In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, infected patients, particularly those with tuberculosis, would be admitted to a sanatorium. Often these institutions had large open air balconies and porches, where patients could get plenty of fresh air.
Around this time nurses began taking an active role in caring for infectious patients. Fever nurses washed and fed the sick, applied poultices and lotions, and monitored the patient’s temperature and breathing.
Nurses with experience of TB nursing would have used similar skills when caring for patients with influenza. Maintaining well ventilated wards and high hygiene standards were key to the nursing role, as they are today.
One of the first wards to experience the effects of the so-called Spanish Flu was St Marylebone Infirmary, London, in October 1918. The Sisters tirelessly cared for the weakened North Kensington community, as well as for their own colleagues. The effect on nursing staff was devastating. Through history, when a new disease strikes, it is often the nursing staff who are hit by it first.
"Temporary wood partitions have been put up between each bed…on each partition is hung a sheet wrung out in Lysol and kept wet…Every nurse, doctor, ward-maid, char-woman who enters the epidemic block must wear the mask and overall.”
-Nursing Times, 1918.
Image: Sanatorium at Withernsea, 1906. RCN Archive.