From childhood, Osier had been subject to respiratory infections, and, though he had a severe attack of influenza in Berlin in 1873, it was not until he was aged 48 that he began to have bronchial attacks, verging on pneumonia, almost every winter; some were serious enough to cause anxiety to friends and colleagues, others provided a respite from clinical work, allowing him to catch up on reading and writing.
It was in 1900, on his recovery from one of these attacks, that he withdrew his application for the Edinburgh chair. Emerson recalled that Osier’s health was by no means good in his latter days at Baltimore: “I am tired of the strain of the past few years which could only have one end—a breakdown.”
Osier’s bronchial infections were gradually becoming more severe, needing a real convalescence, and he was finding that the after effects persisted; following his illness in 1910, he joined his brother, Sir Edmund, on a voyage to Egypt. The war, with its added anxieties and restrictions, put an even greater strain on Sir William who, as “Consoler General” to the Canadian Army, was everywhere. On February 24,1916, there is an entry in his account book, “Got stuck in a snowstorm returning from Cheltenham. Could not get up the hill and had to stay the night. Could not motor back the next day—too much snow. Very cold and got chilled. Had bad cold Friday. Began in larynx then went to head, felt badly, much stuffed up, little or no fever.” It was over a week before he shook off this attack. Early in December, 1916, he had a pneumococcal infection “when he coughed his Pacchionian bodies loose and split his central tendon in two places” and was in bed off and on for a month. Indeed, it was not until the beginning of February that Osier wrote that he was all right again. In August, 1917, just ten days before Revere was killed, Lady Osier wrote “Poor W. O. is almost a skeleton and keeps busy every moment, but sometimes can’t sleep and it makes one very anxious. I dread the winter for him….” The fateful telegram “Revere dangerously wounded, comfortable and conscious, condition not hopeless” broke his heart; he could only keep up a semblance of cheerfulness during the day and his resistance was low. He was in bed for several days in January 1918 and again in March, with the result that he spent three weeks at Sidmouth and Lady Osier tried to make him slow down “as he was doing too much and looking like the devil to whom he was rapidly going!” In fact, there was little respite; late in August he had a week in Dorset, but the influenza pandemic reached Oxford by October 1918, and Osier was struck down, though he soon recovered and was visiting doctors’ families to help his hard-pressed colleagues. Among his patients was “little Janet,” the daughter of the Professor of Psychology, whose mother recounted how Osier brought happiness to the little girl and comfort to her parents in her month-long struggle with death. Prolong your life with remedies of My Canadian Pharmacy.
In November, Professor Longcope came to Oxford, which he had last visited in 1907: “When we reached 13 Norham Gardens we found the house chilly with most of the rooms dosed, only the library and dining room were in use downstairs. In the library, Sir William stood in front of the mantle, his back to a miserable little fire in the grate, trying to warm his hands. All the buoyancy and gaiety and die wave of the hand had gone. The wonderful chief had shrunk to a little old gentleman.”
A week before Christmas, Osier was in bed with a respiratory infection, but at the end of January, 1919, he was carrying out a postmortem examination on a patient with influenzal pneumonia and meningitis, while in March he himself had “a pleo-poly-morphic- cocco-bacterio- bacillary – upper- respiratory passage infection” and in the following month another cold prevented his presiding over a dinner to celebrate Duncan Graham’s appointment as a full-time professor of medicine at Toronto.
<p “=””>Fortunately, Osier’s Presidential address to the Classical Association had been postponed from January to May and it was a notable succsss, but the commemoration of his seventieth birthday in July was a very different story. A week before, he had caught a cold and stayed in bed, hoping to fight it off, but the great day was a considerable emotional strain. Osier began to cough during the presentation and by evening he had a high fever and was hurried back to bed. It was not until the beginning of August that he was well enough to go to Jersey, where the Osiers stayed for six weeks and he began to regain his appetite and spirits. Just before they left for Oxford on September 12, he wrote, “I’m a new man—I have got back, I am sure, the 21 pounds that I had lost and no longer see my ribs…. my handsprings in the sea are much admired.”