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Book Review: The Great Influenza – John M. Barry

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A little over a century ago, a similar scenario like the one we’re seeing with COVID-19 in 2020 played out. The 1918 influenza pandemic lasted almost three years. It did not start in Spain (it’s often called the “Spanish flu”), but instead instead in a small, rural town in Kansas.

It spread rapidly all on its own. It was a killer. But it became a pandemic because President Woodrow Wilson decided to take America into World War I.

Once Wilson committed to the war, he decided that victory over the Germans (particularly) wasn’t enough. He wanted to annihilate them (this attitude carried over into the crushing terms imposed on them through the Treaty of Versailles, and these two factors were huge in the rise of Adolph Hitler to power). That vengefulness meant sending every available man to Europe as quickly as possible.

Among those men were young men from the Kansas town that had been hit so hard by influenza. They were the original super spreaders. The US military took major hits. Then those military members hit big cities: Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, to name a view, and civilians began to take a big hit as well.

The 1918 influenza spread through the United States and the rest of the world like wildfire, with a probable death toll of up to 150 million.

Scientists were baffled and raced around looking for the cause. Some scientists made up their own on-the-fly vaccines as stabs at seeing what would work. Doctors returned to medieval practices, such as bloodletting and applying leeches, and throwing medicines meant for other diseases at their dying patients.

Politicians lied, first denying the problem, and then downplaying it (the one exception was the mayor of San Francisco). They did more harm than good because they didn’t implement public health measures right away. In places where they did shut things temporarily, they reopened as quickly as possible, while influenza was still raging. They imposed onerous restrictions on the press, which was not allowed to report on what was really happening.

Wilson initiated all of this for his own self-interests. He was determined to destroy Germany, and influenza (cautions, restrictions, health measures) wasn’t going to get in the way of that. Ironically, Wilson himself contracted influenza around the time when the Treaty of Versailles was being negotiated in Paris.

Accounts from some of the people closest to Wilson noted significant changes to the President that impacted the negotiations. Within a few months, Wilson suffered a severe and debilitating stroke (modern scientists suspect the cause was his bout with influenza), from which he never recovered (his wife and a close aide ran the country for the remainder of his term).

There was not a word publicly spoken or written about Wilson’s health during this time, and official reports propped him up as being fully in charge as president of the country.

The country was not ready for a pandemic. The world was not ready for a pandemic.

But it came anyway.

History repeats itself. You will feel like you’re reading about COVID-19 when you read this book. It’s chilling. There were some scientific and medical voices of reason during the Great Influenza Pandemic. They were silenced or ignored or marginalized. The loudest voices were those of the least wise, the least informed, and the most self-centered.



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Is COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) a Hoax?

covid19-3d-going-gentle-into-that-good-nightIs COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) a hoax? Well, it depends, apparently, on…wait for it…not science, not facts, not critical thinking, but instead which polarized (and patently full of untruths) end of politics you’ve put your faith and trust in.

We’ve lost our minds in this country. You can fact check everything now (including the president) using the brain God gave you and the common sense that all of us should have, but seems to be in extreme short supply anymore, to discern between what’s true and what’s false from an objective, rational, and logical point of view.

But it appears that some people have been sucked into the vortex of ignorance and extremism that seems to be its own kind of pandemic, not only in America, but throughout the world. 
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Saying Goodbye in the Time of COVID-19

galleries-d36161d68e9df5217a9c55eec6e7ac08-14564867839Life as we knew it has been upended by COVID-19. As I’ve thought and pondered a lot on the changes we see and the potential changes ahead, I see that there could be some very good results that come from this, as well as some very bad ones.

I scan the news headlines a couple of times a day, and then I leave it alone. A steady diet of all the confusion, the outright wrong information (often from the government), and all the unknowns (and there are a lot) about COVID-19 can result in feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed. I don’t want that for myself.
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We Had Seasons in the Sun (Debra “Deb” Lynn Ross – February 29, 2020)

deb-7-5-11-purple2

“This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”
“The Hollow Men” – T. S. Eliot

My fraternal twin sister, Deb, died of complications from liver failure at 7:49 a.m. EST on February 29, 2020. I am heartbroken writing this.

T.S. Eliot is one of my favorite poets, and although I love the depth of “The Wasteland” and the profundity of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “The Hollow Men” has always been my favorite. The last two lines always run through my mind when someone I know dies, as does Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 – “For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; nevermore will they have a share In anything done under the sun.” Continue reading

Mother’s Day 2019

My dearest Mama,

It’s hard to believe you’ve been gone almost seven years. At once, it feels like yesterday and forever. I miss you as much now as I missed you the second God took your breath away as you hit the number of days He had written for you in His book before you were ever born.

The world was crazy and falling apart when you left. If you can imagine, it’s crazier and crumbling apart even more now.

We’re all worse for the wear, but that’s to be expected, and people you loved and cherished have, like you, gone to sleep to await the resurrection in the years since you’ve been gone.
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Remembering Mama

Mama 5 or 6 years oldToday – or yesterday – since the dates on each of your birth certificates (the handwritten one and the official one) are different, you would be 90 years old. That’s hard for me to even fathom, almost as hard as it is for me to fathom that in August you’ll be gone seven years. 

Thinking of you being 90 reminds me of how you and Daddy used to joke about life and death. Daddy’d always say that he wanted to live to be 100, and you always told him that he’d see that birthday without you because you didn’t want to live that long. Continue reading

Save the Next Dance For Me: Remembering Mama (March 2, 1928 – August 14, 2012)

Mama loved music. She probably had the widest range of taste in music of anybody I’ve ever known. From the Appalachian bluegrass of her childhood to the big band/swing music of her teens to jazz to classical music (we both loved violins, so Vivaldi was a shared favorite) to the music we kids listened to growing up (which Daddy called noise, for the most part), to all the grunge and indie and alternative music I introduced to her, it was a rare time when she said, “I don’t like that.” Continue reading

Book Review: “The Trip to Echo Spring” – Olivia Laing

The Trip to Echo SpringThe Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia Laing
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was both enlightening and, in many ways, sad. The author looks at five prominent American authors, all with immense talent, and explores how alcoholism impacted their writing and their ability to write. Continue reading

Book Review: “Less Medicine, More Health: Seven Assumptions That Drive Too Much Medical Care” by H. Gilbert Welch

Less Medicine, More Health: 7 Assumptions That Drive Too Much Medical CareLess Medicine, More Health: 7 Assumptions That Drive Too Much Medical Care by H. Gilbert Welch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The author of this book is an doctor who is practiced for years as a PCP and now teaches at Dartmouth. One of his areas of expertise is what the data (and these are extensive research studies) about the results of medical screening show and how the screening causes more harm than good. Continue reading