The 1918 flu, as witnessed by Thomas Wolfe

“Perhaps none but a gifted novelist can tell what death from the 1918 flu looked like, how the stricken person appeared in those last hours of life when the horrors of the illness are fully unfurled. One of the few who attempted this was Thomas Wolfe. [While] a student at the University of North Carolina he got a telegram summoning him home immediately. His brother, Benjamin Harrison Wolfe, was ill with the flu. He tells the thinly fictionalized story in Chapter 13 of ‘Look Homeward, Angel.’

“Wolfe came home to a deathwatch. He went upstairs to the ‘gray, shaded light’ of the room where Ben lay. And he saw, ‘in that moment of searing recognition,’ that his beloved 26-year-old brother was dying…

“Nothing could be done for Ben. No one knew how to treat the flu. There was no medicine to quell the raging fevers, no way to get oxygen into sodden lungs.”

— Condensed from “Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It” by Gina Kolata (2001).

(Is there an award given for the pairing of shortest title and longest subtitle?)

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