Thursday, February 1, 2018

100 Years Ago

The Global Pandemic of 1918
Ginger Dehlinger
Bend, Oregon

                               One hundred years have passed since that grim reaper variously called Spanish flu, Spanish Lady, French flu, or “La Grippe,” sickened one-third of the world’s inhabitants (roughly 500 million people). Death estimates vary, some being as high as 100 million people. Due to poor record-keeping in 1918/19, we don’t have an exact count. One fact, however, is certain—the Spanish flu caused more deaths than all military personnel killed by cannon, gunfire, bayonets, or poison gas during World War I.
                                 My paternal grandfather was one of the fatalities. He was living in Naturita, Colorado when he, his pregnant wife, and three young children came down with the deadly flu. His family survived. Two months after my grandfather died, his wife gave birth to my father. As a child, that unfortunate sequence of events always held a morbid fascination for me. Decades later I wrote a fictionalized account of the flu’s impact on my family in Never Done, a novel.
                                 While doing research for the book, I was shocked by what I learned, yet so riveted I had to force myself to stop reading about the disease and get back to writing about it. I was surprised to learn how easily the Spanish flu spread. Touching a flu patient, even being in the same room was enough to catch it, making the 1918 flu more virulent than Europe’s bubonic plague. Although the plague resulted in more deaths, they occurred over a span of two centuries versus one and a half years for Spanish flu.
                                  The fourteenth century plague was spread by rodents and their lice, whereas the 1918 flu was a virus. Early in the twentieth century, few scientists, let alone doctors knew a virus pathogen even existed. An estimated 25 percent of the US population was infected with the baffling illness, and as many as 650,000 Americans died from it. The mountainous regions of Colorado were particularly hard hit due to the Western Slope’s large concentration of miners, men whose lungs were already compromised by the dust and bad air they breathed underground.
          Crowded conditions in cities also increased the likelihood of catching the disease. At its height, the epidemic killed 759 Philadelphians in one day. President Wilson caught the flu while in Paris negotiating the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I. It took him a long time to recover, leading me to wonder if the stroke he suffered four months after returning to the White House was related to the disease.
          Multiple theories exist as to where the twentieth century flu began—Spain, France, Austria, Vietnam. Current thinking is the virus originated in Haskell County, Kansas in January of 1918. Symptoms during that early outbreak were more like common flu, but the rate it spread caused a local doctor to report it to the U.S. Public Health Service. A few of the men exposed to the Haskell County flu carried it with them to a military training facility in central Kansas. From there the disease spread to other US bases, then to the civilian populations of nearby towns and cities, and eventually to Europe via troop ships.
          During the first seven or eight months of the epidemic, hundreds of thousands died in Europe and North America, but not nearly as many as would succumb later. The first wave was mild enough that French and British troops referred to it as “three-day fever.” However, US and European officials, worried flu headlines would disrupt the war effort, censored all news of the disease, resulting in rumor and panic. Speculation filled the phone lines, some people even claiming the epidemic was a secret weapon formulated by the Germans.
          Then the flu virus raised its ugly head in Spain. Thousands of Spaniards contracted the disease, but it wasn’t until King Alfonso XIII came down with it that Spanish newspapers started covering the flu in detail. Spain wasn’t a combatant in World War I, thus the Spanish press wasn’t censored. Their widespread reporting, the only news to be had about the flu, quickly gave the disease its Spanish label.
          By July of 1918 the epidemic appeared to be lessening. A month later, a more virulent strain of the virus appeared in Europe and Africa, returning in an explosion deadlier than the war itself. During the first wave most of the victims were the young, old, or infirm. In August, when the second wave began, the disease was more often fatal to healthy young adults.
          As the flu raced through the United States and Europe, daily routines were put on hold. Schools were closed, stores padlocked. People stayed home, fearful of talking to others, fearful of even breathing. Many who did venture out wore the poor quality surgical masks in use at the time. Made of porous fabric, the masks did little or nothing to protect the people who wore them.
          Flu symptoms began simply enough with a headache, runny nose, or sore throat. Following in quick succession were fever, nausea, aching joints, and cough. The person infected became so fatigued he or she could barely stand. Dark, reddish spots or an overall redness appeared on some faces, and within hours the virus attacked the patient’s lungs in a brutal pneumonia. In the worst cases, lungs filled with a bloody froth and the patient bled from their nose, ears, or eyes.
Some died less than a day after the first symptoms appeared. Other victims, like several in my family, suffered for weeks. So did noted author, Katherine Anne Porter. Miss Porter contracted the flu while living in Denver. After a prolonged ordeal, delirious much of the time, she recovered. She later fictionalized her near-death experience in the classic story, “Pale Horse, Pale Rider.”
          Several theories exist as to why the second wave of the flu killed so many adults in their prime. Thousands of victims were young soldiers, leading to the belief damp trenches, infected wounds, or overcrowded quarters were to blame. According to historian John M. Barry, a leading expert on the pandemic, the targeting of healthy adults may have been caused by an overreaction of their immune systems. In his book, The Great Influenza, Barry tells of a group of scientists who salvaged the 1918 virus from long-frozen bodies, and then injected it into lab animals. The animals experienced rapid respiratory failure and death when their immune systems tackled the disease with far greater intensity than they would an ordinary virus. Based on their findings, the researchers postulated that the strong immune systems of healthy adults attacked the virus, and then, in hyper attack mode, turned against the body of the host. Weaker immune systems fought the virus and eased off when it was under control.
          Worldwide, the death toll peaked during the fourth quarter of 1918. October, the same month my grandfather died, was particularly deadly in the United States. Philadelphia reported over 4,500 deaths during one week in October. Less than a month later, the number of fatalities had dropped dramatically. In 1919, sporadic flu-related obituaries continued to appear in American newspapers, but by summer the disease had run its course.
          Widespread speculation exists as to why the number of casualties suddenly dropped. Was it just a coincidence the epidemic ended about the same time as the war? Perhaps doctors learned better treatments. Maybe the virus mutated to a less lethal strain. Medical knowledge has expanded vastly since 1918, but we may never know why that particular strain of flu came and went so quickly.
          During the last 100 years, the medical community has fought polio, swine flu, bird flu, AIDS, Ebola and other highly infectious diseases. Panic erupts whenever the public hears a new virus is wreaking havoc somewhere. Then doctors find a treatment, and front-page headlines disappear. In 1918, especially during the month of October when flu deaths mounted and doctors hadn’t found a cure, many people believed it signaled the end of mankind. Since then, the world’s population has mushroomed; likewise the number of people traveling across borders. Medicine has also advanced, but if new viruses evolve, and they will, the chance of another global pandemic is even greater now than it was in the last century.

