Ebola and care
We’ve been introduced to a new health fright this summer. Ebola has erupted like a plague in West Africa, killing at least half of the 3,000-plus people known to have caught it. They die only a few days after feverish symptoms begin. There is no vaccine yet.
Experts in epidemic medicine around the world are working to find a cure and, at the same time, prevent the virus from spreading. Some airlines refuse to fly into the countries affected: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Nigeria. Neighboring nations have closed their borders.
But even as fear and extreme caution lead most of us to run away and throw up walls, this outbreak of Ebola offers a reminder of the heroic service sometimes required from doctors and nurses. Some have already given their lives. The New England Journal of Medicine reported on the death of one, Dr. Sam Brisbane of Monrovia, Liberia.
He continued working in that city’s John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center after Ebola had begun to spread in the region even though he could have retired in comfort to his tobacco plantation. One day this summer the dreaded word circulated in JFK that a patient was suspected to have the virus. The man had been on a bed in a crowded treatment area for six hours when the symptoms were recognized.
While everyone else moved out and away as much as possible, Dr. Barber, another doctor and two custodians quickly protected themselves as well as possible with gowns, masks and gloves, lifted the infected man on his mattress and carried him to an isolation room. Within five minutes the patient was dead.
Dr. Brisbane lived in fear the next few days, checking his temperature frequently for signs of the sudden fever. He continued his work at the hospital, however. Within two weeks he did test positive for Ebola, was put in isolation, and died shortly after that.
He isn’t the only physician victim of this disease but he can stand as a representative of those who stay or go where the need is despite the risk. They are linked in spirit to every brave man and woman who tried to rescue and nurse others in all of history’s disease epidemics.
We should keep their example of self-sacrifice in mind as the business and politics of modern medical care threaten to become its only story.
Turn off and tune in
It may be understandable when a teenager sneaks peeks at his or her smartphone during Mass. Few of us at that age were very good at impulse control, or able to turn off our desire to be in touch with friends. Some of us might even remember sneaking paper notes up the aisle in school — or down the pew at Mass.
It’s harder to tolerate the sight of adults sending text messages as the priest is calling us to be joined with Christ on the altar. Participating in the celebration of Eucharist requires enough self-control to let go of our ordinary interior busy-ness. Otherwise we don’t feel and hear deeper movements of spirit where growth toward full life is calling. These movements generally aren’t clear; are more like mystery, requiring quiet time. They are often liberated in the performing of ritual, which is a humbling thing.
An adult is someone able to let immediate impulse and sensation pass by so that something better might flourish in mystery. God might be given room.
An adult is someone able to trust that life can happen when the phone is turned off.