I read this account of Kaci Hickox, a nurse for Doctors without Borders who returned from West Africa and was placed in quarantine as a result of the new policy adopted by New Jersey, with a growing sense of outrage and disgust.
She says there’s “disorganization” and “fear.” She says people treated her “like a criminal.” She says she worries that other health workers returning from Africa will also be put upon.
The fact that all four cases of Ebola in America are directly connected to returning health care workers from Africa doesn’t seem to penetrate; that the routine screening done at the airport didn’t detect Ebola in either Thomas Duncan or Dr. Spencer. Hickox seems perfectly willing to take a chance that health care workers returning from Africa don’t have the disease and should be able to walk around freely while “self-monitoring” their condition.
What a brave woman — who takes chances with other people’s lives. I don’t care how small the chance of contagion is — it is the responsibility of authorities to bring the chance of anyone else getting sick as close to zero as humanly possible.
I arrived at the Newark Liberty International Airport around 1 p.m. on Friday, after a grueling two-day journey from Sierra Leone. I walked up to the immigration official at the airport and was greeted with a big smile and a “hello.”
I told him that I have traveled from Sierra Leone and he replied, a little less enthusiastically: “No problem. They are probably going to ask you a few questions.”
He put on gloves and a mask and called someone. Then he escorted me to the quarantine office a few yards away. I was told to sit down. Everyone that came out of the offices was hurrying from room to room in white protective coveralls, gloves, masks, and a disposable face shield.
One after another, people asked me questions. Some introduced themselves, some didn’t. One man who must have been an immigration officer because he was wearing a weapon belt that I could see protruding from his white coveralls barked questions at me as if I was a criminal.
Imagine that! One of her big complaints is that some of the airport screeners didn’t introduce themselves to her. Sheesh.
Two other officials asked about my work in Sierra Leone. One of them was from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They scribbled notes in the margins of their form, a form that appeared to be inadequate for the many details they are collecting.
I was tired, hungry and confused, but I tried to remain calm. My temperature was taken using a forehead scanner and it read a temperature of 98. I was feeling physically healthy but emotionally exhausted.
Three hours passed. No one seemed to be in charge. No one would tell me what was going on or what would happen to me.
I called my family to let them know that I was OK. I was hungry and thirsty and asked for something to eat and drink. I was given a granola bar and some water. I wondered what I had done wrong.
She wondered what she had done wrong? She just returned from ground zero of the most deadly outbreak of Ebola in history — a disease with a 70% mortality rate — and she wonders what all the fuss is about?
Four hours after I landed at the airport, an official approached me with a forehead scanner. My cheeks were flushed, I was upset at being held with no explanation. The scanner recorded my temperature as 101.
The female officer looked smug. “You have a fever now,” she said.
I guess we’ll have to take the word of Hickox that the officer looked “smug.” She couldn’t have been imagining that, right?
Eight police cars escorted me to the University Hospital in Newark. Sirens blared, lights flashed. Again, I wondered what I had done wrong.
I had spent a month watching children die, alone. I had witnessed human tragedy unfold before my eyes. I had tried to help when much of the world has looked on and done nothing.
Hickox should be commended for her service. She should be condemned for her martyr complex.
The entire account of her return is ridiculously subjective — full of characterizations of screening personnel that can’t be proven and are almost certainly exaggerated. Her main beef appears to me to be that she wasn’t accorded the deference she believed was her due as a result of her tour of duty in Africa.
No doubt she expected a hero’s welcome — perhaps a parade for her selfless acts. Sorry, but this self-pitying, whining account of her return elicits only disgust from me. Perhaps I’m being too harsh on someone who put themselves in danger to treat the afflicted.
But her attitude is reminiscent of many in this country who seem to think it more important to give the appearance of not panicking, rather than taking common-sense precautions to prevent even one more American from being afflicted with this disease. That’s the bottom line. And if some screening personnel don’t have the interpersonal skills to make Hickox feel at home and relaxed, I’d only say we didn’t hire these people to act like Dr. Phil; we’re asking them to expose themselves to possible carriers of Ebola. If it were me, I wouldn’t be all smiles and sunshine either.