My great-grandfather died in the 1918 flu epidemic. I never thought we’d face something as bad, if not worse

This is a photo of James and William Shaffer, my grandpa and great-grandpa. James was 18 months old in this photo and his father William was 23 years old. They lived in Northumberland, PA where William worked at a silk mill and was a member of a local baseball team.

The photo was taken in July 1918. William died 3 months later as a result of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic. Besides his young son, he left behind his 20 year old wife Cora, my great grandmother who we called Nana.

I’ve known about William’s unfortunate, untimely death my whole life. But I never truly considered the possibility that I might face a pandemic too. And here we are, doing just that. And I’m not 23 and healthy like my great-grandfather was when he faced the Spanish Flu.

I had cancer a few years ago, and it’s left me vulnerable. I had to have my tumor-filled spleen removed (the spleen is where certain infection-fighting white blood cells are produced) and underwent chemotherapy (one of the after-effects is that my heart has occasional runs of irregular beats). Although I’m pretty healthy otherwise, I’m at high risk of not having a good outcome if I get this thing. But I’m like so many people. I’m worried about people like me, my senior parents and in-laws, and everyone who is at high risk for severe illness from this coronavirus.

I trust that those who are lucky enough to be young and healthy right now can understand the concerns and risks for those of us who aren’t, through no fault of our own. I’m trying to do my part by holing up in my house for the foreseeable future, and my parents and in-laws are too. My greatest hope is that everyone else does their part, too, and am very grateful to all those who are. The probable results, if we don’t, are unthinkably grim.

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