Monday, October 13, 2014

Ebola: Okay, Now I'm Worried.

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I consider myself to be a generally level headed person.  As a new mother, I was concerned but didn't call the doctor daily or weekly when my baby got the sniffles or was miserable.  I am not a hypochondriac and tend to roll my eyes when people freak out over the virus of the moment.

But Ebola.  Seriously.  I am starting to get concerned.  Well, more than starting to actually.  I am concerned.  

I was concerned upon reading about the epidemic in West Africa.  I seek to be educated on current events, so I made sure to read articles from reputable news organizations.  At the time, though slightly concerned, I was able to comfort myself by saying that the virus was limited to West Africa, and I had no plans to travel to that part of the world ever, let alone anytime soon.  I was increasingly concerned when the missionaries infected in Africa were brought back to the US for treatment.  That was bringing the virus onto American soil.  But I tried to think with compassion and reason.  I would want the same opportunity if that were one of my loved ones.  The CDC is trained to handle the worst of epidemics, so surely they wouldn't allow them to enter the US without believing that the virus could be contained while still treating the individual.  The missionaries got well.  Both of them, at least that I am aware of.  My level of concern actually decreased at that point.  It was a noble effort to treat them and I'm sure their families were eternally grateful.  It was a happy ending for all.

Then one afternoon, at home with my family, a tweet from NBC News caused my stomach to churn.  Someone in the US had tested positive for Ebola.  Not a US Citizen, but someone visiting family in the Dallas area.  Right, wrong, or indifferent, my first reaction was "Who the heck let that guy into the US?!"  I desperately try to avoid political discussions.  I am not apathetic, I just believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion and I do not seek to sway others to think the same way I do.  But in the middle of a global epidemic, located in one area of the globe, how were we not taking precautions with individuals traveling from those areas?  I'd read the articles, the ones that said that the US, and the world for that matter, wasn't taking the Ebola threat seriously enough.  I hoped it was just the media sensationalizing a story to get ratings.  Clearly, that wasn't the case.  Clearly they were right, we were not taking it seriously, and now here it was, on our soil, in our hospitals.

I knew the guy was going to die.  I just did.  I can't explain it, I just had a gut feeling, and unfortunately that gut feeling came to pass last week.  Someone died from Ebola.  In our country.  I am sure that there will be steep penalties to pay for the hospital administration that allowed the patient to go back into the public and potentially infect dozens more individuals than if it had been caught earlier.  I am not a nurse or a doctor, but I do not understand how a patient says that they have been Africa, comes in with flu-like symptoms and a temperature of 103, and is told to go home and take Tylenol.  I just do not get it.  I am not judging those workers or that hospital, because I think the US as a whole is inadequately prepared to deal with Ebola.  I think that same situation could have happened at scores of other hospitals across the country.  I do not blame Dallas.

And then yesterday, it happened again.  Another blip of social media told me that another person had tested positive for Ebola, a woman who had cared for Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas.  My heart sank.  Weren't there precautions taken?  How did this happen?  Was it someone who cared for him in the Emergency Department, before he was diagnosed? It doesn't sound like it.  From what I've read so far, this woman wasn't even one being monitored for potentially being exposed.  The CDC has said that there was a "breach in protocol".  Obviously.  I don't care for that wording at all- it makes it sound like it's the nurse's fault that she got Ebola, when in reality she was just doing her job, a job that entailed a great deal of risk.  The nursing assistant in Spain that contracted Ebola from one of her patient's said she may have brushed her face with her glove.  Probably something that took mere seconds to occur, yet it changed her life and so many others for good.  These are humans that are caring for these patients.  They are not perfect or infallible.  I work in a hospital.  Not directly in patient care, thankfully, but I do interact with patient care staff on a regular basis.  These nurses and nursing assistants have incredibly hard jobs on any given day, but I feel as though caring for patients with Ebola is a task that is asking them to go above and beyond.  Those individuals see the scariest of sights, probably think the scariest of thoughts, and yet have to go to work and do what is asked of them if they want a paycheck. If it was me, and I was in Dallas as a healthcare worker?  I'd be seriously considering quitting my job and working at Target or one of the many other retailers looking to hire seasonal workers.  I'm sure I'm not alone.

There is no simple solution to this crisis, and I certainly am not blogging about this topic because I have any answers.  The honest truth is I am scared.  Scared for those in Dallas, scared that this horrible virus is just a plane ride or car ride away, scared that we won't be able to get this under control before many more lives are lost.  My younger brother is a nurse, thankfully currently in school to be a CRNA.  But before that, guess where he worked? The Emergency Room.  He would have been on the front lines of patient care in the moderately large city of Pittsburgh.  Is it so out of the question that Ebola could end up there, or even where I live now in small town New York State?  I think we all have to face the fact that nothing is really out of the question anymore.  

I am not suggesting we live in fear.  Rather, I am begging the population to educate themselves about the Ebola virus.  I am asking that the government seriously consider alternative options to allowing those traveling from West Africa to enter the US, particularly if they are not a citizen.  I do not say this to seek to punish anyone from that region of the world, not at all in fact.  But we have to take precautions, ones that probably should have been taken in the past.  We have to protect our citizens, especially the elderly and the young, who would not have the strength to fight this deadly virus.  On behalf of my nearly 1 year old daughter, I beg someone to take a stand, to not worry about politics or poll numbers, and do what is right.  Come together and find a way to protect US Citizens.  If that means turning away flights from the affected regions or coming up with an alternative way of having those individuals safely enter the US, then so be it.  It may not be politically correct or convenient, but I think the time has already passed to do something that some may consider drastic.  It doesn't mean it's forever, just long enough that there can be some reasonable sense of safety and security that the bulk of the threat has subsided.

Finally, I sincerely hope that hospitals will wake up to the reality of Ebola on US soil and take the time to train their staff on how to treat these most critical and contagious patients.  How to treat them with dignity and compassion, but also how to treat them so that they do not put themselves or others at risk of contracting Ebola from a "breach of protocol" as the CDC so delicately put it.  If we were in their shoes, could we say with 100% certainty that we would not make a mistake, something as simple as touching our gloved hand to our face?  I don't think so.

Please, speak up.  It is up to us to demand some form of action and prevention.  Our healthcare workers deserve it, our children deserve it, we all deserve it.  God bless those affected and their families, and I hope we can all stop worrying about all of this very, very soon.

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