Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Kaci Hickox May be Smart, but Wise...?

Oh, Kaci, Kaci...

Last week, I predicted that if we're going to get our knickers in a twist about this Ebola situation, we shouldn't be fretting about the disease itself.  No, I predicted that we should be more concerned about the cavalier attitude of healthcare workers who are involved in treating Ebola's victims.

As Exhibit A, I presented the Dallas nurse who flew from Texas to Ohio and back after having cared for a Liberian man who died of Ebola.

As Exhibit B, I presented the New York doctor who, despite feeling particularly tired, took mass transit to go bowling after returning from treating Ebola patients in Africa.  Fatigue is one of the possible symptoms of Ebola.

Now, we've got a nurse up in Maine who is aggressively championing her rights to not abide by protocols for self-quarantine.  She claims to be symptom-free and therefore no risk to the general public.  And if the state of Maine doesn't back off and remove the state troopers from outside her boyfriend's home, where she's currently staying, then she's taking the state to court.

Oh, Kaci, Kaci, Kaci!

You are a determined, headstrong, red-headed woman who loves adventure.  You grew up in Texas, and went to nursing school at my alma mater, the University of Texas at Arlington.  You've served courageously with the ideological and progressive international aid agency Doctors Without Borders, and you say you want to do so again.  Currently, some media reports have said you're looking for permanent employment while living with your boyfriend, who is a nursing student.

And your temerity is helping... to do what, exactly?

You're correct in saying that medically and scientifically, if you don't have any symptoms of Ebola, then you're not a physical threat to the general public.  And personally, Kaci, if you invited me today into the home you share with your boyfriend, I would have no fear of contracting Ebola by doing so.

But Kaci, since you've been out of the country lately, maybe you don't realize how hostile both our national mainstream media and our right-wing media wonks have made the American public to Ebola.  The media has presented this Ebola story as if the Black Plague is darkening every doorstep in our country.  Right-wing extremists are using Ebola as an excuse to criticize President Obama and dramatize America's lax border security.  Every major media report about Ebola begins with sensationalized rumors and then, as an afterthought, ends with a quick, quiet reminder that we only contract Ebola from the bodily fluids of somebody already carrying it.

To some people, Kaci, you're a hero, because you're standing up for healthcare workers across the country.  You're a hero because you claim you're advocating for the legions of nurses and doctors who will be coming home after you from serving in Ebola-inflicted nations.  You're a hero because you're willing to defy government orders to stay in place, and become a prisoner in your own home.

Yeah... um, about this "being a prisoner in your own home" thing:  The quarantine period is 21 days, which for you, means you would have to end your quarantine on November 10.  Today is October 29.  That means you're pitching a royal fit about 12 days.

Twelve days of voluntary home confinement.  Confinement to a home that has no immediate neighbors, and appears to be on a fairly rural street, with a decent-sized yard.

So... this is all one big publicity ploy for yourself?  Do you seriously think that your personal freedoms merit a straight-faced fight over 12 days at home in Maine? 

It's not like you're going to miss any hours at work, if you're looking for a job.  Sure, your boyfriend has said he's going to stay with you during these next 12 days, but hey - how many girlfriends would love to have that much uninterrupted time with their man?

If you were a surgeon - and not a nurse - who'd just come back from treating Ebola patients, would you understand if your patients would prefer that you wait until November 10 before you began performing surgeries again?

Or how about if your surgeon came back from West Africa, and immediately wanted to perform surgery on you?  Granted, your blood wouldn't be as infectious as his might be, but still, how gutsy would you be then?

Sure, Americans shouldn't be as paranoid about Ebola as we are.  Well, as paranoid as many of them seem to be.  Like I said, you don't scare me - especially during this 12-day window in which you could be quietly looking for a job on the Internet.

Unless... maybe you are?  Are you trying to make yourself marketable as a maverick healthcare provider, Kaci?  Is this the ultimate resume - being belligerent over a 12-day self-quarantine timeframe?  Sure, those officials at Newark International Airport were pretty unreasonable, treating you like a prisoner of war when you stepped off your plane.  But did a little lightbulb go off in your head during all of that unpleasantness? 

"Hey!  I could really use this whole Ebola mess to my advantage!"

Okay, Kaci.  You've had your 15 minutes of fame.  We get it:  you value your civil rights.  But all you're doing is giving the media plenty of fodder with which to pseudo-educate the American public.  You're not coming across as an innocent nurse being maligned by big, bad government bullies.  You've become the bully to an American public that wants to hope this Ebola thing isn't as bad as your refusal to wait out 12 days makes it seem.

Besides, not only are you presenting yourself as a bully, Kaci, you're allowing yourself to be a pawn.  A pawn in the mainstream and right-wing media's mockery of the medically scientific approach we should be taking to Ebola.  This isn't just about Ebola anymore, but about intelligence, wisdom, and pure selfishness.

The intelligent person will assess whether or not you're "presenting" Ebola symptoms, and determine that right now, you're probably as Ebola-free as the rest of us.

The wise person will take the assessment of the intelligent person, and build upon that by factoring in the environment into which they are entering here in the United States.  It's an environment fed as much by sensationalism as facts, and by a general public that doesn't like to work very hard at parsing sensationalism from facts.  So the wise person will look at the 21-day quarantine period, and figure that they'll do more good than harm by pacifying the public and sitting it out.  That's the path of least resistance.  And in this case, it's the wise path.

The person motivated by pure selfishness, however, will skip the part about wisdom, and insist that since the intelligent person alone indemnifies them from any contagion, that's all the justification they need to ignore what the wise person factored into the equation.  Pure selfishness often refuses to acknowledge complicating circumstances that could otherwise get in the way of their personal agendas.  And it's the selfish people who make for the best headlines, because selfishness usually only directly benefits a small number of people, much to the ire of the majority.

Granted, Kaci, you came back to the States right during the midterm elections - a time when both Republican and Democratic governors have pragmatically decided to side with the majority, no matter how easily scared or illogical they may get.  What makes it worse is that the sitting governors in both New York and Maine are up for re-election right now.  If this was December, things would likely have been much different for your re-entry.  As it is, this is one of the goofiest seasons of American life - the months running up to November elections - and neither the American populace as a whole, nor the people trying to get their votes, are going to put a lot of faith in what you think is right.

Kaci, you may have the right to be treated like a person who does not have Ebola, but the selfishness you're displaying is also a trait of the folks who think you should have never been released from that isolation tent in New Jersey.  Right now, it's kind of a tie, at least in terms of public perception.

Why not consider your quarantine period simply part of the trip package of going to a disease-infested country?  Animals sit through quarantines all the time at airports and shipyards.  Of course, the type of people who globetrot to the world's contagion zones are usually the type of Type-A people who don't like anybody else telling them what to do.

Nevertheless, if I were you, Kaci, I'd take the limited freedoms I've been given in bucolic Maine.  After all, November 10 will be here before you know it, right before Maine's long, cold winter gets underway.  And a wise person knows that 12 days of self-imposed solitude is much better than a Maine winter's worth of small-town scorn.

Update 10/30/14:  By the way, Kaci, I don't consider your hour-long bike ride along rural roads and trails near your Maine home to be "breaking" your quarantine.  You didn't come into contact with anybody, and the chances of you doing so were quite small.  It's not like you went to a gourmet soup restaurant like a well-known doctor did in a heavily-populated suburban region of metropolitan New York City.  But your trip was a good photo-op for you and your boyfriend, with his massive off-road bike tires...

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