A centenarian Canadian who survived the 1918 flu by hiding in his mother’s bathtub has died aged 105. Joan Rozali, whose husband, Bill, died two years ago, died on Monday morning, her son, Chris Rozali, told the CBC.
The Centralia, Pennsylvania, woman spent much of her life in isolation and was the last person in the world without contact with the flu, which killed 250 million people worldwide, but only left her at risk of serious brain damage if she fell into the bathtub. She died from complications of pneumonia, she had said.
It has been 111 years since the flu pandemic first started to spread. The 1918 flu first came to Western Europe in late September, spreading quickly through Europe to Asia by the end of October. From December 1918 to April 1919, it struck Russia, spread to the Middle East, South America and north Africa. The pandemic is considered the worst flu epidemic since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919.
Rozali’s mother, Eva, was a shoemaker at the time and her son and wife reportedly worked alongside her, doing the same jobs as her daughters. An olden world few would ever imagine today, Peter Rozali wrote in his memoir of his grandmother, among her hobbies was needlework. Her husband, an employee of the post office, was often away from home during the flu epidemic and he would often return with ash on his clothes and nasal discharge that changed colour, which her family assumed to be the flu.
It would not be until after 1917 that a solution became available. The invention of the cot bathtub in the 1920s would allow people to sneak privacy away from the plumes of air pollution that would normally shroud them as the weather got warmer.
Her son, Rozali, has had the same idea on his wish list for his mother, who was nearing the end of her life. He said, “She told me she wanted one of those portable beds, if we can put her in a portable bed. I said, ‘Mother, can you imagine?’ I’m 92 years old, I’m on my deathbed and I can’t even get a portable bed.”