Sigrid Stokes is 76 years old, but she’s not inclined to retire. The nurse is fighting the spread of COVID-19, following in the footsteps of her mom, who battled another worldwide pandemic more than 100 years ago.
Stokes’ mother was Kristine Berg Mueller. Mueller tended to sick people during the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918. (The Spanish influenza didn’t necessarily originate in Spain. It was so named because only Spain was openly reporting spreading cases of the illness at the time. Other nations, trying not to seem endangered or insecure during World War I, did not publicize the presence of the flu in their communities until later.)
Mueller grew up in Norway. She was a 14-year-old student when the influenza hit. Eventually, that flu killed about 50 million people—twice as many as died in World War I.
“She and a friend volunteered at the local hospital to help out in whatever way they could. . . .” Stokes says of her mother. “Feeding people, bathing people, you know, changing beds, whatever they could do.”
The flu pandemic inspired Mueller to become a nurse, but her family had no money to send her to nursing school. An aunt in San Francisco, California, agreed to take Mueller in. She moved to the United States and became a nurse.
Photos from 1918 look eerily familiar right now. Barbers, office workers, policemen, and others have their noses and mouths covered to protect from spreading the Spanish Flu virus.
Like COVID-19, influenza affects the respiratory system. Unlike COVID-19, the Spanish Flu commonly posed serious health dangers for little kids and younger adults as well as older people. Scientists still don’t know what made the 1918 H1N1 influenza strain so nasty.
Maybe you or someone you know has been swabbed or vaccinated for COVID-19. But there were no Spanish Flu tests or vaccines. People did what they could: They limited group gatherings, kept clean, covered their coughs and sneezes, and isolated the sick.
Stokes arrives to work at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital in California wearing earrings she made from a Norwegian necklace her mother proudly sported each day. Her mom died in 1995, but the jewelry makes Stokes feel like they’re working together.
Though too old to treat COVID-19 patients safely, Stokes can help with vaccinations. “I give very good shots . . . good jabs,” she says with a smile, then deftly plunges a needle into the arm of a masked healthcare worker. The worker doesn’t even flinch.
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another. — 1 Peter 4:10