This Isn’t 1918

It’s scary, but it’s a long way from 1918.

Most of my life I’ve heard of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918. It may have killed up to 100 million people globally. I have a hard time wrapping my head around that. I remember reading somewhere that every human being who survived at the time most likely knew at least 3 people who died.

I often wonder about the psychological impact that global tragedy inflicted upon the populous. Now, watching the fear and panic that COVID-19 is causing, I have a stronger sense of what it must have been like.

But this isn’t 1918. Back then, people knew that something was seriously wrong, of course, but they didn’t know what was causing it. According to an article in The Atlantic entitled, The Coronavirus Is No 1918 Pandemic, people back then thought it might be caused by anything from a misalignment of the planets to volcanic eruptions.

The uncertainty must have been terrifying. The article goes on to point out that we’ve come a long way, medically, since 1918. Back then, it took them 15 years to figure out that this illness was what we now identify as a virus. Back then, there were no antibiotics to treat the subsequent bacterial maladies such as pneumonia. Desperate physicians were trying everything, up to and including dry champagne and blood letting. And rather than isolating people, they dumped them into huge wards, where cross contamination ran rampant. They didn’t even understand the importance of hand washing.

Another difference is that the pandemic in 1918 was over relatively quickly, because people died quickly. It burned brightly and briefly. COVID-19, on the other hand, is going to do a slow, persistent burn. It is most likely going to be with us for years to come. We can’t keep up this level of panic for that long. I’m glad we have much more information sharing than they did back then, and a much better grasp on health care. That’s a comfort, at least.

Most of us will probably get COVID -19 at one point or another. And most of us will survive it. Eventually, a few years from now, they’ll develop a vaccine, and we’ll all get in the habit of being vaccinated once a year, just as we do with the flu. (Well, except the anti-vaxxers, who won’t, and will probably pay the price, all the while spreading the virus even further.)

The bottom line is that this is our new reality, folks. It’s scary, but it’s a long way from 1918. Stay safe, take precautions, but don’t stop living your life. That would be yet another tragedy.


A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book.



Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

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