The Great Summer Flu -or- Ted’s not dishing out the chicken soup!

Why is it that sometimes it just feels so good to whine? I am dying. I don’t feel good. Why is this happening to me?  Ted took one look at me and my constant stream of complaints and hightailed it out of the room. Shouts of ‘traitor‘ did nothing to bring him back.  The goopy eyes, the cough alone, would be enough to scare anyone out the door, but I think it was the constant whinge session that sent my little dog scurrying.

Ted eventually popped his head back around the door corner, and what did I do the second I saw him? I moaned.  I don’t feel good. Who invented this virus? I want his number!

His response? Jump on the bed. Drop a ball on my head to play!

Go Away! I feel Awful!

That only prompted a furious ‘dig me’ out from the pillows event that should have won gold medal in the Olympics. Trouble is, I knew I wasn’t dying. I just had the flu and an unsympathetic dog.

English: Public health poster from Spanish flu...

English: Public health poster from Spanish flu era. “Prevent Disease. Careless Spitting, Coughing, Sneezing, Spread Influenza and Tuberculosis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The flu can and does play a deadly game.  In the months that led up to the November Armistice of 1918, the men returning home brought with them not only broken bodies and souls, they also carried with them a deadly virus.  This virus would kill more that five times the amount of men that the war itself did.  Entire Towns were wiped out. Some three million British Men were slaughtered by the great war, more than a million and a half had been severely wounded. No one escaped grief.

Death itself was well…awful. There was the first sign- the shiver, then the skin turning a purple colour, and death? It was brought on by a thick red gelatinous fluid that clogged the lungs, killing between 50 and a 100 million people. At the beginning of the flu, in the summer of 1918 the Royal College of Physicians declared it was no more threatening than the dreaded virus of 1890.

How do you fight a flu like this? Many soldiers with terrible face disfiguring injuries took to wearing thin gauze masks, and soon the public took on this practice of wearing a gauze mask worn across the nose and mouth to ward off this new virus. It seemed to help. Drink whiskey, don’t drink it. A bottle of wine a day, a glass of port at night?  Oxo cubes to strengthen your system?  Laudanum, opium, quinine, rhubarb, anything that might possibly ward this flu off was desperately tried.

It was the combination of the flu and the devastation of World War One that prompted a massive interest in Spiritualism. People still in deep mourning from one of the world’s most destructive wars, were suddenly grieving the death of loved ones from an unseen and deadly enemy. Naturally, many thought God had failed them by taking so many men in battle and now striking down the survivors with this punishment. A large number of people took to Spiritualism, including the famous writer of Sherlock Holmes’s Fame, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

English: Portrait of Arthur conan doyle by Sid...

English: Portrait of Arthur Conan Doyle by Sidney Paget.c. 1890 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sir Arthur was devastated by the death of his eldest son Kingsley in 1918.  Kingsley had been badly wounded on the first day of the battle of the Somme, but was in perfectly good health when the flu took him.  Doyle went into a deep depression after his brother, some four months later, was also taken down by the flu. Like thousands of parents desperately aching for their lost children, wives their husbands, Doyle wanted to talk to his son from beyond the grave. This new “ religion” did not compete with Christianity for many echoed Doyle’s sentiments, ‘Christianity is dead. How else could ten million young men have marched out to slaughter? Did any moral force stop that war? No. Christianity is dead – dead!’

His belief  did not suddenly appear with the events of the flu and the war, it had taken root when he was a young man of 21, when he attended his first séance. That  event cemented his belief in man’s ability to contact the dead.

‘After weighing the evidence, I could no more doubt the existence of the phenomena than I could doubt the existence of lions in Africa.’

Doyle’s interest was so strong he found the demands of Sherlock Holmes a hinderance to his research in this field. His solution was simple. Kill off Holmes. Well, so he thought. Holmes’s fans were so outraged that he was forced to bring the detective back to life.  A balance between his quest for conversations with the dead and Sherlock would be struck.

Many of Doyle’s contemporaries found his belief in talking to the dead quite bizarre, and Doyle soon found himself at odds with the great magician Harry Houdini, who thought the whole prospect of talking to the dead, a charlatan’s game and an out-and-out fraud.  The two men went at it trying to out-prove the other’s theory to little success. When Houdini died in 1926, Doyle tried to bring him back from the dead to no success.

Movie poster for The Master Mystery with Harry...

Movie poster for The Master Mystery with Harry Houdini (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Doyle continued with his spiritualist beliefs until his death, July 7 1930. But earlier that year, aged 71, Doyle wrote, ‘The reader will judge that I have had many adventures. The greatest and most glorious of all awaits me now’.

At London’s Albert Hall, his memorial service included a session with the famed medium, Estelle Roberts.  It was high drama. An empty chair was placed next to his widow Jean. Some 6,0000 people waited with bated breath.  Would the great man appear? The medium passed on messages of hope and comfort to the audience.  Then suddenly she turned to the empty chair and shouted! He is here!

Of course, no one saw anyone in the chair, but at least the gasp in the audience was real. Estelle Roberts boldly said to the grieving widow,  “I have a message to you from Arthur.” Then she leaned in whispered a few words in her ears.

What Estelle Roberts said to Doyle’s widow, we won’t know, unlike my complaining about my little virus. It wouldn’t surprise me that the next time I walk Ted, the woman on the corner will say to me,  ‘Did you hear that awful wailing from the house last week? It sounded so dreadful!’

I’ll just reply, ‘I know! Wasn’t it just awful? That neighbour of mine, can she put up a fuss! It upset my poor Ted something awful.’

I had a little bird

Its name was Enza,

I opened the Window

And in-flew Enza.

English School Yard Chant

About susan sheldon nolen

It’s rare to catch me without coffee, a form of camera, or my beloved wire fox terriers. I love the history, the art, and it’s a massive part of my life, as I either paint, write, or get interrupted by my dogs, reminding me of the real world. I hope you enjoy your time here. It’s such a privilege to have readers.
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10 Responses to The Great Summer Flu -or- Ted’s not dishing out the chicken soup!

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    I always enjoy reading about that historic influenza outbreak. Of course, I’m a little biased since my novel centers on an influenza pandemic. 🙂 Very interesting account, though I’m sorry you suffered. Summer bugs are always a drag.

    • I have to tell Ted, someone cared! 😉 I just can’t imagine how devasting it must have been for people to have entire villages wiped out. The grief must have been intense!

      • Carrie Rubin says:

        Especially when one considers that with better medical access and care, many of those people wouldn’t have died. But then again, I guess that’s true of all past epidemics, isn’t it?

  2. Cameron says:

    It might be an unpleasant flu, but it seems to have been a thought-inspiring one!

  3. paralaxvu says:

    Great read. I’m sending it on to my sister, a devoted Holmes fan. Another tidbit: My aunt was a nun in the Ursuline Sisters order back then. It was a cloistered order then, and nuns did not appear in the community. The pandemic changed this, however, as the need for people to care for the sick and dying was so great that the Ursuline nuns came out of their convent to minister to the community.

  4. Fascinating story, Susan. Inspiration strikes us even when we’re sick, doesn’t it? I hope you feel better very soon.

  5. Thanks Andra! All better now. I wonder though how many writers have come up with something really bizarre when down with the flu?

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