2/24/2011 10:07:00 AM During great epidemic, Sisters bravely served the sick and dying
Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon photo
Sisters Agnes and Alexia O'Rourke.
Here are excerpts from the memoirs of Sr. Agnes O’Rourke on Verboort in 1917, when the influenza epidemic struck:
When the influenza epidemic broke out in 1917, I was in charge of the Verboort School. All the schools were closed as the flu was raging through the state. No nurses could be obtained. Whole families were stricken suddenly — fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters.
School was closed and Sister Mary Alexia and I wished to go among the flu cases and care for the wick. To obtain permission from our Mother General, Sister M. Seraphim, I phoned asking to help out.
“It would be a noble cause, but I’ll say neither ‘yes’ nor ‘no’,” she answered. “We’ll go then,” I replied.
For over a month Sister and I visited the houses full of flu patients. At first we went together, but in a short time, as the number of cases increased, we went alone here and there. The doctors attending patients were Dr. Ward and Dr. Robb.
The first place to which we went was to John Herb, who lived just across the road. They needed no help. A phone call then came from Mrs. John Kindel. “I never thought it would come to this, we are all down with the flu. If Evelyn could get her medicine regularly all night, Dr. Robb said the girl might be saved. Could you come tonight?”
Sister M. Alexia and I changed off for three nights. One small boy was up and around. All the rest were stretched on their bed.
The cattle were in the barn, neglected. We sent the boy out to feed them as he had often helped his dad put them in the pasture and helped with the chores.
One afternoon Louis Vandehey came in haste. “Will you come to Ed Vandehey’s place? All are down with the flu and need help.” He took us down in his buggy.
Ed Vandehey and his wife were down with the flu and their 3-year-old tot was toddling around.
Will Vandehey and his wife with a baby and a two-year-old tot had stopped after church to visit them and could not get home. They too became very sick. It was a sight! In a little three-room house four flu patients were very ill with a little 3-year old and a 2-year-old tottering around. A baby was in bed with the parents. The house was like a bake-oven, so hot.
When we entered, all were glad to see us. There were no conveniences at all to take care of the sick; all must be done the hard way. First, we fed the children and then tended to each person’s needs. We were up all that first night.
After fixing breakfast we went to the convent to sleep, but returned at night again.
In the oven, we heated a bag with oats and applied it to the patient who was suffering severe pain. Sr. M. Alexia kept a pan of oats in the oven. As one bag got cold I emptied it into a pan and Sister gave me a pan of heated oats – by this means we saved the life of one patient.
A pig was squealing in the barn so I went out and fed it.
Mrs. Ed Vandehey had flu-pneumonia and was expecting a child any moment. A very serious situation for me, who knew nothing of the care for such cases. The moment arrived and the boy was born.
At that moment Dr. Robb rushed in. He examined it and asked, “Did you baptize it?” I replied, “Yes, I baptized him Ignatius. Tell me what to do, I’m no nurse.” We followed orders. Sister M. Alexia prepared two pans of water, one cold and the other hot. I dipped the child first in cold water, then in hot, trying to get the blood in circulation. In the mean time Sr. M. alexia took the children out of this room into the kitchen and kept them quiet.
My little treasure was soon a corpse in my hands. I wrapped the little body in a towel and placed it on a chair. I phoned bill Hermens, “Will you please bury the child?” I explained the circumstances. The mother had clothes prepared in a drawer, and I dressed the little boy and Bill took him in his car to the cemetery. The mother lay dying. Her husband, who was lying on the lounge beside her bed, was too sick to move. I held her candle and said the prayers for the dying. She soon gasped her last.
I phoned the undertaker in Forest Grove. At midnight he came, put her in a straw basket and as they carried her out her husband said, “Are you going to take her away so soon?” She was buried silently and quietly without Holy Mass or mourners the next day in the Verboort Cemetery. During the epidemic, the church was closed and no Holy Mass could be offered.
Bill Van Dyke lay sick and in a critical condition for several days. Dr. Ward, John Van Dyke, and I kept watch all night, expecting him to die, but he lingered on. He recovered and lived several years.
The Cropp Family was all down except the Dad. Sister and I walked down a muddy road about a mile and knocked at the door. “No one comes near us. I’m so glad you came,” he said. We said, “We’ll take charge for the day, go and rest.”
Mother and babe and five children were all down. Dad went upstairs and before long we could hear him snoring very loudly. We washed the faces and hands of the patients and gave them a cool drink, then we went to the kitchen, not a clean dish in the pantry. All had been used. So we began the kitchen work, washing dishes, sweeping floors, tending to the tiny tots’ needs. That evening we walked home for a rest.
Father Van Clarenbeck and Dr. Ward came down the road. “Oh, Sister, would you come down to Vanoudenhagens Charlie is so sick and no one knows what to do. If we can relieve him of his pain the boy will live.”
I went to the house, soaked towels in boiling hot water, wrung them between plates, then applied to his chest. I continue this process until relief came. He lived. Many families rendered to Sister M. Alexia and me a sincere thanks for service we rendered the families during the flu epidemic.