Nancy Roman

Overcoming The Storm

One fascinating discovery for me, as I wrote my latest book, LUCINDA’S SOLUTION, was researching the Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

What a horror that outbreak was. Do you know that more U.S. soldiers died of influenza than on the battlefield? And that the death toll was greater in one year than in four years of the bubonic plague? People truly feared that it was the end of the world, and that the whole human race would die.

One of the scariest elements of the pandemic was the unprecedented death toll of the strongest people. Rather than striking the old and the sick, this outbreak decimated the population of young healthy adults.

There are several reasons for this – but there is the one that particularly struck me. It’s called a Cytokine Storm.

Simplistically (and ‘simple’ is the best I can give you, not being any kind of epidemiologist… I’m an accountant turned writer, for God’s sake) – a Cytokine Storm is an overreaction of one’s immune system.

In the influenza pandemic of 1918, and with some other flu outbreaks, the body can respond with an overproduction of antibody immune cells, which causes major respiratory and cardiac distress. The lungs, in particular, are flooded with these immune cells – which in turn can lead to a secondary, often lethal, case of bacterial pneumonia.

And who is most likely to experience a Cytokine Storm? The overreaction of the immune system occurs in people with the most active immune system. If your immune system is weak (as when you are elderly or sick or still in infancy) – it is not capable of a strong reaction. The BEST immune systems are the ones to overreact. They do their job too well. And so, in 1918, the immune systems of young healthy adults were their very downfall.

That’s probably a long-enough medical history lesson, but I could go on and on. I think maybe I should go on a lecture tour for the 100th anniversary of the Influenza Pandemic. (which is this year, by the way).

But the Cytokine Storm phenomenon intrigues me.

Because your immune system is your physical defense mechanism. And in the Cytokine Storm, your defense system fails you. It harms you rather than saves you.

And that makes me think about our nonphysical defense mechanism. Our emotional defense system.

We all need to protect ourselves emotionally. We don’t want our feelings hurt. We don’t want to be sad or lonely or afraid.

So we have these wonderful brain mechanisms that help to keep us safe. That rationalize our failures, that excuse or ignore those who insult us, that look to the future when the past is too painful.

But what if?  What if the strongest of our emotional defenses can also act like a Cytokine Storm?

What if our defenses are so strong that they are sending cells into our brain to destroy our feelings?

I recently met a wise woman who said that she doesn’t particularly like the expression, “Let It Go.”  She prefers “Let It Be.” Rather than bury her sorrows, she likes to think of them as sitting on a shelf, where she can look at them if she needs to. She can even take them out and hold them once in a while, or she can let them gather dust. But they are there for her to keep.

That woman’s advice made me remember the time a doctor told a dear friend that he would prescribe an antidepressant to help her get through the death of her husband. “Get through?” Really? Is the death of the love of one’s life like a broken toe? That some pain medication will fix it? My friend told this doctor: “My husband died. I think I am SUPPOSED to feel sad.”

I know we all need to protect ourselves. I believe in being as nice to yourself as you can.  I’ve written before (“Maybe I Like Sour Grapes”) – that a little rationalization might be fine. That you can cut yourself a little slack once in a while. Sometimes you might need to be brutally honest with yourself and your failings. But it doesn’t ALWAYS have to be quite so brutal.

And just maybe protecting your feelings isn’t the same thing as denying your feelings. Maybe denying your feelings is the Cytokine Storm that will ruin your life.

In the same way, protecting yourself from the outside world may keep you from going insane, but becoming deaf and blind (and even just inured) to atrocity might be harmful to ourselves – and the world.  While going insane is not be a helpful reaction, sometimes some righteous indignation may actually be appropriate.

Do not protect yourself from pain.

We are bombarded with horror and evil and catastrophes. We are invaded like the influenza virus invaded our ancestors. Some of the strongest of those infected found that their defense mechanism turned out to be worse than the disease.

What if  –

like Influenza –

Numbness is a terrible way to die?



I found this image on It is available for free with no attribution required. However, it is so beautiful, it deserves attribution: It is by Graehawk.




  1. Wonderful post, Nancy. I never knew that about the Flu Epidemic.


    • I only needed general information for my novel, but I just kept on researching because it was so fascinating. At least 50 million people died around the world – and maybe more, since records were not kept in some countries.


  2. nice


  3. Excellent information! I was surprised to recently learn that the first cases were found right here in the U.S., that the war brought it to the whole globe, and that it was called the “Spanish Flu” simply because of the very high numbers of deaths in Spain. With new varieties of flu and other illnesses, it’s good to learn and know about things like this, that happened in the not-too-distant past. Thanks!


