester, I miss the office, I miss George, I miss our bed, I miss food meant for humans.”

“If you don’t get packed, we’ll miss our b-b-boat-t-t.” A b-b-bomb explodes above them, the latest near miss in a long line of disconcerting disturbances. You may never see seven people move so fast as this again.


Alpha Omega M.D.

Episode #196


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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #193

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #193

…Martha Ferrell is letting her true feelings surface for the first time…

Preparing For Thanksgiving by Doris Lee

John ponders Scotish aid.

‘I wonder if he wants to go see where his family has its roots.’ She knows John is eager, knee-deep in his new project, but a look that would stop a charging bull in its tracks, halts his notion there and then. ‘No, I suppose he has better things to do… busy, busy, busy, always something,’

 Thanksgiving is the next day.

“And please do not spoil Thanksgiving dinner with too much talk of Scotland. It will be difficult enough dealing with the extra guests.” She is in the kitchen, preparing to prepare enough food to feed the Third Scottish Regiment, with Agnes’ help… as soon as she wakes up.

“Ziggy is old and alone.” John insists.

“He is not the problem. Neither is his friend, Doctor Alpha. It is who will be with them.”

Truth-001“Laura Bell and Maggie – I thought we buried that resentment years ago?”

“We buried? No, I have learned to forgive your adultery, but I may never understand your complete devotion to that child, I mean we could have paid Laura off and sent them away. Instead, they live across the lake and you spend as much time with them as you do me.”Martha is letting her true feelings surface for the first time.

There is the welcome sound of footsteps coming down from upstairs, much to John’s relief. “Agnes, darling, you’re up early, good, your mother needs help peeling the vegetables, I am going to stoke the stove. Let’s make this the best Thanksgiving ever!”John heads for the woodshed for enough fuel to cook six separate dishes and a 25 pound turkey.

“Daddy is unusually lively this morning, Mother. Did we put too much starch in his underwear again?”

“I will let him tell you himself, but suffice it to say he has a new project to work on, something to do with the war in Europe.”

“How exciting! Do you think I could help?” Agnes could use a little spice in her life as well.

“No, I mean yes, no I mean maybe.” It is hard for her to be clear, without appearing to oppose the one man whom Agnes overtly adores. “We will discuss this after dinner, when the guests leave.”


Alpha Omega M.D.

MimiEunice_60

Mimi & Eunice by Nina Paley

Episode #193


page 181

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #192

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #192

…The Lord asks us to share our brothers’ burden. I need to take up the cause, stand shoulder to shoulder with my kinsmen,…

“What does your cousin say?” asks Martha Ferrell of her husband John, who reads a letter from Scotland intensely. It is dated 22 March, 1915, received the day before Thanksgiving same year.

“Oh, Martha, they’re suffering great hardship. Nearly everything is rationed, living off their potato plot, they are. Most of the grain they grow goes to the cattle; the rest must be submitted to the war effort.” As he reads Sir James M. Barrie’s tale of woe, waves of guilt wash against his spirit, remembering the happy days of his youth, playing with James. John’s own son is named after his relative left behind, after the Ferrells abandoned the  Isle clan for a new life in Florida. “He fears his son, Matthew, will be drafted into the British Army, though a recent bout of consumption may disqualify him from battle.

“‘How ironic; spared the horrors of war by a disabling disease.’”

 “Those are his very words, aren’t they?”  She recognizes the work of a writer, albeit far from his wispy ‘Peter Pan’. “I so love his letters, every one a masterpiece unto itself.”

  “I’ve been praying about the plight of our people. We are so blessed by the lord, insulated from adversity, bounties beyond deserving. I ask myself, ‘what can I do to support my homeland an ocean away?’ My answer is never the same.”

Scotland      “What if we take a collection of goods, you know, foodstuffs, clothing, anything the Panhandle can offer that will help them survive hostilities.”

“Yes, yes, and we can hire a ship out of Panama City to carry them to Perth. How I would love to see old James again!”

