Saturday, October 11, 2014

Compassion

Curtained bed for patients, Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune, a medieval hospital for the poor, France
I've been following the Ebola crisis in the news, and the typical on-line article includes a comments section at the end.  If you want a window on the depravity of the human soul, just read one of these comment sections. The ignorance, fear, virulence and hatred will astound  and sadden you.

Inflamed by irresponsible radio talk shows or sensational TV coverage, there are conspiracy theories ranging from "Obama's trying to kill white people" to "the CIA created Ebola to kill black people." There are accusations, including the laughable notion that refugee children from countries where no recorded cases of Ebola exist are mass carriers of the disease into the United States. There are people who seem to think this is a sci-fi movie or a Stephen King novel, panicking that the disease will suddenly mutate and become as easy to catch as a summer cold.

There are xenophobic comments from people who can barely find Africa on a map, stating that the people of West Africa are "uncivilized" and "unclean" and who caught this disease from eating "apes." Some of these are well-meaning, though still racist, deploring the supposed squalor in these countries we enlightened Westerners should correct.

Some people question why any American aid worker would go to West Africa to help fight the disease. There are hateful accusations against the man from Liberia who died in Texas, accusing him of deliberately bringing the disease to the US. Some want to prevent everyday commerce and travel from occurring between these countries and ours. Yet others say we should nuke the whole region.

In fact, the way Ebola spreads is very well known to health professionals. It's spread by human contact. People who come into contact with a sick person's bodily fluids contract the disease if these fluids enter the system through broken skin or mucus membranes. It is only contagious when a person is suffering from the pain, fever, and racking sickness of the disease. Those at highest risk of infection are caregivers like health care workers, family members, mourners and people who handle the dead.

In short, this is a disease that spreads through human compassion.

And that's what's so heartbreaking about it. I heard an interview on NPR with some workers from Medicins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders. They told a story about a woman who died in a hospital, leaving behind her infant child. The orphaned baby was kept isolated in a cardboard box, but the nurses could not keep themselves from comforting it. Seven of the ten nurses who cared for the child contracted the disease and died of it.

Mothers contract it from their sick children, wives from the husbands they care for. Daughters from the sick parents they clean up for.  Sisters from brothers whose bodies they tend, grandmothers from wiping the fevered brow of a stricken grandchild. The man who died in Texas helped a family take a sick daughter to the hospital. The family died and later he too fell ill.

It's hard to imagine the choices people are forced to make. If a spouse breaks a fever, do you turn away from him? If a child spits up, do you dare to wipe it away? If your brother soils himself, do you let him lie in his own mess, or do you give him the dignity of being washed clean? If your sister is racked with pain, do you turn her out of your house instead of comforting her?

We should understand how profound a challenge this disease is to our humanity.

Professionals who care for the sick and those who clean up after the dead are making a terrible but courageous choice. They put themselves in danger in the hopes of gaining control over this terrible scourge. Those of us who can't or won't, for whatever reason, should at least honor their sacrifices and bravery instead of condemning them for it.

The people making hateful comments on message boards and the cynical media figures encouraging the hatred should feel perfectly safe. They are in no danger. They will not contract Ebola from Central American refugee children, do-gooder missionaries, or immigrants from West Africa.

They will not put themselves in a situation where they will care for the sick, clean a soiled body, or comfort bereaved relatives.

You have to have compassion to catch this disease.

14 comments:

Sylvia said...

Though what you wrote is very moving, I think there is a middle ground. I think that limiting travel to the US from these countries for a limited time (along with educating hospital workers in our country about proper protocols in the event of a situation, such as appeared in Dallas) is not a xenophobic response. Compassion and awareness are required, don't you think?

Sylvia said...

And in NO way am I supporting the horrible comments that you mention. Fear and ignorance is not a good combination. Knowledge and compassion are the goal here.

Aunt Snow said...

Thanks, Sylvia. I'm not really proposing policy - I trust the professionals - so much as trying to counsel against ignorance, fear and scapegoating. I appreciate your comments.

Jenny Hart Boren said...

Thank you for writing this wonderful post. I've shared a link on my Facebook page (although I suppose I'm preaching to the choir; the ones who really need to see it, won't.) But it can't hurt to spread it around a little!

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

What an utterly beautiful message, Aunt Snow.

Margie said...

Aman. My husband was in the local small hospital yesterday. They asked if he had traveled recently, and we knew why. Ignorance is very contagious, also.

Jenny said...

A wonderful essay. YOu covered all the bases, I think.

smalltownme said...

So true. And beautifully written.

Ellie said...

Aunt Snow, I wish you could have this post printed in every newspaper in the country. Those of us old enough to remember the AIDS hysteria of the 80's have no desire to see that scenario replayed with the Ebola virus. The people of the affected countries need our financial and medical support, not our condemnation. Thank you for your wisdom and compassion!

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Aunt Snow, this post is incredibly well-written and should be picked up by every news media outlet. I'm logging back into facebook tonight for the sole purpose of sharing it there.

Suburban Correspondent said...

While I agree with most everything you have said, it is not unreasonable to propose a travel ban out of and into the affected countries, while people from around the world struggle to get this epidemic under control. Compassion would demand our doing everything we can to make sure people in other countries are saved from having to make these terrible choices.

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

This is so beautifully written. I agree that it should be printed in every newspaper in the country. Thank you for this, Aunt Snow.

Busy Bee Suz said...

AMEN! Beautifully written; thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Cassi Renee said...

So eloquent, and well-said.