Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Genie Leaves the Bottle - A Brief History of our Local Pandemics

From the report written by health professionals in Luzerne County in 1919:

“About all that could be done at the start was to adopt an attempt to enforce drastic regulations to minimize contagion...but even in view of these regulations, and when the plague had burst forth in all its widespread malignity, the country at large seemed slow to awaken to the enormity of the peril it faced.”

Tough decisions.  Sometimes in life they are tougher than they appear.  Denial often rears its ugly head in times like this.  Worse yet, false information and conspiracy theories.
Lifebuoy Soap Ad - 21 Nov 1918 -
Same advice holds true today.

Mary Rabenold was born near the “Pit” in Tamaqua.  Her parents were recent immigrants from Germany, they were butchers to the coal miners.  Her life was austere her entire life of 93 years.  She never owned a car, she made all her own clothes.

Her second daughter caught a bad cold in the early spring month of March 1917.  It was just a cold.  Then dear Helen's cough became more “croopy."  Shallow, labored breaths from an obstructed airway followed.  In a week they looked back upon this time as the “crisis.”
Sign of the Times 1917 - Quarantines were more common then.

She called Dr. W. K. Kistler to her home in the middle of the night.  He arrived and laid the three-year-old on the kitchen table, the same table I now use as my office desk.  The table I write this story to you now is that table.   

His advice was to open her airway with a tracheotomy.  But there was a strong chance of infection and she might not survive that procedure either.  It was a difficult choice.  They decided to wait one more night.

Little Helen Rabenold died.  Dr. Kistler died of pneumonia the following year during the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

Like the quote my son Nate just reminded us about: “That men do not learn much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.”  ~ Aldous Huxley

Use whatever metaphor you want, “the genie is out of the bottle,” “the horse has left the stable.”

It is spreading and we would all be better served to take a pound of cure here.  We cant make up for the time since it spread other than to socially isolate ourselves.  Here’s advice from the 1919 book on this subject: “Remember that it is easier to prevent an epidemic than it is to stop one when conditions become dangerous.”  If we are short sighted, we will experience many rebounds and outbreaks that will kill people and overwhelm our hospitals who are working as best they can.  “Let ‘Safety First’ be the motto of all people,” the book went on to say.

Three nurses died in the first week of October in Hazleton in 1918.  They called for all nurses in their third or fourth year of training to be released to work.  They asked for the nursing instructors to become active nurses again.

A desperate plea went out: “It is the sense of this meeting that all patriotic citizens will, in every case where possible so to do, release nurses from their private employ for the general good of the community.  It is their patriotic duty to do this during the present grave emergency.”

By October 1st, Wilkes-Barre had already closed public places like movie houses and bars, and made funerals private.  By October 5th there were more state health department mandates.  By Oct 8th, there were sixty new cases of it in one day in Wilkes Barre.  Miners were not reporting to work in droves, no one knowing for sure how many actually had the virus.
31 October 1918

The virus was wiping through army barracks both here in Ohio, Camp Colt in Gettysburg, and Camp Lee Virginia as well as overseas.  Newspapers were filled each day with deaths.  Yet on September 28th, on the very same page announcing the Liberty Bond Parade in Philadelphia, attended by 200,000, it listed the deaths of many of our service personal, a large number in transit in close quarters of naval ships.  Many in our area died while in service, including Horace Hongen (Union Hill) and Moses Mertz (St John's, Mahoning).
Servicemen were confined to close quarters, they had
among the highest rates of the disease - 11 Oct 1918

Horace Hongen died of influenza October 1918 in France.
His grave is on Union Hill.

Some reports said that whiskey was a good cure.  Prohibition had started.  I think it was wishful thinking.  You talk to old timers of the coal regions and they all tell you that their favorite drink ‘Boilo,’ made of Four Queens Whiskey (no cheaper whiskey known to man), orange peel, honey, cinnamon, was what staved off the illness back then.

"If sounds too good to be true..."
Wasn't mother's advice always right?
October 1918 Minersville

Nevertheless, there were many newspapers of that time carrying the story of army barracks ordering cases of whiskey for their men.  A local doctor in Minersville disagreed with the cure.  Funny how people stake claims and believe them so easily.  Why do so many prefer to believe anecdotal information and conspiracy theories when science says otherwise?
The husband and wife this week took aquarium cleaner in a small dose because it contained the chemical chloroquine because people have been promoting it as an anti-corona virus.  Our own President adds to this by over-stating these ideas in his press conferences.  The scientists and doctors try to correct this but again, back to the metaphor of the genie in the lamp or the horse and the stable, once it’s out, its hard to rein back in.  Then people die.  The wife is in critical condition.

