Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Nelle Reagan and the Power of…Cheese Mold?!

In 1918 America was celebrating the end of “the war to end all wars” even as Spanish influenza ravaged the U.S.  One of the stricken was a woman in the little town of Monmouth, IL…a woman named Nelle Reagan.  In his first book, Ronald Reagan vividly recalled his mother’s brush with death. 

Nelle got the flu—as did hundreds of others in the neighborhood—but she survived.  I have always attributed her almost miraculous recovery…not as much to the candles that my father paid for in the church as to a primitive use of yet-undiscovered penicillin.  A gruff old family-type doctor, after doing all he could for her, gave this magic advice, ‘Keep her stuffed to the gills with old green cheese, the moldier the better.’ (Reagan, Ronald & Richard Hubeler, (1965). Where’s the Rest of Me?, New York: Duell, Sloan, & Pearce.p. 13)

All the medical sources I’ve been able to consult, indicate that the various penicillins (yes, there’s different types) are used to treat bacterial infections, rather than viruses like influenza.  Consequently, if Reagan’s hypothesized “penicillin” had a salutary effect on Nelle’s health, it must have been simply by keeping bacterial infections at bay—thus lessening the strain on her immune system while it fought the flu virus.  However, given the fact that the epidemic “ceased to exist officially” by November of 1918, it seems equally plausible to believe that Nelle Reagan was just a hearty soul who was one of the fortunate few.  Who knows, perhaps Jack’s candles did more good than the Gipper ever guessed?

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