Barry, John M. “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America.” Smithsonian Magazine, November 2017.
Barry, John M. The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Greatest Plague in History. Viking Penguin, 2004.

Dehlinger, Ginger. Never Done. The Wild Rose Press, April 21, 2017.

Gladwell, Malcolm. "The Dead Zone.” The New Yorker. September 29, 1997.

Caitlin Switzer. “When the Flu Came to Colorado…and the World.” The Montrose Mirror Online, April 17, 2013.

Knox, Richard. “Killer Flu Reconstructed,” PBS radio, All Things Considered, October 5, 2005.

Porter, Katherine. The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt Publishing Company. 1965.

“1918 Flu Pandemic-Facts & Summary,”, n.d., Web. December 18, 2017.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Where I Write

Here is where I spend a few hours of most of my days. I take up roughly one quarter of the small third bedroom my husband and I refer to as the den. In addition to my writing corner, the den contains bookcases, a sofa, and a great chair to sit in and read. My writing space is always messy, but I know  where to dig for what I need.

In the reading chair, usually asleep, is Kiki, my writing buddy. I think the sound of my typing soothes her. On the other hand, she sleeps most of the time.

On the wall in front of me is a clock my cousin Arlin Phillipps (Arlie) made from a large burl. He removed the burl from a tree, sliced it, and coated it with fiberglass resin. After the resin dried, he added numerals, hands, and a pendulum. Pictures don't do it justice.

To the left of my work space hangs a framed book carving of my novel Brute Heart. When I saw the artist's work at an art fair, I just had to have her create this beautiful three-dimensional heirloom. The artist, Sarah Bean, lives in Gold Beach, Oregon. Many of her book carvings hang in the Library of Congress.

The process is rather difficult to explain. First Sarah separates a soft cover book into two halves. Then she uses some kind of very sharp cutting tool to carve intricate designs into the pages, going deeper with some cuts than others. Finally she adds the cover, pictures, and miscellaneous small items to create a collage representing the physical book as well as the story within. Someday I am going to have Sarah make one for my second novel, Never Done.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Bad Grammar

Bad grammar makes me shudder. A person doesn't have to know the rules, but can't they hear how terrible it sounds?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


Pinterest is a photo-sharing website that is enjoyable and informative. Type almost anything in the "search" window and you will be directed to pictures of it. I enjoyed the experience so much I created boards representing my two novels--Brute Heart and Never Done.

