The Naval Hospital at Mare Island was finally experiencing respite from the terrible 1918 influenza epidemic. During the height of the epidemic, in October, only pneumonia patients had been admitted to the hospital while other admissions received their care in one of the 100 14×14 tents especially put up for the purpose. On 19 October, Hospital Commander Ammen C Ferenholt wrote the Navy Surgeon General that hospital workers had received more than 775 patients since the first cases arrived just two weeks earlier.
A week later, on the 25th of October, Ferenholt wrote that hospital workers had cared for about 840 influenza patients; 115 of these were victims of the feared pneumonia of whom 68 had died. Among the deaths were three of their own: physician (and chief of the lab) Lieutenant R C Christiansen, a nurse and a yeomanette. Another doctor and another nurse would succumb to the influenza before the epidemic passed.
A brief recrudescence of a less virulent strain of the disease again busied hospital staff; four days before Christmas, more than 200 cases were admitted, about 10% of whom were suffering from pneumonia.
Captain Ferenholt wrote that despite the fact that hospital staff were working extraordinarily hard to care for their many patients “…the chief interest this [Christmas] week was centered in a friendly rivalry of officers, nurses and hospital corpsmen, in hospital decorations. The Amusement fund obtained and offered a silver cup, to be competed for by the twenty-two wards. This was won by Ward K. The cup was placed in a glass case and retained in the ward until next Christmas, when it will be again assigned to the successful ward.” He went on “A committee of Christmas Activities was appointed, and several truck trips taken into the surrounding counties to obtain trees, greens, mistletoe, et cetera, and the Amusement Fund added necessary expenses.”
Ferenholt included some personal and not official snapshots of the ward decorations. These give a personal and intimate feel of what those wards looked like. It was a good morale boosting effort after an exhausting month and a half of fighting the influenza.
Holiday best wishes to all our readers, wherever they may be. May the New Year meet or exceed your expectations.
Tom Snyder, MD Captain, Medical Corps, U S Navy, Retired Blogger-in-Chief, and Executive Director, The Society for the History of Navy Medicine.
Click on the images to see them nicely enlarged. All images located at the National Archives, Washington DC
©2010 by Thomas L Snyder