Not everyone agrees with getting the flu shot, and I get that. Still, even though there have been issues with the flu shot, it has also been something, along with medicines that has helped to prevent breakouts like the flu pandemic that hit Philadelphia on this day, September 28, 1918. It is believed that a Liberty Loan parade prompted the outbreak in Philadelphia, and before the outbreak was over, an estimated 30 million people worldwide were dead. As most of us know, influenza is a virus that attacks the respiratory system, is highly contagious, and mutates very quickly to avoid being killed by the human immune system. A prior pandemic of the flu in 1889 killed thousands all over the world, but it was nothing like the 1918 Flu Pandemic in its deadliness.
It is thought that the 1918 flu pandemic originated with a bird or farm animal in the American Midwest early that year. It may have traveled among birds, pigs, sheep, moose, bison, and elk, eventually mutating to the version that took hold in the human population that year. Like most outbreaks, this one started slowly, but as people moved from place to place, and others came in to help, it began to spread like wildfire. Once it spread to Europe later in the year, through some of the 200,000 American troops shipped out to fight in World War I, it was out of control. It affected every area of life, and people wore masks to avoid contact with the virus.
By June 1918, it had largely disappeared in North America, but only after taking a considerable toll on the people. Over the summer of 1918, it spread quickly over Europe. It’s first stop seems to have been in Spain, and it took so many lives there, that it was named the Spanish Flu. This flu was highly unusual, because it seemed to affect strong people in the prime of their lives rather than babies and the elderly. By the end of the summer, about 10,000 people were dead. In most cases, hemorrhages in the nose and lungs killed victims within three days. By fall, it was completely out of control. By the time it reached London and Boston in September, it was a far worse strain that it had been before. Twelve thousand soldiers came down with the flu in Massachusetts in mid-September. Philadelphia was the hardest hit city in the United States with a loss of nearly 12,000. The whole city was quarantined. In the United States, five out of every thousand people fell victim to the flu. Other countries were far worse, some as much as ten, fifteen or even thirty five per thousand, with 20 million people dying in India alone. In the end, more people died from the influenza pandemic, than from all of the battles of World War I combined.
Two years ago, my husband, Bob and I intended to take our favorite hike…Harney Peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota. That hike didn’t go so well, or at least we did not succeed in completing the full hike. The Lookout Tower eluded us in that, we reached it’s base, but could not go on to the top. The reasons were varied, but I felt like the main reason was that I was not in good enough shape for this tough trail. Bob thought otherwise, and looking back, I have to think that, at least in part, he was right. Bob thought that the heat of the day, combined with the lack of trees near the top since the pine beetle infestation, sapped our energy making it almost impossible to finish the hike. We had plenty of water, and food too, just no more energy…and we still had the 3.4 mile hike back staring us in the face.
After that hike, I wondered if I would be able to get myself back in shape for the next attempt. It was a low point in my hiking career. Six months ago, I made the decision that it was time to get back in shape, and to go after the Giant that had been looming over me for a year and a half. I started walking again and eating right, and before long I was doggedly walking 30,000 steps every day. Then shin splints hit me like a bomb. I was determined to continue walking so my training wouldn’t suffer, but after three weeks, I knew that I was going to have to do something different. Nevertheless, I tried to keep going, until my granddaughter, Shai Royce made me promise to take the next week off. Thankfully a week was all it took, and I was back to walking 25000 steps a day in a couple of weeks.
Still, the Giant loomed over me for the next month. Our trip was coming, and I wanted that mountain. The Harney Peak hike belonged to me. I have hiked it at least fifteen times over the last 21 years. I had paid my dues, and I did not want to let one bad experience take it away from me. We decided to head out to hike early…6:00am or so. In reality, we began our hike 6:37am, and with the light cloud cover and the earliness of our hiking time, we were very comfortable. The hike was hard…it always is, but in two and a half hours, we found ourselves at the top standing in front of the lookout tower. We made it!! We had conquered the beast. The Giant no longer loomed over me. I know that there is no reason that I can’t continue to hike Harney Peak for years to come, because with hard work…there is nothing I can’t do.