Why Kent Brantly Should Have Been Treated Differently

140802-kent-brantly-10a_bf22241c5e66a2193459a750131e1f76When Dr. Kent Brantly tested positive for Ebola, he had a lot of advantages that the average Liberian did not. He was going to get top-notch care in Liberia because he was a coworker and friend of the staff. He would receive experimental treatments that were only made available (at that point) to the two Americans who were infected and not to the hundreds of Liberians who were dying of Ebola. He would then be airlifted in a one-of-a-kind aircraft and sent across the Atlantic Ocean to a world class health care facility.

Kent Brantly didn’t survive by complete accident, he survived due to extraordinary efforts made on his behalf.

And that is unfair.

It was still the right thing to do. Whoever got the ZMapp drug would have been unfairly selected, no matter who they were. Certainly that it was a white doctor aggravates long-standing racial and class tensions, but each life, be it Brantly’s or a poor Liberian, are equally precious.

Because it is very unfair to give the treatment to anyone. The only fair solution is to give the drug to nobody, and that would be completely wrong. Let us ask a better question, what will save the most lives?

When Kent Brantly was found to be sick, it inspired me and many health care workers like me to reconsider going to Liberia ourselves. I have since put a great deal of effort into going and going soon. When Kent Brantly fell, many of us felt the need to fill his place. The scarcest resource in all of this battle with Ebola is properly trained health care staff. We felt the need to go.

But getting me to Liberia is no small task. One of the biggest barriers I and my fellow health care workers face is the concern of our loved ones for us. They fear to lose us and don’t want to see us hurt.

If Kent Brantly had been abandoned to a fair fate, he would have died in Liberia and my own efforts to go would become harder. I am in the position of tell those I love that I might die there (but with good infection control measures, probably will not). To assuage their concerns, it is important that I am given extra treatment should I become ill. Kent Brantly’s special treatment helps me comfort those I care about that I will be cared for if I become sick.

If they don’t believe I will be helped, they will fight my going. If I don’t go, more Liberians will die. It is key that I and other health care workers go.

I know this argument is self-serving. I am saying that if I go I should be the one that gets doses of special medications and flights to wonderful hospitals. It does benefit me immensely to be an American who will be afforded these advantages should I become infected.

To be honest, I know that even with these treatments, I risk dying if I contracted Ebola. I am under no illusion that even these exceptional measures are certain to save my life. I am going because I am willing to die if it comes to it. What really matters is that if I die, someone else steps into my place in this battle. They will have to convince their wife, mother, and friends that they should be allowed to go.

So Kent Brantly should have been treated specially not because its fair, but because the most lives will be saved if we treat him differently. Because he was treated specially, I will go to Liberia. If I am treated specially, then hopefully someone else will step into my place. The result is that more Liberians are saved.

And that’s what we were trying to do in the first place.

-Chip

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Ebola and West Point (a true story)

West PointThe following is dramatization based on real events.

Charles Smith had been afraid when he first heard of Ebola. Rumors had been swirling for weeks, but he had not believed them until men from the government rode through West Point with loudspeakers telling them that Ebola was in West Point. They warned to watch for people with fevers and vomiting.

That was also when his doubts about Ebola began. Fever, vomiting? Malaria causes those symptoms too. After 14 years of civil war, he had been lied to by the government before and this did not ring true. His doubts were increased when “health workers” came to West Point wearing suits that we all white and covered them head to toe. He had seen things like this in American films.

West Point, a peninsula in Western Monrovia, was known for its poverty and squalid conditions. 50,000 people share two groups of public toilets (that most can’t afford). The beaches are littered with human waste waiting for the tides to come in and wash it away.

When he heard from friends that even doctors were saying there was no such thing as Ebola, he knew this was a coverup for something else. Something evil. Rumors were spreading that white men were eating people in the white tents and at the ELWA hospital. The posting of signs throughout Monrovia did not impress Charles. Like 75% of Liberians, he couldn’t read them, but signs told more lies that truths in his mind.

Charles took comfort that the Ebola liars were mostly on the other side of Monrovia. The JFK Hospital is uncomfortably close, but still far enough away. West Point had its problems, but the Ebola liars were not one of them.

He was awakened Sunday morning by his friend Thomas. The Ebola liars had come to West Point. A clinic had been opened in West Point itself!

