Community support the secret to enduring previous Okanagan health crises, like COVID-19 | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Community support the secret to enduring previous Okanagan health crises, like COVID-19

Vernon residents Nesta and Doug Kermode were both hospitalized with typhoid fever back in 1943.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Greater Vernon Museum and Archives
October 10, 2020 - 3:30 PM

The Okanagan is no stranger to disease, infections and pandemics but its resilience to these health-related struggles lies in community support.

The Greater Vernon Museum and Archives currently has a new exhibit called Pandemic examining the different diseases and pandemics that occurred in the North Okanagan. The exhibit includes typhoid fever, the 1918 Spanish flu, polio, diphtheria, and H1N1, all affecting residents of the North Okanagan including former Vernon resident Arlene Smith, who provided information for the exhibit.

READ MORE: Vernon museum set to reopen with exhibit on previous Okanagan pandemics and diseases

It was November of 1943 when her parents, Doug and Nesta Kermode, found out they had typhoid and spent weeks in Vernon Jubilee Hospital. It killed five out of 55 North Okanagan people infected, Smith said. She was just nine months old at the time.

Back then, people depended on each other more than on the government, she says.

“People just helped each other out, it was the normal thing to do,” Smith said, adding it left people with a feeling of being part of something greater than themselves.

Smith was carted between grandparents and neighbours when her mother spent nearly six weeks and her father three weeks in the hospital.

“All she could remember was how dreadfully tired she was for a year afterwards,” Smith said.

Doug owned a new photography business, Kermode’s Studio, which would have shut down when Smith’s parents were sick, but with the help of friends and the community, they managed to keep it open and pay the rent until they recovered. The Second World War was still going on during this time.

READ MORE: Kelowna made it through a pandemic before and can learn from past mistakes

“Everybody was coming in to get their Christmas pictures taken, there was a special on, and suddenly no one could do the photography,” Smith said.

Her grandfather, who was on crutches, walked down to the studio to be able to keep the cash flow going.

People started donating money to the studio and Doug was able to pay his rent, pay off the previous shop owner and make the payments on his house. A teacher and long-time friend, Bob Nelson, would also help out by developing photos.

With the Pandemic exhibit, the museum hopes to bring people a sense of reassurance in these weird and scary times, that this pandemic will at one point become a piece of history, said Gwyn Evans, public affairs coordinator with the museum.

The museum offers visitors an opportunity to compare and remember past crises with the present and how the community has shown its resilience through trying times, she said.

As the past president of the Vernon Okanagan Heritage Society, Smith’s father Doug recounted in writing his days spent in the hospital with the fever.

Treatments were administered under isolation procedures, hospital staff wore protective gowns and took extra precautions with hand washing. Most of the typhoid cases were treated in isolation at the hospital, but a few were treated at home.

Typhoid patients weren’t allowed to move or get out of bed during their duration in the hospital and Doug left the hospital 42 pounds lighter than when he checked-in. The patients experienced high fevers, profuse sweating, headaches and bed aching chills, he recalled in his write-up.

To find out more about the exhibit and to schedule an appointment for viewing, visit the museum’s website.


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