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Abigail B. Calkin

A Blog of Flashbacks

Find Me a Country

September 2021

Why are we so divided? In Afghanistan, Russia, the UK, the US, and all over the world we are divided within our locales. Find me a country where all is well, peaceful, and quiet, where all the news has solvable issues or perhaps is good for just one day.

Just now I read from a headline from The Washington Post. Covid-19 has killed approximately 1 in 500 Americans.” Those deaths were unevenly distributed across the populace by age and race. I don’t care that they are unevenly distributed because we are all one race, the human race. One in 500 is a lot of people. So far I’ve known one person who has died from COVID-19. She was a work colleague a decade ago and I did not know her well enough to say I was close to her. I am astoundingly fortunate. So far.

Is it because the planet is too crowded? Is it because the globe of Earth is warming? Is Venus warming? Probably not. Is Jupiter warming? Probably not. Is it because of the recent pandemic, our pandemic? Is it because of the strain between the extremes of wealth and poverty? Is it because some fear that the present refugee crisis will take over our country or city? Fear of refugees changing our culture is new to those who weren’t alive and don’t know our recent history of the aftermath of World War II. When my ancestors came to this country in 1620 through 1833, but for one family, all were refugees, religious refugees from other lands. The one family who were not religious refugees were from Germany and went to Nova Scotia because the Crown, that is King George III, offered them 300 free acres if they came. I know Nova Scotia is a part of Canada, but growing up in New England with my father’s family all in Nova Scotia, the Maritimes and New England seemed all one place to me. Since I have no Native blood in me and my ancestors were religious refugees, I am the newcomer to this continent.

History can teach us lessons…if we care enough to learn.

The bubonic plague pandemic occurred in Africa, Asia, and Europe from 1346 to 1353. It killed half of Europe’s population. That’s seven years of plague with somewhere between 1 and 2 million deaths. Think of the Antoine plague (probably smallpox), which lasted 15 years in the second and third centuries, C.E., and killed about 25% of the population. HIV/AIDS has only killed 36 million people as of (9/11, 2021). COVID-19 has killed only 4.6 to 10.2 million as of 9/11, 2021, only about 1% of the world’s population, a small number, really. World War II killed about 75 million people, only about 3% of the world’s population. I intentionally threw in the words “only” and “a small number.” Those words are “only” if you don’t know someone who has died from a pandemic or during World War II.

History can teach us lessons…if we care enough to learn.  I don’t think we do.

My parents seemed to have been unaffected by the Spanish flu. Both lived in Pennsylvania. My father was in high school. My mother was in college in Massachusetts and traveled to and from college to her home in Pennsylvania for the duration of the pandemic. Neither ever mentioned the Spanish flu. My stepfather was in World War I and stationed at Ft. Dix in New Jersey. He said the troops went to bed at night and the next morning, half the beds were empty. The former occupants of those beds had died of the plague during the night. Night after night after night, he said.

An influenza ward at a U.S. Army Camp Hospital in France during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.

An influenza ward at a U.S. Army Camp Hospital in France during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

These images are stark to me. The troop in France still wears his glasses. Did he survive? Below, the size of the hospital at Camp Funston is overwhelming. Camp Funston is still located on Fort Riley, Kansas. That’s where my husband was stationed before departing for Desert Storm, and where he returned to afterwards. That’s a personal place for me.

Emergency hospital during influenza epidemic, Camp Funston, Kansas.

Emergency hospital during influenza epidemic, Camp Funston, Kansas. (Image credit: Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine)

The first identification of any virus was in 1892 and it was in infected vs. healthy tobacco leaves, not really applicable to humans. The identification in humans was in the 1920s. The first observation (identification) of a virus under an electron microscope was in 1931. That’s well after the 1918-1920 plague has ended.

All this is my quickest look at plagues. If you want a more in-depth one, read medical researcher, Laurie Garrett’s book, The Coming Plague (1994). I highly recommend it. With my minimal medical knowledge, I still read all of this 750-page tome. Thriftbooks gives this following overview.

The definitive account of epidemics in our time, from the Pulitzer Prize-winning public heath expert Laurie Garrett. A New York Times notable book Unpurified drinking water. Improper use of antibiotics. Local warfare. Massive refugee migration. Changing social and environmental conditions around the world have fostered the spread of new and potentially devastating viruses and diseases--HIV, Lassa, Ebola, and others. Laurie Garrett takes you on a fifty-year journey through the world's battles with microbes and examines the worldwide conditions that have culminated in recurrent outbreaks of newly discovered diseases, epidemics of diseases migrating to new areas, and mutated old diseases that are no longer curable. She argues that it is not too late to take action to prevent the further onslaught of viruses and microbes, and offers possible solutions for a healthier future.

Enough about plagues and other diseases.

The sun came out just now. I look out my study window in front of my desk to see spruce trees so tall I can’t even see their tops. I need to go for a walk, pick more flowers and gather the last of my turnips, potatoes, and parsley. The kale can keep during the winter. Several years I’ve dug away two feet of snow, picked the leaves, and brought them inside to cook for supper.

I have books to read, a poem to finish for requested publication, more ideas to write about, and, as I look up, a slightly messy desk to put in order. Yes, I am very fortunate indeed to be healthy, occupied, and pleased to be alive.

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