    • Here’s an interesting thing I learned. That the death toll in Spain was not really that much higher than in other places. It’s just that people saw more information about the flu’s impact on Spain – since the other countries were at war, and kept a lot of info hidden. When you are fighting a war, you don’t want your enemies to know that you are all sick. But Spain was not fighting and did not have an information blackout. So people just thought that Spain was the epicenter of the disease.


  4. The worst thing in the world is to deny your feelings to the point of emotional isolation. And, on top of that, the feelings just come back and kick you in the slats when you are least able to deal with them. I like the concept of putting them on the shelf and then taking them out.


    • You are so right. Denying your feelings is just delaying your feelings.


  5. I do so liked this whole post

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I had no-o-o idea about Influenza Pandemic of 1918. This is mindboggling and eye-opening. Fascinating post, Nancy. 🙂


    • Thanks! It is a fascinating subject. For instance, one-half of all the US doctors under 45 were in the military because of the war, and that really hindered the available care. I am actually getting myself a bit excited about the idea of doing a lecture on the pandemic. I am going to talk to the library and the community center this week!


  7. Pam

    If you are familiar with the book Twilight, the Spanish influenza of 1918 is part of the setting and plot of the story. Like you, Stephenie Meyer did her research, as 17-year-old Edward and his parents were dying in a Chicago hospital in 1918 from the Spanish influenza when he was saved from death by a vampire doctor. Ha ha, sounds crazy, but it did make a good story! And I thought, What? a young, strong person dying from the flu? Thanks for the detailed explanation!
    I also like the expression “Let it be.” Like Paul McCartney said, “Let it be.” It’s helpful when you know you can’t do anything about a problem or the past, so you just have to accept it. After all, you can’t truly “let it go.” It will always be there. I like the thought of putting
    it on the shelf.


    • Putting your pain on a shelf does not dismiss it. It just keeps it until you are ready.


  8. That was interesting. I had no idea. When my mother, father, father-in-law, aunt, and a good friend all died w/in 5 months a doctor prescribed antidepressants for me. I, too, told the doctor that I thought I was entitled to feel sad. And that sad was different than depressed.


    • You were more than entitled to be sad. – you were entitled to be devastated. And you are also entitled to be happy again – and entitled to take as long as you need before you are.


  9. I like the parallel you draw here. I’m wondering if you read “The Great Influenza” as part of your research? I’m a history buff, anyway, but that was a fascinating read. Just bought a copy for my daughter, who’s a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins – and the book covers the medical school’s beginnings.


    • I did not read that book. But I just ordered it for my kindle and will read it right away! Thanks! I am becoming an “influenza buff” – if there is such a thing!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. how fascinating. I love how you tied this post together. I have been in a funk today for some reason and this really resonated with me. Thank you for your words. You may have been an accountant by trade, but writing is your gifting. Your words breathe hope, and encouragement to me. Thank you. Cathi


    • Thank you for your kind comment. I hope you always find a path to feel encouragement.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Diane

    My great grandmother lost one teenage daughter to flu. When she returned home after the funeral another daughter had died. Finally her son, at war in France was killed in action. I remember seeing my great grandmother Jenny on her own death bed, I was 5.


    • More than 50 million people died. At a minimum, that is 3% of the whole world’s population. Some estimates are double that. What a terrifying time.


  12. FlauntyQuill

    It’s a very interesting post. I remember when first hearing about the 1918 Influenza. I was shocked. So many people dying in what can only be considered modern times, and we never read about in school! It’s almost like a forgotten episode. Maybe the trauma it caused was so great humanity decided to close their eyes to it?


    • Many historians think exactly the same thing – that it was so horrible, no one wanted to remember or document it. They just wanted to forget.


      • FlauntyQuill

        I am glad it wasn’t completely forgotten, and that writers like you keep the memory alive. I think it is very important we remember the past. Even the horrible parts.


  13. In Britian the great Flu epidemic is fairly well known. My grandmother lost 4 brothers in WW1 and then another (young and fit as you described) died of the flu.


    • The Great War and the Influenza Pandemic are horribly intertwined. The movement of soldiers and the inability to isolate those who were sick made everything worse. I feel for your grandmother.


  14. I think I told you before how much I enjoyed “Lucinda’s Solution” and how much I learned from it about that time frame. It’s incredible the amount of research and knowledge you brought to the story. (I did write a review)
    The numbness you describe here is terrifying to me, yet I find that more and more it seems to be used as a tool for survival. I know I have fallen under its spell upon occasion.


  15. thats great


  16. Pretty piece of work. I learnt something new



  1. Overcoming The Storm — notquiteold – Damian: TANZANIA AFRICA

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