I always think I’m dying. I’m what I call a mild hypochondriac. I fear disease. I fear a disease is killing me. I’m not as severe as many and I wouldn’t call myself phobic. Maybe annoying to friends and family who have to listen to my Woody Allen-esque rants on brain tumors, but not phobic. As a friend once said, “I’m not a germaphobe, I’m a germ cynic.” That’s me. I will panic with an irrational fear of disease, and it’s usually a sore throat = emphysema but is actually allergies kind of panic.
I do not fear Ebola.
I have run a fair course of emotions as I get to know this disease. I didn’t notice it while it grew to epidemic proportions in Africa. I have been blissfully unaware of most epidemics. I heard about swine flu and SARS, but you know, they never got close to me so…pfft.
I first heard about Ebola with Dr Kent Brantly. And I thought, it must suck being a doctor or missionary. That’s really my only thought. I couldn’t handle the stress of fear of disease in a disease-ridden country. My brand of disease fear is a first world problem. It would simply be considered pragmatic in a country where daily people are being left in the street to be picked up by coroners. That and bugs. I couldn’t do what they do because disease and bugs would make me scream a lot.
Then Thomas Duncan. I love Dallas. I have good friends in Dallas. We shot our movie in Dallas. I even own a tiny house in Dallas. I at first felt concern for friends. I then did the 21 day count to my next trip. There it is. The seed planted in me, as it was for so many Americans that day. Ebola can get to me.
This is the point I Googled symptoms and transmission. And being a cynic of disease, a wary co-exister with viruses and bacteria, I researched well. And that is when I saw our ugly side as Americans: our selfishness and our ineptness at researching online for facts. They say people often come to a conclusion and then research to back that conclusion up. And if that’s the case, we Americans conclude without research that we are the most important people and all others should admire us from afar.
Then Pham, then Vinson and then….
Then it got to NYC. Dr Craig Spencer got Ebola and rode on the train I ride on every day. That same doctor lives walking distance from me. And yet, because I researched, I still got on the subway. It actually made me applaud my growth as I admit my fear of illness five years ago would not have been so calm on the 1 train. My tweet of the day “In NYC, more people have died trying to kill a cop with an axe than died from ebola.” (Still true on Saturday).
I saw why so few of us have traveled to aid or learn from other countries. We (this includes me) can’t handle the real dangers of living on an evolving planet. We aspire to be models and sports stars when we should be looking at our real heroes, the ones who have seen what it is like to survive on the planet: doctors, scientists, soldiers, and non-profit aid workers. Our kids turn 18 and so many want to find themselves in Paris when the real self is found in struggle, be it here in our own poverty stricken cities or out in the world where disease, war, famine, and environment make every day a challenge. We have the resources to save the world, but instead we upgrade our phones and we use plastic containers once and we facebook about activism and then do nothing. Not all of us. And that’s our saving grace. But so many of us make a global tragedy about just us.
Example: Someone was bitching about these doctors being inept. That if they were more careful, we wouldn’t have to be afraid of getting sick. Not that we could actually just not be afraid of being sick. No, that’s not an option. This NYC doctor was an “idiot.” This man who travels to countries, gets in the real mess of it, saves lives and goes home is the idiot? The one who took his temperature twice a day since landing because he is TRAINED in self monitoring and you have no idea what that means? In fact, you want that to mean putting everyone who travels to West Africa in quarantine because fear happens? Because you are the one who can’t look at the reality that you don’t have Ebola just because you once went to Columbia for a seminar in 2003? Do you secretly want Ebola because being able to say “I told you so” is more important than the real horror of a global epidemic???
Sorry. I got ranty.
I rant because last night I learned we have had a vaccine that has been tested and successful on monkeys, but not tested on humans. We had it. We didn’t care to continue that research because it didn’t affect us. But Duncan died. And now it does. Now we have faces for the disease, American faces, so now we care. The first Monday after the weekend Pham was diagnosed, human trials were approved. I don’t fault the pharmaceutical company this time. I fault us. That our fear made a vaccine financially feasible is repugnant.
Eh, I guess I should be happy that even the worst of our American selfishness produces something as miraculous as a vaccine. That even among the din of stupid, a miracle of science will rise above it. And I will. I have learned to take the good even if it is produced out of poorly executed and horribly motivated action.
But I am afraid. I am not afraid of getting Ebola. I’m afraid that humans are becoming merciless. That our empathy is slowly degrading from our DNA and being replaced with actively hostile disregard. If evil is in fact the lack of empathy, where are we going as a species?
I can only look toward those who do not walk through life with fear as their companion. I find them rare, but maybe if I venture out into the world more, I’ll meet more of them, see the numbers balance out. Maybe I can get off the internet and start shaking hands with these people who continue to get outside of their normal worlds and into the thick of survival. Maybe then I can feel better about humanity.