When my nephew was in St. Vincent’s hospital after being run over by a murderous driver, he was in a lot of pain. I went to the nurse’s station to ask if someone could come to check him out and was angrily told by the head-nurse that they were all busy tending to my nephew’s roommate, a gentleman who had AIDS. Her meaning was clear: in the hierarchy of patient needs, AIDS always trumps fractured bones. Two days later, it was the AIDS patient who was released while my nephew was dead from lack of attention to a blood clot that wasn’t caught in time.
I thought of this tragedy because of the attitude of Kaci Hickox, the hothead nurse who wants to sue anyone who dares to quarantine her. Here’s a young woman whose priority is helping destitute and desperate Africans dying of a plague while at the same time displaying total lack of empathy for the epidemiology of preventing that plague from spreading in American cities and large population centers. (According to the World Health Organization, ebola has already spread to eight countries) You get lots of praise for donating your time to Doctors Without Borders; not so much for just complying with quarantine rules. You’re a hero if you travel to Africa to work in the midst of a death ward; you’re just another nurse when you deal with scared middle-class Americans who are already over-privileged. Wild Ms. Hickox is convinced that she knows exactly when she might be contagious and can self-regulate her behavior without any government interference. But there are disagreements over how long the period of contagion lasts or even the mode by which the virus spreads. Some scientists have claimed that the virus in a sneeze droplet can spray far wider than originally thought and can live long enough on surfaces to pose a problem to someone who didn’t get personally sprayed by that sneeze.
It makes you wonder how a nurse who appears to be so selfless in one regard can become so hostile when she’s charged with complying with rules put in place to protect others as well as herself. The short term inconvenience of quarantine seems a small price to pay for the certainty of not infecting others and the peace of mind of other people in the community. Yet it took only a few hours without a shower and a tv in her temporary tent before the rugged Ms. Hickox hired a civil rights lawyer and organized a tv interview. The fact that this happened quicker than you could say “Governor Christie’s a Republican with presidential aspirations who’s taken lots of flak for the traffic scandal at the bridge and probably doesn’t want any more bad publicity” - shows that the feisty nurse has some ambitions of her own and they’re far from selfless.
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here