“Ring the alarm, another sound is dying…” ~ Tenor Saw
There is a delicate balance that needs to be struck between informing the public and inciting panic. We are seeing this played out in the media as they ramp up the rhetoric about Ebola. To the outside world the US must appear to be extremely self-centered and insensible to the suffering of others. In West Africa almost 4,000 people have died since the latest outbreak. And they expect that number to double in the next 3o days. With the lack of adequate health care, health care workers, supplies, and most especially simple hygiene facilities, stopping the spread of disease is a huge challenge.
Compare the health environment to the US, where every hospital has (hopefully) adequate supplies of personal protective equipment; knows about and practice standard precautions (which should be enough to prevent the spread of any pathogen transmitted by contact); and should be practicing the best of infection control practices on a daily basis. With the evident mismanagement in the case of the first patient with Ebola, we have highlighted the shortcomings of our own healthcare system, and the need for better communication and partnership between physicians and nurses, especially in the chaotic atmosphere of an ER.
I have hesitated to start talking about the handling of this case, as it exposes some of the problems with healthcare in this country that make me crazy. In other words, don’t get me started! But this conversation about the patient with Ebola took many of us down the path to the early days of the AIDS crisis. Much was feared and little was known and as always, nurses were at the forefront. The specter of the patient with AIDS was daunting. When they first entered the healthcare system they were horribly ill, often with TB along with the other manifestations of the cruel disease. And we had no clear guidelines about how to protect ourselves while caring for them. That was the origin of Universal Precautions. The patients were usually placed in the special isolation rooms reserved for patients with TB. We would gown up and cover up and shield ourselves in every way possible before entering the room. And we would rarely discuss this with our families. They did not need to know what went on at work.
I remember one day caring for a young man who had developed a collapsed lung, which was when he was tested and discovered he was HIV positive. When I went into the room he was crying. I thought he was in pain at the discomfort of having a chest tube inserted in his side. He was crying because the surgeon had visited him, clad head to toe in protective gear, had poked his head around the door, asked him how he was doing, and informed him he would be removing the tube in a few days. “What is he going to do?” he asked me, “Is he going to stand at the door to pull out the tube?” If it is scary for the healthcare workers, imagine how scary it is to be the patient.
When I listen to the news and the panic mongering that goes on, I am disheartened. It is not helpful; in fact it is downright harmful when you escalate anxiety instead of promoting good practice and education about the risks and dangers.
I was reminded of the Bible verse that tells us: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become as a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” The motivation behind our words can change them from being effective tools of education and encouragement, to being the ‘wah, wah, wah’ of a Charlie Brown adult. This applies to many situations, not just Ebola outbreaks. The discourse that we hear on TV often appears to be motivated by a need to ramp up fear and hatred. The words of our leaders are lacking the compassion and understanding of every segment of the population; instead they highlight differences and spread distrust.
We need to be sure we are informed and educated about the world around us, not allowing ourselves to be manipulated by fear and bias. Do we try to find the facts, or do we run with the worst case scenarios, increasing the flow of misinformation and gossip? It is important to distinguish between noise and true discourse that advances us as people, that shows the world that we are compassionate, that we care for the least of these, as well as our own skin.
On this Friday morning, when many world over are looking for just the basics to be able to enjoy life and the pursuit of happiness, I hope you are healthy. Let us speak today with love and compassion for the suffering of our fellow human beings, and remember ‘There, but for the grace of God, go you or I.”
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!