The sisters’ first test – Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 pushed hospital to the limits
Tucked between the mountains and the high desert, Bend in 1918 lay hidden from much of the outside world.
But isolation wouldn’t be enough to shield the booming lumber town from the Spanish influenza epidemic that killed an estimated 20 to 40 million people worldwide between 1918 and 1919. By some accounts, the toll from the fast-killing illness surpassed even the “Black Death” plaque of 1347-1351, making it the worst epidemic in history.
It would be the first big test for the newly arrived nuns of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Tipton, Indiana, and the little Bend hospital they had taken over. Before the end of the year, the hospital would overflow with flu victims and the community would press the Bend Amateur Athletic Club (now the Boys and Girls Club) into service as a temporary hospital.
Among the victims in Central Oregon was Bend mayor, S.C. Caldwell, who died Jan. 8, 1919, while in Vancouver, Wash., the Bend Bulletin reported.
The deadly virus cropped up during the final year of World War I. It first showed up in Asia and Europe, picking up the name Spanish flu because it allegedly killed 8 million people there in May 1918.
The war, with its massive movements of men, helped spread the virus around the globe. The virus moved rapidly throughout developed nations wherever rail lines carried people. It first appeared in the United States among soldiers at a Kansas Army base in March 1918, but didn’t hit with full force until autumn.
In Central Oregon, 44 Deschutes County residents died out of 174 document cases in 1918, according to the Annual Reports of the Oregon State Board of Health. That same year, Crook County lost seven people out of 100 cases and Jefferson County saw two deaths from 64 cases. In 1919, 14 people died in Deschutes County, three in Crook and one in Jefferson.
The fall of 1918, the Bend Bulletin issued a call for volunteers to help at the makeshift hospital and with homebound illness around town. According to a 1917 business directory, Bend had seven physicians. They, along with the five Sisters of St. Joseph couldn’t keep up. On Nov. 11, 1918, the paper reported, “Spanish influenza cases are being treated at the emergency hospital, over 30 cases being reported at the institution this morning. Although the help situation is somewhat improved over last week, there is still a shortage and more men and women are being appealed to to give their time in aiding to care for the patients who are already there.”
Besides a shortage of beds and medical personnel, they had no proper medicine to relieve patients.
“The only drugs available were quinine, camphorated oil and moonshine whiskey,” recalled Jim Donovan, who managed Lumbermans Hospital in Bend after the sisters took over the Bend Hospital.
Yet Donovan saw a bright side amid the illness and grief, calling it “one of my most heartwarming experiences because of the help given by the community in caring for those seriously ill.”
Among those who helped were Bend Bulletin publisher Robert Sawyer and Kathleen Rockwell, both of whom were early benefactors of St. Charles Hospital. Rockwell was better known as Klondike Kate, a famous dance hall girl who moved to Bend after entertaining miners in the Yukon Territory during the gold rush of 1897.Read More
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