"Maintain isolation – practice good hygiene – wear a mask – be kind. We all know these methods of fighting COVID-19, but this prescription comes from the 1918 experience of Dr. Pierre Sartor, who battled the worldwide influenza pandemic in his small town of Titonka, Iowa.
Dr. Sartor wrote an inspiring first-person account of how he treated more than 1,000 patients – and by his reckoning, lost only five – which lay forgotten in a lockbox of family artifacts until it was discovered decades later by his granddaughter, Beth Obermeyer, a journalist and author of three previous books. Beth knew her grandfather through her teenage years and grew up absorbing family stories. Based upon Dr. Sartor’s memoir and her years of research, she vividly reconstructs his life from childhood in Luxembourg, where he overcame a debilitating hearing problem, to medical school in Chicago, courtship and marriage.
A pioneer in the geographic as well as the medical sense, Dr. Sartor left his flourishing urban practice and settled his young family in rural Iowa where, he said, “I am needed.” Those words took on special resonance when Dr. Sartor moved to another Iowa town in the early months of 1918, amid the gathering storm of the influenza pandemic. He had barely settled into the community of Titonka, when, as he wrote, the disease “spread like wildfire on wild prairie land.”
Dr. Sartor traveled for hours and miles to serve his patients, but he did not go alone. His steady, reliable companion was Guido Sartor, his son, who drove a horse-drawn sleigh as well as the family’s Model T Ford so Dr. Sartor could reach his patients. Twelve years old at the time, Guido, in his knickers and mask, was an able assistant on many trips – including one February day when he drove through a blizzard – a searing journey whose denouement would occur more than 30 years later. In the meantime, Guido, inspired by his father, became a physician. The author is Guido’s daughter. Growing up in a medical family, Beth writes with insight and candor of the strain that well-intentioned caregivers can place upon the people they love most. "