Emily Weddall was stationed in the Meath Hospital, Dublin in October 1918, during the height of the outbreak of the Spanish flu. This was the second of the three waves that traveled around the world quicker than in peace time, as it was still officially wartime. One month later the war was over but the flu epidemic had many more lives to claim before it finally dissipated in the spring of 1919.
As a trained nurse, her services were in high demand. She seemed to have an greater than average resistance to illness, and was one of the few to escape the ravages of that particularly virulent virus.
…But in 1918, as World War I approached its end, nothing could have prepared them for what was to come – the deadly Spanish Flu. Massive troop activities and a population weakened by hunger and war helped spread the disease. There was no cure for Spanish Flu, and doctors struggled to treat it. Good nursing was the only thing that helped and it was typically women that bore the brunt of trying to halt this deadly killer…https://www.hippocraticpost.com/events/nursing-during-the-1918-flu-pandemic/
As stated above good nursing was key to making the victims as comfortable as possible. Emily, who was trained by Margaret Huxley, who was like her English counterpart Florence Nightingale, revolutionised Irish nursing. Emily had some contact with the Florence Nightingale Nurses, and may have done some training with them. She was well qualified to nurse the flu victims.
http://rcnarchive.rcn.org.uk/data/VOLUME088-1940/page027-volume88-february1940.pdf retrieved 02/06/2014
150 years ago, when Emily was barley one year old an incident occurred at her family home at Windsor Terrace Edenderry, Co Offaly. She was too young to remember the incident but it was only one of many that plagued her childhood. The article below give a glimpse into what young Emily and her family suffered as a family of converts in the days when the prejudice against them resulted many times in violence.
The court case involving Rev. Burke was one of at least ten to be heard over a decade in the petty sessions and at Edenderry. All which involved violence against him or his family. It was not unusual for the authorities to take against him too. In the above case the judges would not allow the policeman to question the witnesses, so nobody could be prosecuted for the crime.
The courthouse in Edenderry, stands exactly like it did when Emily’s family lived there
Cork Constitution 19 October 1868
The flu remedies offered in the newspapers, chemists and indeed on street corners, as those in desperation would try anything. Few had any effect but there was some sense in some remedies, such as the one below.
An Indian doctor, Dr. Muthu, did not so much offer a cure, maybe more of a preventative measure to prevent the virus attacking those who were still untouched. He suggested that good nutrition would build the body up, making it stronger and more resistant to the disease. He also suggested wearing masks by the sick and those attending to them. Emily would have benefited as a nurse, whether she did or not cannot be known. She avoided the disease even though she was in the midst of it as a nurse. She may have had been able to afford better nutrition than many of her times, but she like everyone else endured the same wartime stresses as everyone else. Her determined and sometimes stubborn character may have stood for her in that instance.
Belfast Telegraph 13 March 1919
There was no definite cure for the flu even today, although symptoms can be managed a lot better and much less people succumb to the virus.
“Although there is currently no medical treatment that will cure the flu, there are four medications that may shorten the course of the virus and decrease the severity of the symptoms if you begin taking them within the first 2 days of the onset of the symptoms. All of these medications reduce the ability of the influenza virus to reproduce by attacking enzymes necessary for viral replication.”
Back in 1918, as today there were over the counter medicines to help remedy the flu, but like now they could only ease the symptoms. Worse still there were many newspaper adverts that sold potions that claimed to cure the flu among many other diseases, to the sick and vulnerable.
Below are examples of cures from the time of the Spanish flu some stood the test of time and can be bought today.
Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail 07 October 1918
Coventry Evening Telegraph 18 November 1918
Belfast Telegraph 02 November 1918
Emily nursed the flu victims of 1918-19, but it was not her first brush with such an epidemic. When she began her training at Sir Patrick Dunn’s Hospital in 1891 they were in the midst of an epidemic too, on that occasion, the Russian Flu. It lasted for two years. Sources
Waterford Standard 16 October 1918