The Ebola crisis is now front-page news every day. As of this week, 4,995 cases and 2,729 deaths have been confirmed through laboratory testing, though the World Health Organization believes that this substantially understates the magnitude of the outbreak. One expert believes that there could be as many as 10,000 new Ebola cases per week by December 2014. How are we to respond?
First, let’s get clear on the facts. Ebola is not the beginning of a zombie apocalypse. (I am not kidding, people I know have repeated that to me.) However, it is serious and deadly. This outbreak started last December in Guinea, but Ebola was first identified in 1979. Symptoms start with a fever, sore throat, muscle pain and headaches. Typically, vomiting, diarrhea and rash follow, along with decreased function of the liver and kidneys. Some patients begin to hemorrhage, also, and death is occurring around 50% of the time. No specific treatment for the disease is yet available (information from wikipedia.org). All of this is stark, considering we know that Ebola has spread to two people in the past week in the US. The Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admitted that they failed to do all they should have done to prevent Ebola from spreading in Texas. Agency Director Tom Frieden says, “Ebola is unfamiliar. It’s scary, and getting it right is really, really important because the stakes are so high,” adding that he wishes the CDC had done more from the beginning to train the hospital staff (from the Associated Press).
Second, let’s stop doing harm. I have been praying for the people affected by Ebola, patients, families and healthcare workers, since June. We all need to pray more and panic less. It should go without saying that gossip and spreading half-truths in this crisis is the opposite of helpful.
I came across a post from a friend of mine that captured my hopes so beautifully. Leah Leslie was a School teacher, the mother of youth, and my co-teacher in Confirmation classes in Fayetteville. She is also a nurse. She wrote this earlier this week:
So in 1979, I had been a nurse for 1 year and heard about a terrible virus that killed homosexual men. Soon, we found that the facts were not correct and fear among healthcare providers was rampant. Nurses refused to take care of patients, and some died alone in their rooms... we had little information so we became hysterical and acted without compassion and reason. It’s easy to be brave about HIV now- we know more. But now almost 35 years later we are again walking in fear. It’s a different virus, but I recognize the same fear. Is fear unreasonable, no, but let’s use it in a different way. Let’s learn from the past, Let’s not act hysterically, Let’s not behave without compassion, Let’s remember to ask questions regarding exposure and travel histories, Let’s isolate appropriately, Let’s use appropriate Personal Protective Equipment, Let’s put on and take off PPE with meticulous attention to detail. Let’s communicate appropriately, Remember, it is the job of the media to excite and sensationalize. Let’s make sure our sources are evidence based. We will be less stressed and our patients will be better cared for. Let’s be an instrument of peace and comfort- not of chaos and fear. Remember the first rule of any emergency is: Stop, check your pulse and then Think.
Leah’s words of calm, written to any who would hear, apply beyond the world of those who practice medicine. We, who practice faith, should stop, check our pulse, and think in order that we are spreading love and not fear. Grace and Peace, Scott