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From 1918 to COVID-19: Nurse Honors Her Mother by Taking on the Pandemic

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Nurse practitioner Sigrid Stokes doesn’t want to stop working anytime soon, even though she’s 76. For her, fighting a pandemic runs in the family. Her mother, Kristine Berg Mueller, cared for those who were ill during the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed 50 million people worldwide and 675,000 here in the U.S.

Stokes has been administering vaccines to help her community recover from the virus. She credits her mother for introducing her to the world of healthcare. One hundred years later, their family is still making a difference today.

Like Mother, Like Daughter

The late Berg Mueller was only 14 years old when the 1918 flu pandemic first arrived in her home country of Norway.

“She and a friend volunteered at the local hospital to help out in whatever way they could, which I would imagine would be things like feeding people, bathing people, you know, changing beds, whatever they could do,” says Stokes, looking back.

In the years after the pandemic, Berg Mueller eventually took an interest in healthcare, but her family didn’t have enough money to send her to nursing school. An aunt living in San Francisco, CA agreed to take her in, which allowed her to emigrate to the U.S. in 1923. She enrolled in a local nursing program four years later.

She then married and relocated to Los Angeles, where she continued her nursing career, while her husband ran a local bookstore. One of her jobs was to go to the local movie studios. She would care for the child actors and keep them healthy on-set.

As the years went by, Stokes remembers her mother telling her about her experiences during the pandemic. She even has photos of her mother talking to Shirley Temple, the child actress of the 1930s and 40s.

Answering the Call

Stokes says it was her mother that eventually inspired her to go into nursing. She remembers seeing her mother light up with joy as she took care of others.

Stokes didn’t get into the business until she was in her late 20s. After a long career, she was working part-time at a pediatric clinic when the coronavirus pandemic first hit the U.S.

“I was volunteering in the pediatric ward and so on, and I all of a sudden realized, you know, I really like this,” she recalled.

She knew she could help administer the COVID-19 vaccine. She’s not alone. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently announced that it will allow retired nurses and those with inactive licenses to help administer the vaccine. Stokes is one of the many providers volunteering to get back to work. 

Even though the number of new infections and hospitalizations is dropping across the country, hospitals and communities need to bring additional staff onboard, so existing providers can focus on caring for those who have tested positive for the virus. Administering the vaccine poses less risk than caring for patients in the ICU.

Stokes says she’s loving her new position. “I give very good shots, I might add, good jabs,” she said with a smile.

She can prick a patient and they won’t even flinch, as she demonstrated for a local news outlet.

To honor her mother, Stokes still wears her mother’s pearl enamel earrings to work in Salinas, CA, the same pair her mother wore every day until she died at the age of 91 in 1995.

“I wear them every time I come to work because I feel like it’s a sort of a talisman that she’s with me and our family, we’re doing it,” said Stokes. She has another keepsake from back in the day, the black cape her mother used to wear to work.

She’s proud to carry the torch by administering as many shots as possible.

“We’ve got to get this done,” she said. “We’ve got to get people vaccinated so we can get this country moving again.”

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