on compassion, in sickness and in death

It’s odd how we fuss about compassion when it looks like God-fearing Americans might die far from home in a horrible manner.

Yes, Kent Brantly and Nancy [ed:] Writebol put their lives on the line. If they didn’t know that they were there for the duration, or that leaving the hot zone would be a phenomenally irresponsible act, they should never have been let in. You don’t go in unless you’re willing to accept the hard truths about a pandemic.

(You damn well don’t bring your family with you.)

We call this act compassionate. To whom? To the inexperienced staff at Emory, who now have to learn how to cope with a disease unlike any they will have expected to see? Ever? To the people of Atlanta? To the sick themselves, whose families still will not be there to nurse them through?

Truly and honestly, I believe a hospital room on domestic soil is no better than a tent or a hut in Liberia. I think it’s worse for the other patients, to begin with, but I also think it tricks staff into complacency. No, none of you are any safer because this is the developed West. Since you are not operating in a Biosafety Level 4 environment, you must take the same precautions as you would in that tent or that hut.

By the way, this country does have places to put people who have been exposed to the worst of the worst. It has to. We have scientists working with the worst of the worst. Lab accidents mean quarantine, and there are facilities set up expressly for this purpose. Why are we risking a whole civilian hospital when all we need to do is take these patients to those facilities?

Compassion? Compassion is the doctor in Tennessee who thought he might have been exposed — and it sounds like he was sent home against his will — so he’s now holed up at home and will not permit another living soul to come tend him. Compassion is finding ways to provide better treatment in West Africa instead of assuming it’s a lost cause. (Because apparently none of the millions living there by no choice of their own deserve the same standard of care as two missionaries who went there on purpose?)

I think we apply compassion to the people who look like us. I think we apply it to the ones to whom we relate best. For shame, you who are just now bawling about compassion. Seven hundred of your fellow human beings are already dead. What are they to you? I apply my compassion equally across the board. If seven hundred dead in West Africa are just part of the pandemic, so are two dying in America and to hell with exceptionalism. Try directing your compassion at the people who live in the natural reservoirs where this thing breeds. They don’t have nearly the choices you or I do. I can all but guarantee it. Try directing your compassion at those millions who are coping with Ebola not in an isolation unit but right there in the neighborhood. What’s going on in Georgia right now scares me crapless; what would it be like if I lived in Conakry? Put yourself in Conakry or Monrovia.

Much as I fear an epidemic, I’m also willing to nut up, suit up, and help out if it happens. I’m willing to kiss my mum and dad goodbye, tell them to look after things here, and not come back until it’s over. I wouldn’t want them at my funeral. I wouldn’t want a funeral. I’d want a very deep burial, whether I was a sack of virus or a pile of ash. Essentially I’d want what was safest for my community; if it means someone delivers me my tent and my airbed while I turn to sludge, fine. Just pass the propofol so I don’t have to feel it and the convalescent serum so I can contribute something to science.

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