Thursday, October 30, 2014

The doctor and The Disease

Infectious diseases – Ebola, AIDS, even the Flu – are always worrisome. 

My background includes covering the early days of AIDS, back in the 1983, when it was breaking out across New York City, as a young reporter that summer for United Press International.

Few understood the disease.  Was it limited to the gay community?  Was it only happening to people who had blood transfusions?  No one knew.

In an attempt to dampen public fear of donating blood, New York City Mayor Ed Koch, in a very public piece of showmanship, donated blood, showing that if he could survive the process, so could anyone else.

I interviewed the executive director of New York’s Blood Bank about whether donations were the same or down due to this new fangled disease.

“I’m getting a lot of interesting phone calls,” he said.

“Really.  What kind of calls,” I asked.

“I’m not really sure I should say.  I’m a pretty modest guy,” he said.

“I am, too, so you can tell me,” I said.

“Well, this one lady said she and her husband practice anal and oral sex, and she wanted to know if they were at risk of getting AIDS,” he said.

“What did you tell her,” I asked.

 “As long as the sexual activity was only between them, they were fine,” he said.

Needless to say, that didn’t make it out across the wire that day. 

But the story about the guy who walked into a bank one Saturday morning, holding it up by saying he had AIDS, did.  The teller was so petrified of the disease, she handed him every dollar she could find. 

Given how we live in the United States, it's highly unlikely anyone would come near Ebola.  While we're prone to shaking hands, we tend to keep our physical contact with others to a minimum.

That's not so much the case in West Africa, where, from what I read, locals hug the dead, even those who died of Ebola, which then puts the living at risk of coming down with the disease. 

And, unlike the Flu, Ebola isn’t an airborne disease.

The larger issue we’re facing in the United States is the example a nurse or doctor provides – especially to the rest of us who aren’t medical workers – when they refuse to be quarantined because they may have been exposed to Ebola. 

Yes, medical workers have rights.  But they also have an obligation.  And that's to demonstrate concern for a community's overall health.

So, yes, nurses and doctors, who've done a fantastic service in Africa, should be quarantined.  I don't know if it needs to be for 21 days, but they should show the same amount of concern for their fellow Americans' health as they have for those in Africa.

A nurse I know, who works at a local hospital, tells disturbing stories but what's really bothersome are the ones of her fellow healthcare workers. 

They have no qualms about eating fat-laden, cholesterol-rich foods, like cheeseburgers.  Seriously, why aren’t these people taking the advice their industry hands out – to work out and be careful what they eat?

Medical workers, I’m beginning to believe, are just like journalists – they’re arrogant!  The rules don’t apply to them.

So if I were advising Kaci Hickox, the nurse in Maine upset about being quarantined, I’d tell her to tone down her cries about her civil rights and, instead, increase her time being an example of someone concerned not only about her health but also that of her fellow citizens. 

But maybe in this age of one person’s rights superseding everyone else's, that's too much to expect, even from those who should know better.

1 comment:

L.T. Hanlon said...

About the same time you were covering the initial phase of the AIDS epidemic in New York, I was on a road trip from Wyoming to Washington, down through Oregon and then back across California, Nevada and Utah to Wyoming.

I spent two or three days in San Francisco visiting friends. As I was heading out of town, I stopped at a self-serve gas station in the city to fill up. When I went to the booth to pay, the clerk -- who already was behind glass - was wearing latex gloves and a face mask.

"It's a good thing you're taking precautions," I told him. "You wouldn't believe what I just did with the nozzle and hose!"

He showed no reaction, suggesting I'm not the first customer to have said that.