Saturday, October 11, 2014

I'm Home.

Sort of.  

Late last Sunday I landed in New York City’s JFK Airport.  From International Arrivals I went straight to my bed battling a sine wave fever, chills, shakes, headaches, nagging aches and pains all over my precious little body, a sore throat, and an ever souring disposition (“a big yes on that one” sayeth she who must be obeyed), all of which kept me confined to my apartment for the week. Until a trip to a doctor on Friday to happily learn most of the rest of me is fine, I hadn’t seen more than the view from my window, and from the street level sounds below for all I knew I could still be in Athens where I caught the &^%$ bug.

I guess it could have been worse.  If I’d flown in this Sunday (tomorrow) with the same symptoms, there’s no telling where I’d be.  Quite possibly in quarantine at Bellevue Hospital.

That’s not meant to be a joke.

Homeland Security has beefed up immigration operations to include temperature testing in certain situations.  And each of us knows why. I don’t even have to mention the word. The situation is alarming and the country is taking it seriously. At least the media is reacting as if it is whether or not the people on the street quite get it yet.

I see actual concern—fear is too strong a word—in the eyes of some of the journalists covering the story.  Of course, crisis always attracts political opportunists, and with Congressional Elections looming a little more than three weeks away, they’re out in droves, some brandishing petitions screaming “close our borders to those diseased places.” 

I wonder if those same folks would have been on the side of the Indians back in 1492?  Nah, I see them as more likely standing shoulder to shoulder with the mighty ostrich, prepared at the first sign of danger to bury their heads in the sand.

Opportunistic fear mongering aside, “What’s going on here?”

Two nights ago I heard an articulate leader of an international relief organization offer an empirical assessment of the state of our world.  She didn’t mean to make it sound that way, but that’s how it came across to me.

She said human relief disasters are measured on a scale from one through three, with three the most serious.  In the past, the worst world situation her organization had seen involved two level-three crises at one time.  Currently there are six.  That’s three times more than anything she’d ever seen before.  “It’s all hands on deck time,” she called it.

Like I said, “What’s going on here?”

Some suggest Nostradamus was right and the end is near, he was just off by a couple of years. (I know, he never actually predicted the end of the world or mentioned 2012, but try telling that to the end of the world folk.)

It’s now up to our world leaders to prove the doomsayers wrong and keep their respective nations’ ostrich heads under control.  The best way to achieve that is with a Marshall Plan of mandatory remedial playschool in which all world leaders learn how to play well with others.  But as that’s an impossibility, the next most likely effective method of galvanizing the world into united action is by appealing to the single trait shared by virtually all political types in their DNA: protect your personal self-interests above all else.

The six level-three relief situations plaguing our world at this moment continue to inflict massive, horrid suffering in their regions.  But only one directly threatens devastating consequences to all parts of the globe, regardless of political alignments.

Again, we all know what that one is called.

Indecisiveness in addressing the epidemic confronting West Africa has brought the world to the brink of pandemic.  More of the same will bring the horror of West Africa to Westphalia, Westminster, Ouest Paris, West Texas…. No place will be safe.

Will corrupt opportunists in the suffering West African countries seek to profit off the world’s generosity no matter the additional suffering their greed inflicts on their countrymen? Of course, it happens in every disaster.  I shall now pause to draw a breath so as to not make some injudicious reference to Haiti. 

But at the most basic—call it selfish—level, what choice does the world have?  Medical professionals on the ground appear united on where this is headed, and public perception is simmering toward panic. Look at the demonstrations in Spain by health workers, or in England by folks who clean the planes of flights out of West Africa.

This is a matter of physical self-preservation, and it is time for those in charge to realize that and act accordingly. The “it can’t happen here” or “it only happens to those who do things we don’t” mentality won’t work in this instance.  There’s no psychological safe haven for denying the risk you have at contracting Ebola. 

There, I said it, Ebola.  Sorry folks, but if you breathe, touch, swallow, or simply have eyes or a cut on your skin you’re at risk.  Learn about how it spreads, its commonly confused symptoms, and mortality rates on this CNN video.

We damn well better press our governments to do all that they can to battle and defeat Ebola on its current home turf. Otherwise, as surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, in the not too distant future Ebola will make it into neighborhoods where we say, “I’m home.”

God forbid.  

People act.



  1. Well said, Jeff.

    I was going to post some other thoughts, but decided they weren't appropriate for a public forum. Maybe I'll send you a private email, Jeff... (See: I *do* have *some* self-control!)

  2. Interesting. I attended a lecture recently by a Dr who was an Ebola specialist. He worked for Medicine Without Frontiers. It was a long and very complex lecture. Basic points- if it is custom to put dead bodies out on the street, that is problematic. Treating the victim with triple gloves on, trying to inject serum is very problematic. Working in plastic tents, negative air pressure in intense heat is problematic - twenty mins max and the masks steam up. Then thirty minutes to get decontaminated then re steralised and gowned up.
    With good nutrition, good housing, adequate means of isolating the affected and good medical support of the body systems of those affected meant the mortality rate dropped significantly. But that costs money.

    1. Well put and to the point, Caro. As usual. It is your last paragraph that the rest of the world must bring to the battle...or find that the battle has come to them.

  3. A very timely post, Jeff. This is a big deal and it will be hard to contain. Just think back to the swine flu saga. There we knew where it started, and we were onto it almost immediately. Yet in a matter of weeks it was all around the world. Fortunately it turned out not to be much worse than any other flu. Of course, the big difference is that Ebola doesn't spread through the air. At least, not yet.

    1. Michael, you've put your finger on one of the two factors I understand pandemic experts fear most: Airborne contagion. This one isn't quite there yet, as the infectious fluids dispersed by a cough or sneeze don't quite qualify it as airborne. But here's the big concern at the moment (I think). It comes from a conversation I had a few years back with a friend selected by the governor of a large east coast state to coordinate the state's response to the bird flu scare. He told me he wasn't all that worried about it because those who contracted it in Asia died very quickly, not giving the patient much of a chance to spread the illness to others. He said the time to worry is when cases began appearing not in concentrated clusters, but in many different locales, for that meant it's contagious before the symptoms are debilitating...or perhaps even noticeable. T

  4. Quite right, Jeff. The concern about Ebola is that there are multiple strains and it seems to mutate quite quickly. We both used the word "yet", and that's scary.

  5. One of my published books is on the subject of plague as a literary theme. I discuss the bubonic plague, syphilis, the 1919 flu pandemic, and AIDS. I was interested in how across centuries in Western lit the word "self" in "self-preservation" was understood. For that would affect responses to plague. My favorite novel is Camus' La Peste, which despite its grim subject, ends with the most beautiful tribute to human love that I have ever read.

  6. Replies
    1. Yes, doctor. Yes, I'm certain that would be a calming experience.