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Her mom fought the 1918 pandemic. This Salinas nurse fights the present one

Sigrid Stokes gives a COVID-19 shot.
Nurse practitioner Sigrid Stokes, 76, gives a healthcare worker a COVID-19 shot Wednesday at the Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital.
(Haven Daley / Associated Press)

She’s 76 years old, but nurse practitioner Sigrid Stokes is in no mood to retire.

Stokes is too busy working to save lives during a deadly pandemic, just as her mother did more than a century ago.

The late Kristine Berg Mueller tended to those stricken by the deadly flu pandemic that swept the world in 1918. Her daughter, Stokes, is giving COVID-19 vaccinations to healthcare workers battling the coronavirus.

Mueller was a 14-year-old student in her native Norway when the flu pandemic hit. It eventually killed an estimated 50 million people, including some 675,000 in the United States, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

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Sigrid Stokes holds a photo of her mother
Nurse practitioner Sigrid Stokes holds a photograph of her mother, who was also a nurse.
(Haven Daley / Associated Press)

“And so 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,” Stokes said recently as she prepared to administer vaccinations at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, near her home.

Decades after the flu pandemic passed, Stokes’ mother would tell her that that was what had inspired her to become a nurse.

San Francisco went mask crazy. Los Angeles shut down early and stayed closed longer, but not long enough. Some lessons from the 1918 Spanish flu.

The family had no money to send Mueller to nursing school, but an aunt in San Francisco agreed to take her in. She moved to the U.S. in 1923 and enrolled in a nursing program four years later.

Eventually she married and moved to Los Angeles, where Stokes’ father ran a rental bookstore while her mother continued her nursing career.

Among Mueller’s assignments was being called to movie studios from time to time to make sure child actors stayed safe and healthy on set. Of the many photos of her mother, Stokes proudly displays one of her in her nurse’s uniform talking to Shirley Temple as both smile broadly.

Sigrid Stokes with photograph of her mother
Nurse practitioner Sigrid Stokes holds a photograph of her mother, who was also a nurse, talking to Shirley Temple.
(Haven Daley / Associated Press)

It’s that same sense of joy at helping people that Stokes, her white hair framed by purple-tinted bangs and black-framed glasses, brings to her own work. She’s all business, though, when administering vaccines.

“I give very good shots,” she says with a slight smile.

She proves it when, wearing a surgical mask, she deftly plunges a needle into the arm of a masked healthcare worker who doesn’t even flinch.

This southeastern Arizona town, once a tourist haven, is struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.

It wasn’t until her late 20s that Stokes decided she wanted to follow her mother into nursing.

“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.

Stokes was still working part-time when the coronavirus began to spread across the U.S. early last year. Nursing COVID-19 patients was too risky for her because of her age, but she knew she could help with vaccinations.

As she arrives at work each day from her home in Pacific Grove, she wears the enamel earrings she fashioned from a Norwegian necklace that her mother proudly wore each day before her death at age 91 in 1995.

“I wear them every time I come to work because I feel like it’s a sort of talisman that she’s with me and our family — we’re doing it,” said Stokes, who also has the black cape her mother wore for years over her white nurse’s uniform.

With COVID-19 having killed more than 2 million people worldwide, including more than 450,000 in the United States, Stokes isn’t ready to quit until the coronavirus has been tamed.

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

Rogers reported from Los Angeles.


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