Pandemic at Home: Doctors and Nurses

By Ashley Henrickson

Medical professionals and researchers knew little about the flu in 1918 and no medicine provided effective therapy. Good nursing, including food, water, rest, cleanliness and warmth, provided patients with their best defence. This meant that nurses like Margaret Hamilton, whose uniform is on display at the Galt, would have played a key role in the battle against this disease. Many of these women worked very long hours, including the nurses with the Lethbridge Nursing Mission, who visited as many as 40 patients a day in their homes and worked from 8 am to 10 pm.

Doctors worked endlessly to aid flu victims but with no effective remedies, they had little power to help the patients they met. The inability to cure patients caused great stress for many doctors and their families at home.

“So many deaths!” recalled Marjorie Gibson, daughter of the local doctor in Munson, Alberta.

Eleven-year-old Marjorie recalled that during the flu epidemic, the phone rang endlessly with “despairing calls for help,” and many terrified families came directly to the door of her home begging for aid. Her father travelled for weeks at a time, visiting sick families in their homes. Marjorie’s fifteen-year-old brother drove their father from house to house, to allow Dr. Gibson to sleep in the back seat without stopping. Dr. Gibson, Marjorie and her brothers all caught the deadly flu but recovered.

Marjorie remembered the long years her family spent battling the flu as a “nightmare time in my memory.”

You can learn more about the deadly influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 in the Pandemic at Home exhibit at the Galt Museum & Archives until October 14, 2018.