It was a splendid idea until mention of him going home to the Central Lowlands enters in the back door. “Must you go to Scotland? Why put yourself in harms way?”

The Lord asks us to share our brothers’ burden. I need to take up the cause, stand shoulder to shoulder with my kinsmen, making a difference in their community.” John Ferrell lacks only a kilt. “Please wire Dundee with the news of our plan. I am going to begin gathering the cargo, I think Herb Love will jump right in with both feet, if I know him and Jacques Francoise will mix up some medicines, maybe help Matthew with his tuberculosis. And every farmer in Leon and Gadsden County will surely contribute something. I know we can fill a small freighter.”


Alpha Omega M.D.

Episode #192


page 180

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode # 191

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #191

…Harv’s condensed version of a coming epic is not entirely realistic, a story of nine months closer to hell than most sane people care to get…

Summer on the middle Atlantic is deceivingly pleasant, especially on the southern routeAtlantic-001 that the S.S. Oscar II has taken, seemingly sneaking up on France. Days of warm sun lends an aire of a leisure cruise… and then to quite the opposite. Soon, lounge chairs and cold drinks, will be replaced by trenches and bacteria laced water.

Passing the Straits of Gibraltar, entrance to the Mediterranean, proves to be the most challenging. A large part of the war is being fought in the landlocked sea, the east lying Dardanelles being the only marine access to Russia, and there is much attention where Spain and Morocco put the squeeze on open water. German sharks circle the area, waiting for defenseless prey, but dare not show themselves, lest the Allied fleet watching this isthmus spy them and secure their place next to the crustaceans and mollusks.

The sailor in the crow’s nest is an expert in identifying ships, the first to know whether it is safe to steam on, with scores of bobbing boats of all sizes to choose from. If they time it just right, Oscar II will pass through unnoticed, the plumes of smoke from their stack the sole record of a northerly course. Once clear of the maritime congestion, the final 400 leagues of sea separating them form the port city of Brest, goes quickly. The Bay of Biscay is tranquil, its water disturbed only by a knifing bow at twenty knots.

“Is there any chance that we can forget this madness and stay with the ship?” asks Judith, flooded by second thoughts at first sighting of a periscope; an initial taste of the SS OscarIIdangers of war.

“Don’t you think I can keep us safe? The real fighting is 600 miles to the east and we will not go past 500, at least not for more than a day – get a few pictures of the front, talk to a few soldiers and get out – head up to London, dodge bombs from a Zeppelin or two, talk to the Prime Minister, whoever that is at the time – and maybe we could cap things off by capturing a submarine in the English Channel, talk to the captain about what its like sinking a hospital ship.”

You really know how to comfort a girl!”

Harv’s condensed version of a coming epic is not entirely realistic, a story of nine months closer to hell than most sane people care to get, but he may not be too far off.

“If we don’t tell our readers what is really going on here, Wilson will sit on his hands and it will be too late. Europe will answer to Kaiser Wilhelm, thereby creating “North America Island”, with two huge bodies of water for a buffer zone, granted. Even castles can be breached, no matter how many alligators you put in the mote,” he relates. “I for one don’t want to find out.”

 “Never mind,” Judith bucks up, bolstered by Harv’s noble intentions. “Is that our launch?” she points to a sleek sloop speeding to meet up the S.S. Oscar II .

“That’s it! Time to go people,” he yells to the rest of the P-E J staff, taking Judith’s hand, turning to bid Captain Barnabas Silverio farewell. “Take care on the way back to America; you don’t want to keep Henry Ford waiting.”

“If you’re still in Europe in March, we would love to see you home.”

“You can have our business, any time, Captain,” he assures, adding, “but only if you can keep Oscar afloat!”

Good-bye to a friend of the P-E J, hello to months’ worth of tension filled material.


Alpha Omega M.D.

Brest Lighthouse photo by Alexander Riek

Episode #191


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