“How can this happen? How can we let them eat our own children,” asked Charles.

He went to visit several friends to discuss this new clinic. Many could die if they don’t act quickly. The small crowd around him swelled to about ten as he discussed fervently how they must stop the clinic. Joseph, an old friend ran up.

“Charles, they have taken Jimmy into the clinic.”

Jimmy, one of Charles’ nephews, had been sick for a few days with Malaria. Now they had brought him into that death trap.

“Come with me friend. Come, let’s stop this madness” cried Charles. The crowd of ten swelling to over one hundred within minutes. Fueled by a smoldering anger at the lies about Ebola, burst into an angry trot.

The clinic was a converted school which was now going to hold patients who had been identified as having Ebola. The plan was for these patients to then go to a hospital when a bed became available.

The shanty gates to the clinic were easily ripped off their posts. The small clinic compound was quickly filled with several hundred people.

“The President says you have Ebola. You don’t have Ebola, you have malaria” Charles yelled, “Get up and get out.”

Many of the patients in the clinic left, including several children. Charles was quite relieved when he saw Jimmy. He had not been sent away to those hospitals to be eaten. Jimmy, clearly weak but able to walk, stood gingerly. Charles walked over and grabbed him under the arm and assisted him out of the compound. Jimmy was safe.

The others did not have such charitable motives. The mass of humanity quickly stripped the clinic bare of all food, mattresses, sheets, and gloves. Charles was indignant with the mob. He was here to save his nephew, not to steal from the clinic. He knew right from wrong and this was wrong.

With his nephew in tow, Charles was in no position to stop the mass looting. Within  minutes, it was done. There was nothing left in the clinic except about ten patients who refused to leave and some desperate nurses who wondered what to do next.

Charles took Jimmy back to his small home. Jimmy was feverish and clearly needed Charles’ care. He brought him food and water. Jimmy was shivering despite his fever. Charles laid next to him on the mattress and pulled him close to warm him. As they both fell asleep, Charles took great comfort that those he loved were close.

They were safe.

-Chip

The characters in this story are all fictional. The events of this story occurred on Saturday, 8/16/14, and are tragically true

 The Image Above is an aerial  view of West Point provided by Juan Freir and Google. It is used with permission.

Ebola and Barnie (a true story)

liberiaThe following is based on real events.

When Abdulah walked home that Sunday, he did not know what he brought with him. He thought he only brought home fruit. He thought wrong.

Ballajah had been under quarantine along with the whole surrounding region. The Ebola scare was felt throughout. The air itself was heavier with the silent menace. Men and women were afraid to go out and work, but they would quickly starve if they didn’t.

Abdulah was forced out of his house by his poverty. Today, he was glad for the food he had to bring home. For the first time in a long time he had plenty of food for Seidia and his two children, Fatu and Barnie. They would have a veritable feast tonight.

With a full stomach and a happier outlook, Abdulah slept well that night. As Monday morning approached, his throat began to feel sore. He tried not to worry. The Ebola patients he had heard of looked very sick and he felt fine otherwise. This couldn’t be Ebola. As the day moved forward, he became feverish, very feverish.

Seidia was clearly worried about him. She tried to feed him and give him plenty to drink, but the vomitting started Tuesday. Abdullah was beginning to look very ill. His eyes were sunken and he grew progressively weaker with each passing hour. Seidia strictly warned the children not to tell anyone in Ballajah of the illness. Whether it was Ebola or not, she knew the elders would cut them off from any community support if they knew that Abdulah was sick.

Things worsened. Abdulah developed severe diarrhea and was too weak to make it to the latrine. He soiled himself several times during the night. With no gloves or running water, she had not protection for herself and he needed to be cleaned up. She washed her hands as best she could with some bleach water left by the government in town. She prayed that God would protect them.

The days stretched on. When the bleeding began from Abdulah’s eyes and ears, they knew he had Ebola.

Mariam, a family friend, had come in unanounced and as soon as she saw Abdulah, she ran out and told the elders. Within minutes a small crowd had come to the front door. They angrily questioned Seidia as to why she had not told them of Abdulah’s illness. She tried ot explain, but nothing would pacify the crowd.

From then on, they were outcasts. Everyone gave Seidia and the children a wide berth. Fatu was chased from the market by several village men. Barnie had no playmates any more. Seitia was cursed by the local women whenever she tried to leave her home. She and the children had run out of food. They could only get water from the river at night when everyone in the village was asleep.

