While the Ebola outbreak is insulted to us by an ocean and I have total confidence in the CDC safely handling the two infected patients being brought here with the disease, I still believe it’s time for us as a nation to stop and reflect on what this all means.
Viruses have higher standards than humans, namely in the fact that they don’t discriminate. They don’t care if you’re black or white, nor do they worry about if you’re a Christian, Jew or Muslim. They certainly don’t care about your financial standing either. All they care about is finding a host to breed in, and that should serve as a wake-up call to those in our nation who look at healthcare as a commodity.
The incubation rate of Ebola, the time a virus can live in a person before showing symptoms, is up to 21 days. Transmission, how the disease goes from person to person, is through blood and bodily secretion. During this incubation period, the virus isn’t transmitted, but as soon as symptoms show, then that infected person is now a time bomb. To make matters even worse, the early signs of EBola can very much mimic those of a common cold or flu.
So imagine a person on a business trip to Africa. He unknowingly contracted the virus a week earlier. Now he’s on his flight home. As they get ready to take off, patient zero starts getting a little cough and feeling somewhat achy. No problem. We’re Americans and no little cold will keep us down!
While flying, the patient decides having something to drink will help, since he’s always heard how fluids are a great treatment for the common cold. He finishes his first drink and the flight attendant decides to throw away his old straw, but she misses the garbage can. No problem, a quick pick-up and toss and now she has come into contact with the saliva of patient 0.
The flight arrives at JFK. Patient 0 makes it through customs and is now back home. The kids happy to see him, rush up for a hug and kiss. Dad doesn’t think about this, as he missed his kids too and it’s just a simple cold.
Now that our business person, patient 0, is back in town, he can’t let this cold keep him down. He has to make it into work to describe the deal he just brokered. Missing work could cost him the deal, or even his job. So he muscles through it, going into the office and meeting with everyone. He’s starting to feel worse and been blowing his nose a lot. Later that night the janitorial service is emptying the garbage cans. A tissue, filled with Ebola laden snot, falls out onto the floor. That unwilling janitor now picks up that snotty rag and tosses it back in.
Meanwhile the flight attendant, still feeling fine, does a flight from JFK to LAX, which is where she is from. She gets off and has a few days off, and wouldn’t it figure – she starts feeling like she has a cold. She figures she should go to the doctor, but those co-pays are so expensive and she’s a week away from payday. Oh well, a trip to the gym always makes her feel better. She goes there and hits the treadmill. Of course she sweats more than usual, but hey, the gym has towels. So she just wipes her brow and continues her stationary walk, while hanging the towel over the handle. She gets done and a mother is there for a workout. She gets on that treadmill, puts her hand on the handlebars and starts her miles. Now she has come into direct contact with an infected secretion.
While this is all a hypothetical scenario, it is one that could easily happen and highlights some serious flaws with how we deal with healthcare in our nation.
First off, affordable and accessible healthcare is a minimal approach to what we need. Even with it being “affordable”, it still can be a burden on a majority of workers in this country. That means people try to tough it out through what might seem like the common cold, but is in fact something much worse.
The cost affects of treatment aren’t always that obvious either. When we talk about the costs, people always think of co-pays and prescriptions, but how about the loss wages? Many people don’t get sick days, so when they have to go to the doctor it most likely means missing some hours at work, therefore missing pay, or schedule way ahead to when the doctor is available during that person’s off hours.
Or maybe our patient had the actual flu a few months ago and missed a week of work. Now their boss tells them to either come in or find a new job.
Republicans usually laugh when Democrats talk about the need for better healthcare being an issue of national security, but it very much is. How did patient 0 first come in contact with the virus while in Africa? Was it some local business person he met with, or was it a terrorist, people willing to strap bombs to them and blow themselves up, deciding to get infected and then spitting in some drinks? The idea might be far-fetched, but it’s more realistic than the 24 scenario of a ticking bomb Dick Cheney used to give to justify torture.
We need to use what is happening in Africa, as well as the rise of new disease here as a serious wakeup call. We’re talking about an invisible, indiscriminate enemy here. The frontlines for this battle aren’t in a far off land, being fought by soldiers. Instead the frontlines are right here, in our hospitals and doctors’ offices. Our soldiers are medical providers, scientists and everyone of us.
Viewing healthcare as a commodity, instead of a necessity, is a highly dangerous practice and one that is done by many in our country. Republicans view healthcare as something only the entitled should get. If you’re job doesn’t offer healthcare, then it’s your fault. If you’re unemployed and don’t have insurance, it’s your fault. And even if that can be made the case, the failure to realize how one sick relative, friend or even stranger, can affect all of us is one of the biggest threats our nation faces.
On the same note, viewing things such as sick days as a luxury are also highly dangerous. We should urge people to seek medical treatment, even if they think they have the common cold. Not doing so can quickly evolve from a single, sick employee, to an entire company being seriously ill. You might not want to pay that employee for going to the doctor, but it’s a lot cheaper than having your entire staff unable to work from a deadly disease.
The Ebola outbreak, protected from us by an ocean, might seem like a far off problem, but it’s not. We need to use what is happening in Africa as a reason to continue the discussion and push for better health care coverage, including mandated paid sick days. When Republicans talk about repeal of Obamacare, as we will start hearing with townhalls springing up again, ask them why they are on the side of the outbreak.
We’re talking about a threat that can target the homeless guy down the street, or people like Warren Buffet and the Koch Brothers. It doesn’t matter who you are, if the virus finds you, it will attack you. Knowing that, we should treat healthcare and sick time as also being as indiscriminate as the viruses those two items can help combat.