Chapter 16 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 504

In March, Cannery Row experiences a huge fishing boon. The canneries are operating at full capacity and hiring anyone who wants a job. Business is booming for Dora at the Bear Flag as well, but she has more than she can handle, especially since some of her girls are indisposed:...

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In March, Cannery Row experiences a huge fishing boon. The canneries are operating at full capacity and hiring anyone who wants a job. Business is booming for Dora at the Bear Flag as well, but she has more than she can handle, especially since some of her girls are indisposed: Eva is away on vacation; Phyllis Mae suffered a broken leg in a fall at an amusement park; and Elsie, a good Catholic girl, is away on a religious pilgrimage. It is all a headache for the madam, who must deal with the newcomers as well as make sure her regular customers are taken care of.

The happiness over the bounty of work and money is tempered, however, by a massive influenza outbreak. Schools close down and there is not a single family on the Row who does not have a sick child, a sick parent, or both. In the early 1920s, influenza was especially dangerous for children, who, without the benefit of antibiotics, often developed mastoiditis, from which many died. The local doctors had more cases than they could handle, for, like Dora in her business, they had to tend to not only their regular cases of illness and injury but, daily, new flu cases as well. 

Doctors are becoming harder and harder to come by, so Doc begins pitching in. Because he has helped so many people in other dire circumstances, his help is sought even though he is not a medical doctor. Doc assists as much as he is able, running from one home to the next, bringing food and blankets, taking temperatures, and examining people. If he sees that a case is deteriorating beyond his means of help, he phones a doctor.

After one long day and night, Doc bumps into Dora at Lee Chong's, where he has come for a bit of food and a couple of beers. She asks how people he has visited are faring. Doc confirms what she already knows. The situation is bad but it could be worse; at least no one has died yet, though he is worried about the Ransels' children, who "have all developed mastoiditis."

Dora cannot help but notice Doc's fatigue and asks whether there is anything she or her girls can do to help him out. Doc thinks for a second and soon says that there is indeed something they can do for him and their fellow citizens. He knows that part of medicine is ministering to the spirit, not just the body. He tells Dora that the Ransels are scared for their children and afraid of being alone. He asks whether she and her girls will pay them visits. 

Of course, Dora takes on the task with gusto. She returns to the Bear Flag immediately and organizes the girls and sets up a visitation schedule, not only for the Ransel family but for others who need their help. They make huge pots of soup and carry the meals to the stricken families, who need not only support but sustenance. 

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