Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Love in the Time of Ebola

It's interesting to me what issues consume people's time, especially if the issues aren't affecting them directly.  For example, I haven't been following the uprisings in Ferguson with the same interest as many people--at least to judge by news coverage and Facebook updates and blog posts.  I have not been taking sides and choosing between Israel and Gaza.  I have been keeping an anxious eye on Russia and the Ukraine, but not enough to write much.

No, I have been consumed with the Ebola outbreak.  Yesterday I saw an article or two, a mention here or there, about a clinic in Liberia that was mobbed by protestors.  That led to the patients running away, and then the looters took things from the clinic, like infected mattresses.  Yikes.

My inner apocalypse gal always likes a good disease narrative.  My inner apocalypse gal worries about a variety of scenarios.  I know that we're likely to be whacked by a scenario we'd never considered.  When you study how World War I came about, it seems so unlikely.  I imagine our next big disaster will be similar.

I realize that I have an unhealthy fascination with virulent disease.  I like apocalypse scenarios of all kinds, but I'm partial to the disease vector of apocalypse.  I'm fascinated by how our modern artists of all kinds have linked disease and zombies, but disease itself can be plenty scary even if it doesn't transform us into otherworldly creatures.

When I first taught the first half of the British survey class, I did some of my own research into the outbreaks of the plague through the centuries--fascinating!  In such a short time, you could be a survivor of an area that had lost 50% of its residents.  I was captivated by all the changes that took place in the wake of each plague, especially the first outbreak.

My black death research eventually took me to the work of Laurie Garrett.  Her book The Coming Plague had just been published, and it introduced me to Ebola.

 Ebola is even more deadly, with it's 60-90% death rate.  And unlike AIDS, it spreads very easily.  Thankfully, thus far it's not like TB--it's not an airborne disease.

Of course, it's the very deadliness of the disease that often stops the outbreak.  Diseases that are most successful keep their hosts alive long enough to facilitate the spread of the disease.  Early Ebola outbreaks were halted when whole villages died.

This outbreak has a different character.  I find myself thinking about all the health care workers who do not run away.  In their work, I see the face of Jesus.

Of course, that face is obscured, hopefully, by a haz-mat suit.  I cannot imagine working in those conditions, the sub-par facilities, the lack of basics like gloves and disinfectant, the incredible heat, the lack of running water, the lack of electricity--so much aching need.

In the wake of the various clashes in Ferguson, some of us have talked a lot about the privileges our skin color achieves for us.  I don't often see people making the link to Africa and the current Ebola crisis, not in the same breath.  It's as if people are talking about racism in the heartland of America or racism in how we treat disease in the various countries of Africa.  

I, too, am not going to make those links.  But I do find myself looking west to Ferguson and then looking fearfully to the Ebola outbreaks to my east.  I find myself wondering if the time will come when we'll look back to Ferguson and marvel at the population who had the luxury to clash while the efforts to contain Ebola were so paltry and so ineffective.

There are questions of wealth and national sovereignty at stake.  I understand, sort of, why first world nations can't just sweep in and take over.  Even the delivery of basic medical supplies (aspirin, clean water, gloves) is compromised by the history of first world interactions with the continent of Africa.

If I had time and inclination, perhaps I'd write an essay connecting Ferguson and Ebola from this direction:  how does our history hamper our good efforts and intentions?

As always, I sit with my white privilege, my access to good health care, the clean water and flowing electricity that I so often take for granted--and I feel that sickening guilt.

I think of what Jesus said to the rich, young man, the young man who was so close to perfection.  All he had to left to do was to sell everything he owned and give it to the poor.   This post is getting long, so I'll leave us all with a question, a question to which I shall return at some point:

What would Jesus do in the time of Ebola?

No comments: