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American History
Influenza at the School


      The typhoid shots had come and gone and the days slipped slowly by with only minor treatment required for a lone student now and then. Organizing the files was only a matter of typing names on labels and placing these alphabetically. There was one problem with names though. Navajo students basically all had the same last name. There were Begay's, and Yazzie's mostly. If there were thirty John Begay's it was difficult to always tell them apart. Maybe this is part of the reason the head nurse had simply made mental notes rather than actual written records. I separated them first by age, building, and home town. They all had a lot of the same locations but there was some variety. A John Begay who was sixteen years old, from Window Rock and lived at Home Six was a bit more of an identity than just plain John Begay. By adding his parent's names, this too became another way to identify him. If John Begay's parents were Jack Begay and Alice Begay this might separate him from another John Begay whose parents names were different. The head nurse was to get caught up in her own failure to keep records with a real severe consequence later,  but that is another story.

       When the influenza outbreak hit Chilocco it was with a vengeance that year. Everywhere we looked there were sick kids in the clinic. The treatment room was packed full.  A waiting room in the entry way was packed and usually there were never students out there. Even the large area inside the wide double doors in front was full. For some reason the head nurse had elected to turn the heat up. While I was working with one of the nurses doing only what she told me to do; helping with taking temperatures, filling the little paper cups with the pills they were to take and dispensing tissue for them to take home with them. This was not in my clerk typist duties but anyone would have been totally unconcerned not to try to pitch in to help.

     One of the nurses who later became a very dear friend was steadily and quietly working. She was an Osage-Otoe woman who was very quiet and soft spoken. Her recent move from a tuberculosis clinic at Shawnee put her in a much more elevated position as far as being conscious of the need to protect one's self from germs.

      “Go around opening these windows,” she whispered to me.

      This is what I did. The air flowing in the windows was cool and a blessing to the feverish children. The head nurse didn't see it like that though.

       “Who is opening these windows?”  She was looking,  at each and every one of us trying to decide who was the culprit. No one said anything as she went around closing them.

       “Now what?”  I asked the nurse beside me.

        “Just wait until she goes out of the room and open them again. Don't let her see you doing it. It reminded me of a movie I saw recently where a nurse was doing the same thing and I wondered how many other nurses in the world had the same battle with people while they tried to initiate healing practices. In the movie the woman actually threw a chair through one of the windows in order to bring the fresh air into the room. We didn't go that far. I'm sure the head nurse wanted to suspect I was doing it but she couldn't catch me. The nurses all kept an eye on her and if I was at a window while she was coming they would either make a motion, shake their head or some small gesture to warn me. Kid that I was, it was all fun and games for me. For the nurses it was a deadly serious business.

       “I don't know which one of my little dar-links is opening these windows, but they better not let me catch them,” the head nurse bustled around and had to keep busy closing windows. None of the nurses said anything or even looked up.


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