Abdulah had fallen unconscious. He had been sick for more than a week. His breathing had become harsh and rattled. Seitia, grief stricken and at her wits end, began to despair. When Abdulah died on Wednesday, she could only sit in a stupor, staring at his lifeless body. He had been sick for about 10 days.

Seidia now faced two dilemmas. Her husband was dead of a disease that was clearly Ebola. She and the children might get sick. Despite this, the more pressing need is for food. Ballajah had become a prison more than a village. No one would help them. No one would even come near them. Seidia did manage to get the elders to call the authorities to pick up Abdulah’s body.

And so the waiting began. One day passed, then two. No one had come to pick up the body. The smell was becoming overwhelming. It felt unloving to throw him in the street, but what was she to do. It took all of her strength to get him out the door. Tired from the effort, she walked into her house and sat on a stool. It was then that she first felt it. She was nauseated.

It came on fast. She quickly began vomiting and she spiked a fever within hours. With Abdulah’s body rotting outside the door, Seidia now was sure she would join him soon. With none of the village to help her, she cared for herself as best she could. She made sure Fatu and Barnie did not touch her or care for her.

The following day, Fatu became feverish as well. As Abdulah’s body spent a fourth day rotting by the house, a feeling of death reigned inside. Seidia instructed Barnie, who was 15 years old, to go into the bush. Maybe he could be spared this sickness. Barnie resisted but Seidia was firm. Barnie was better on his own than with them.

The following morning, men arrived from the government wearing strange white outfits. They took Abdulah’s body and confirmed that both Seidia and Fatu had Ebola. Seidia had hoped for help from the men, maybe medicine or transportation to a hospital. Instead, she watched as the man instructed the villagers not to go near them.

And then the men left.

No one was going to help them.

In a strange irony, Abdulah’s body had protected Fatu and Seidia from the village. Because he was laying next to the doorway, no one would approach the house. Now that he was gone, the unthinkable happened. The villagers covered the windows and sealed the doorway. Their home had gone from a figurative prison to an actual one.

Fatu was scared. She had been scared for two weeks. Mama had taken care of papa when he was sick, and now he had died.

There was a lot to be afraid of.

The days lengthened in the dark, hot, house. Fatu’s throat was inflamed. As the days passed, mama became too weak to care for her any more. The semi-light of the house made daytime dim and night pitch black. She cried all the time. She cried in her dreams. She cried and yet no tears came out. She was so thirsty. She screamed for help, but no one came.

On Sunday, August 10, Fatu awoke in the dim morning light and looked at her mother. The coarse breaths that Fatu had gotten used were now gone. She looked into the vacant eyes of her mother’s body.

She screamed.

For hours she screamed. The agony of the previous weeks now poured out in a stream of inconsolable sadness. The deep sense of abandonment crashed into a river of sound that would not stop coming.

And still, no one came to help her.

Barnie stayed in the bush nearby. He heard Fatu’s scream. He heard all of her screams. He wanted to go to her. He was afraid of dying. He wanted to run. He wanted to stay.  He wanted to live, but if living is like this, then he wanted to die.

Fatu screamed on and off for a day. She could be heard moaning the following day. On Tuesday, August 12, 2014, she went silent. Her corpse, along with her mother’s, was not picked up by the authorities. It remains rotting in that grim sealed tomb that used to be their home.

Barnie moved into an abandoned home in Ballajah. After the Sherrif family had been sealed in their home, the villagers fled into the bush. No one wanted to be the next victim of Ebola.

Barnie was left to survive on his own. A 15-year-old orphan, he cries all the time. With resources growing thin around the nation, the odds are not in Barnie’s favor. Even if Ebola doesn’t get him, starvation and exposure probably will. He has some of the skills he needs to survive, but lacks others.

As he sits on the stoop of his ‘new’ house. The bright African sun does not help his grief. The silence of Ballajah oppresses him. Ebola had robbed him of a family, home, a village, and probably his life. He feels his inadequacy to survive this. As he sits, he prays that someone will come and help him. Maybe God will send someone to save him, the last of his family.

Maybe God is sending you.

-Chip

The story above is a dramatization of a true story. I have taken some liberties, but I felt their story should be told. 

The Image Above is courtesy of Ken Harper and is used with permission