1918-1919 Flu Hits Southland, Patient Hits Bottle

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This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 1918 influenza, one of the worst pandemics in history, which claimed the lives of up to 100 million people and infected 500 million worldwide. About 300 died out of Orange County’s population of 30,000. While the mortality rate here was lower than elsewhere, the demand for nurses still outstripped the supply, leading the chairman of the Santa Ana Red Cross to plead for volunteers to “meet the call of humanity” and tend to the sick.

Alice King (later Eastman), a young philanthropist from Costa Mesa, answered the call. But it didn’t turn out the way she expected. Decades later, she told the story to our own Mary Ellen Goddard:

In 1919 I went in to sign up for — they were short of nurses at the Santa Ana hospital — I went in and signed that I would come the next day and help out as an aid. And guess what happened. That night I wakened my mother with a violent headache and I couldn’t swallow. I had the flu and I had double pneumonia to boot. Dr. Block wanted to give me whiskey and my mother said, “No, we don’t believe in these things and I would rather she would die than become an alcoholic.”

Dr. Block could see that I was going to die if she didn’t do something. So she gave Mama a prescription and said give me two tablespoons of that and two tablespoons of hot water with a teaspoon full of sugar every two hours. Well, Mama did and I quit vomiting and I quit coughing and I just got almost immediately better.

And Mama was real provoked and she said, “Doctor, what do you mean? Why didn’t you give this to her before?” And she said, “You wouldn’t let me. You go down to the liquor store and buy a bottle of whiskey and you will have the same thing and it won’t cost you as much as a prescription did.” So then the Blocks, because I had done their laundry all the time, Dr. Ray said I must have wine as a body builder. And after the whiskey had helped me so much, Mama let me have the wine. And they furnished it all to me. They made their own wine, white wine. And she furnished all that I needed, because my folks couldn’t afford it. My father at the time was making $50 a month.