Most students probably don’t recall history being one of their most enthralling classes. Without a talented teacher to stir the imagination, history can be dry and boring. But Myla Goldberg, in her book Wickett’s Remedy, A Novel, displays a talent for weaving history and fiction together in a way that makes exploring the past impossibly interesting. And with everyone waiting to see how the new H1N1 flu virus will impact the world, there’s never been a better time to learn about the deadly Spanish influenza of 1918.
Synopsis of Wickett’s Remedy
The story’s protagonist, Lydia, is a young girl from South Boston, a “Southie”, who strives to move beyond her impoverished station by becoming a counter girl at the swank Gilchrist’s department store. While she works on the sales floor in men’s clothing, a customer and well-bred medical student named Henry Wickett becomes enamored with Liddie and courts her through letters that enable the shy young man to fully express his feelings.
Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl marry. Husband quits medical school to start a business healing psychosomatic illnesses with a combination of supportive letters and well-intentioned “snake oil” tonic. Wife not enthused by her mate’s decision.
Still Lydia supports Henry’s dream and formulates the placebo remedy for his upstart business. Then all hell breaks loose. President Wilson declares war, and unexpected casualties on the home front emerge with the appearance of an especially virulent flu that blazes across the country.
Wickett’s Remedy and the Spanish Influenza Pandemic
Although the books main story line is about a tonic that over time, and through greed, is transformed into a soda, the tale of Wickett’s Remedy broadens with the United State’s entrance into World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, two historically significant events that occurred simultaneously.
With the new H1N1influenza virus on everyone’s mind this current flu season, Goldberg’s book is especially timely and relevant. Our modern understanding of the prevention and treatment of infectious disease is vastly different from the medical knowledge of the early 1900s, and the realistic characters of Wickett’s Remedy allow readers to appreciate the devastation wrought by the Spanish flu, a pandemic that hit hard and fast, killing ten of millions, mainly children and young adults-the same population at greatest risk from the novel H1N1 swine flu virus.
Will H1N1 Become Today’s Spanish Flu Epidemic?
This gripping book indirectly reminds us that H1N1 influenza need not be a repeat of the 1918 pandemic, since medical science now has a much better understanding of the prevention, transmission and treatment of infectious disease.
Transmission of Influenza: During the Spanish flu epidemic, influenza’s cause and mode of transmission were a mystery. Today, with our modern medical knowledge, the public can take preventative action by getting vaccinated, covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands, and staying home when sick.
Supportive Care for Influenza: In Wickett’s Remedy, we see flu victims drown in their own bodies, as influenza progresses to the fluid-filled lungs of pneumonia. In those days, there was little that could be done for patients, other than watch and pray. Today when viral infections pave the way for bacterial pneumonia, modern antibiotics can help the body battle illness, medications can tame high fevers, and supportive fluids and nutrients can be given by IV.
Wikett’s Remedy shows readers how bad an infectious disease epidemic can get, helps us appreciate the progress and promise of modern medicine, and does all this through fictional characters the reader can’t help but care about.
About the Book
Title: Wickett’s Remedy, A Novel
Author: Myla Goldberg
Publisher and Year: Anchor Books, 2005
ISBN: 978 1400 078 127
Suggested Retail Price: $14.00
Verdict: This captivating book reminds readers how lucky they are to live in an age of modern medicine, microbiology and vaccines.