Once these little lifeless bodies get out into hosts (us) their job is to replicate.

Viruses are an odd mix of “life.”  Unlike bacteria, a virus can only reproduce in a host.  They are really good at living in our nasal passages and upper respiratory tract, such as in the common cold.  Some, the particularly deadly ones, like to live deep in your lungs.  This COVID-19 likes both.  It thrives on the protein of the host and can replicate itself by hijacking the cells of your airway and can multiply rapidly, waiting for you to sneeze or cough or spit out, to spray it so that it can find another host.  And so on.

There have been other pandemics that were tough: The H1N1 virus in 1951 and 1957.  There was another in 1968 and up until more recent times H1N1 swine flu of 2009, and now today.

What makes today so remarkable is the longer it takes for symptoms to surface and the number of people who are asymptomatic, meaning, they aren’t showing any signs of the disease.  Dr. Deborah Birx took her temperature every day, and noticed a slight increase of Sunday.  She self-quarantined and she turned out to be fine.  Dr. Tony Fauci has been a steady voice of reason in a chaotic response.  A response that has spread misinformation and went through a rather consequential period of denial of the potency and havoc that this disease has now inflicted on our people and the throughout the world.

I found a book written in the immediate aftermath of the 1918 Pandemic, “The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918: An Account of its Ravages in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, and the Efforts to Combat and Subdue it.”  It was dedicated to the brave men and women, nurses and doctors, who risked and sometimes gave their lives in their care of the suffering.

Let’s take a quick look at the history of some scary times in this country.

Look at the cholera epidemic that hit Lehighton and Mauch Chunk (Jim Thorpe) in August to October in 1854.
Mauch Chunk Gazette ~ 27 July 1854

It was the year Asa Packer was building his railroad.  It was spreading from Baltimore and Philadelphia.  Then Easton got it.  Then as was noted in the time it “followed the path of commerce.”  So the Lehigh Canal, the work being done to build Packer’s Railroad was that path. 

Much had been written that we were “above the Cholera line.”  That the fresh air and cooler climate of our mountains would protect us, an image I can relate to my youth.  People still had that idea that we were remote and removed from things, certainly that could not come here.

But it did.  It broke out in a boardinghouse where the “lower classes” stayed in Mauch Chunk.  The disease, once one person became infected could be passed in the germs from their mouths and also from their urine and stool.  So water wells susceptible to bad sanitation could become a source.  The affluent of Mauch Chunk had the luxury of their own water supplies, they did not need the public pump that became the epicenter for the spread.

It didn’t take long for the people around here to pick up on that.  Their scapegoat had arrived: It was brought here by “foreigners,” most likely those employed constructing Packer’s railroad.  I refer you once again to the quote about history and not learning from it. 
27 July 1854 - Mauch Chunk Gazette - A common
scapegoat even in today's times.  The affluent had
their own water supplies, so it spread among those
living in boarding houses, often times recent
foriegn immigrants.

There is evidence of this same type of blaming going on today.  Let’s promise to recognize it and call it what it is, racism.  And let’s not tolerate it.  It is something we can avoid, but sad how it keeps rearing its ugly head like a bad weed.

Mauch Chunk had three doctors.  Two of them died of cholera before it was over.  Two more came here, young doctors in the twenties, brothers Linderman.  Garrett ended up marrying Asa and Sarah Minerva Blaksee’s least known daughter Lucy (she died shortly after marrying in an accident odd a horse.).

So you could say, Carbon County had its own version of Love in the Time of Cholera, a great book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (though my favorite book of all-time is his One Hundred Years of Solitude, which this social distancing we are currently in seems also quite akin to.).  For a deep look at that Cholera crisis and to learn about Dr. Snow who discovered the “Broad Street Pump” as the source of it in London read this blog post I wrote in 2013. 

Dr. Snow’s work was revolutionary.  It is the basis of all epidemiologist work used today.