In my writing I try to describe people, places, and things well enough for readers to visualize them, but  now they can go to my Pinterest boards and see actual pictures in some cases, close approximations in others. They will never see pictures of the characters, though. The people in my stories need to be assembled in each reader's imagination.

Below are a few pictures from my Pinterest boards. To see more go to 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Five-Star Reviews

Reviews for Never Done have been good so far. Below are a few of them.

This historical book about a very strong woman in Colorado was one of the most moving books I have read. I was impressed with G. Dehlinger's research on cattle drives, the trees and flora of Colorado as well as the dress of the times and how they dealt with the lack of amenities. The relationships this woman, Clara, had with family members and others is quite intriguing and kept me engrossed throughout. L.S. Raleigh, NC

Dehlinger has done it again with another well-written and thoroughly researched novel. The characters are flawed, and the relationships are not perfect. Geneva and Clara never reach the easy friendship you're rooting for, yet there'a feeling of peace in the end. When Clara triumphs over a hardship, you root for her. My emotions ran the gamut as I read this book, and I look forward to sharing it with others. Loved the descriptions Dehlinger uses for the towns, mountains, dangerous roads, and animals. It was an enjoyable novel, and I hope she writes another one! S.R. Bend, OR

I love stories that are based on historic truth and Ms. Dehlinger had a clear window to history, when she acknowledged the extraordinary life of her great grandmother who lived to age 98, leaving behind a hand-written memoir. The result is a well-written fact-based fictional view of one family’s survival in Colorado in the latter part of the 19th century. Survival was always tenuous in changing times, and particularly hard on women with agendas that were “Never Done.” Heroines Clara and Geneva are teenage cousins whose friendship is shattered when one becomes stepmother to the other. Both grow up fast in times that most of us can hardly imagine. Ms. Dehlinger paints a realistic picture—with prose to match—about their troubled relationship and double coin of survival over thirty plus years. I was brought to tears when the drama climaxes in the 1918 flu pandemic that killed more people than WWI. “Never Done” is a vivid testimonial to the indomitable spirit of all ancestors who struggled to survive while holding family together. I look forward to reading more from this talented author who seamlessly blends fact with fiction in a well-told relateable and thoroughly entertaining story. C.F. Rochester, MN

Ginger Dehlinger has written a novel based on her great grandmother's life in the early west. The girls are very young to have faced the hardships of living in primitive surroundings with which most adults would not be able to cope today.The author's research into the details of life in the period make her writing authentic and the story rings true. Well done! K.B. Bethesda, MD

Friday, September 8, 2017

Opportunity to Promote My Writing

I'm excited to be the guest speaker at this month's Bend Genealogical Society meeting. I was invited after one of their members, a friend of mine, read Never Done. Since Never Done is based on information gleaned from my great-grandmother's memoir, she thought her club members would find it interesting to learn how the story came about. I took her idea and expanded it, creating a PowerPoint presentation that covers not only my great-grandmother's memoir, but many types of documents with story potential.

Title: "Family-Inspired Fiction: How to Use Family History & Documents to Create Stories"

Date: Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Time: 10:00 a.m.

Place: Williamson Hall (Williamson Hall is part of the Rock Arbor Villa Mobile Home Park at 2220 N.E. Hwy 20, Bend OR

Monday, August 7, 2017

Less Is Less These Days

I usually don't share Facebook posts in my blog, but this one caught my attention. I rearranged the original version and added several lines. The resulting "poem" captures my thoughts, using one simple suffix.

Feeling Hopeless

Over heat that's fireless
we cook food that is fatless
while cars that are keyless
ride on tires tubeless.

Today's work week is sweatless,
and hospitals are germless.
Highways may be bumpless
but all progress isn't harmless.

Wearing tank-tops sleeveless
using cell phones wireless
complain youth who are clueless
as to why they are jobless.

In a country godless,
relationships are meaningless
leading to babies fatherless
who become children mannerless.

Attitudes careless and
feelings heartless
produce education valueless
and leaders who are shameless.

We've forgotten fearless,
selfless, and guileless,
and with a government that's worthless
I'm left feeling hopeless.