Our history reaffirms that we can overcome even the most difficult days because we’re stronger together.
– Elizabeth G. Nabel, MD
A century ago, our predecessors at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital responded to the greatest healthcare crisis of their time: the 1918 influenza pandemic.
Recently, the Brigham’s archivist, Catherine Pate, curated records and photos that document the hospital’s response to the 1918 pandemic. Though healthcare has changed dramatically during the past century, the similarities between that event and our recent experiences are striking.
In fact, the 1918 report shared by Henry A. Christian, MD, the Peter Bent Brigham’s first physician-in-chief, mirrored many of my own observations in 2020. He noted:
- “In handling influenza patients, all who came in contact with them were gowned, capped, and masked, and care in washing hands was insisted on. Our present knowledge of influenza is too inadequate to make certain how far these precautions are necessary. At present, they seem wise.”
- “The Surgical Staff loaned…four of their house officers to care for influenza cases, and very generously the surgeons curtailed their work to a minimum.”
- “Our nurses did most excellent work during the epidemic…. The way our nurses met these demands upon them has caused the staff to feel great pride in them.”
Reading Christian’s words reminded me that the Brigham has always been a community of helpers and healers. More than 100 years later, our patients, their loved ones, and our colleagues and kin continue to look to us for comfort and reassurance during the greatest public health crisis of our time: COVID-19.
Yet, as individuals, we are not immune to the distress and uncertainty surrounding this pandemic. It can feel overwhelming at times to keep pace with the rapidly evolving demands of preparation and response, as well as the emerging understanding of this disease.
With so much unknown, I feel certain of this: Our history reaffirms that we can overcome even the most difficult days because we’re stronger together. The future is in our capable and compassionate hands.
Elizabeth G. Nabel, MD