Typhoid.  It was also a killer.  Spread much the same as typhoid.  It could be spread person to person like today’s COVD-19 but also in their feces.  It got into wells.  It came from milk.  It was nasty.  It killed my Great Uncle Garrett Rabenold when he was just 14 in October 1905.  Rev. Kuder buried him.  Rev. Kuder’s son later became a doctor.  As part of his training he came to Lehighton in 1917 and did a sanitation study and published it in a book.  I did a post on that which included many one of a kind pictures of what Lehighton looked like just months before the Great Influenza Pandemic hit in 1918.

My great uncle Garrett was the same age as the young Dr. Kuder.  They attended the same church, perhaps the same confirmation class.  I wonder if Garrett’s death impacted Dr. Kuder to do the work he did?  Here is a link to that story on Dr. Kuder, whose son also became a doctor.  Both doctor Kuder’s served in mobile military hospitals in WWII.  I was fortunate to interview Dr. Kuder II beforehe died.  (I’m always fascinated about howmany places and people my search for the truth in history has taken me.)

In January 1907, Lehighton’s own Dr. Horn was seriously ill with typhoid fever.  People could suffer with a fever for one to two months!  In February 1907, the U.S. battleship left Puerto Rico.  By the time it hit the Bahamas, thirty-one on board were in critical condition with it.  They anchored in New York City where it was placed under quarantine.

In September 1912 a typhoid epidemic broke out in Bethlehem tied to milk.  Many were serious, some died in just a few days. 

Dr. Horn survived his ordeal.  So did many others, like Giant’s catcher Al DeVomer in July 1924.  By the 1920s, motor touring had become rather popular.  But in July 1927 motorists were advised to stay away from Montreal with 5,000 people sick and at least 300 deaths there due to typhoid.  The advise said to perhaps avoid the city for a year or more.

Of course, there was Typhoid Mary Mallon, the Irish cook in New York City.  She was an asymptomatic carrier of the disease.  In 1900, she cooked for seven different affluent families.  Within about two weeks of her arrival, the families got violently and deathly ill.

She moved on to Manhattan, 1901.  The family developed fevers and diarrhea.  The hired laundry woman died of it.  Then she moved to a lawyer family where seven of the eight became ill.  She moved on.

This went on and on until one family hired an epidemic researcher to track down where it came from and they found Mary.  They quarantined her on North Brother Island New York.  She refused to give stool or urine samples.  She refused to have her gallbladder removed because doctors believed that’s where the bacteria that caused typhoid lived, even in those days.   If she would have submitted to this treatment, she would have been freed of the contagion.  But she didn’t.

She was released in 1910 under the promise of never cooking again.  She sought work as a laundress.  But the lure of more money to cook overtook her and she was soon infecting people again.  She was quarantined again to the island in 1915 where she stayed until she died in 1938.  Again, a simple gallbladder removal would have been an easy fix.  She refused.

Nobody wants to be known as a typhoid Mary.  So let’s listen to the scientists.  What science tells us is the course we must go by.  Stay positive, stay healthy, keep the faith.

There’s much to be learned from the 1918 pandemic.  They set up many emergency hospitals in armories and school buildings.  And since churches were not supposed to be open sometimes churches were used, taking doors off hinges and laying them across the pews as beds.

They formed canteens in church kitchens to make soup and broth to be delivered to the sick.  Wilkes-Barre was a hot spot for it and so were the coal regions in general, where so many men worked in close contact with each other.

It even struck in the “Silent North” of Labrador where there’s nothing of civilization among the Inuit population there, where they said even canned milk was a luxury, where candy was hardly ever seen.  And without a doctor or nurse of any kind, these entire communities of seventeen to thirty people were wiped out by the disease, in one case where just one person survived them all.  And now with this pandemic, we are seeing our most susceptible populations ravaged, the poor of our inner cities and the Navajo nation, where they still drink from communal wells, most homes lacking indoor plumbing.

On the Luzerne County report, by the first week of October, six deaths occurred around Catawissa, near Bloomsburg.  Even though the schools were closed and they were converting them into emergency hospitals, overall, people were not heeding the advice of the health departments, they were ignoring science.  

As Dr. Arment of Catawissa said the situation is bad,"Schools are closed, yet the saloons in Centrailia were wide open, doing business as usual."  

Dr. Arment was spot on then, he's spot on now.   

No one is immune to all viruses.  No one is super human.  We are all mortal.

Let’s choice what science says.  Let’s stay focused, let’s keep our eye on the ball, our eye on the prize.  Let’s stick together, like Ben Franklin’s snake, Unite or Die never had a more apropos meaning.