When I first read the news that ebola had made it all the way to New York, I thought “of course it has”. Yesterday none of our governments had taken any sensible or reasonable measures to stop it.
What was shocking though, was that Craig Spencer, the local doctor who was treating ebola patients just days ago, lives one block from me and his three mile run since he got home goes along the same street I run on each night I’m in town. Can my simple goal of running a mile each day for a year get any weirder? Curiously, NYC health commissioner Dr. Mary Travis Bassett is reported to have noted that he must be “feeling quite well” to have gone for a run. Um, no. Just because someone goes running doesn’t mean they feel a particular way. It’s just lame bullshit to even make such an inference, and then only to build the case that he didn’t have enough information to not go bowling the night before.
I knew about the problem before he was actually confirmed to have the disease because his evacuation was in the news. On my way home I had to pass his street corner, then crowded with news vans and police, all of whom were completely unobstructed and unburdened by protective gear. They had no closed the street to pedestrian or vehicle traffic, which I thought odd, but there you have it. This is a deadly disease that we don’t know how to handle or treat, but go ahead and lick all the street poles you like.
When I went out running last night (I have to keep streaking!), the gaggle had calmed down, but there was a squad car parked in the middle of Broadway. The hard core news people were still there doing all the stuff they do when no one is looking, such as reapplying makeup and redoing hair. They try as hard as they can to get all the blood out of the turnip, but from the news I saw they had the same uninformative shots you expect from TV news. They showed the front of the building where he lived.
I’m glad that Governors Christie and Cuomo are stepping up to place some sensible quarantine procedures in place at the Port Authority airports, because no one else is. Whatever they were doing before didn’t keep ebola out of my neighborhood. Craig rode on the same trains I ride on, runs on the same roads, and uses a community supported agriculture spot down the street from me. This was a terrible disease with strict and complicated precautions in Africa, but somehow is harmless enough that you can just leave. It’s tougher to bring back a pineapple from Hawaii (and I’ve seen the beagle at O’Hare that busts you on any fruit you have).
Riverside Drive, and easy access to the Hudson, is the major reason I chose this neighborhood. He probably chose it because he works at Columbia Presbyterian, a mile north. I’m guessing he runs in that direction since it’s his work commute and there’s a great view of the Bridge when you get into the 160s.
I read that he is a marathon runner, so I looked for him in MarathonGuide. It looks like he ran a 3:43 in last year’s New York Marathon. I’m not sure it’s the same person, but that’s the only marathon result for his name and age. I’ve heard the rumors that this year’s New York Marathon might be shut down for fears of African runners bringing the disease over (and do you want to be at the same water station?), but I also know that most of the elites don’t live in Africa anymore.
I’m not worried about the disease, but I am worried about how much we really care about it and how we talk about it. Craig’s next door neighbor found out about the problem after Craig had already left the building because he saw the news crews, despite it being such a problem that he was evacuated in a hazmat suit. That just doesn’t add up.
All I’ve heard is that I have nothing to worry about, but the disease keeps getting closer to me despite all the assurances. Officials keep saying it’s highly unlikely anyone will catch it from him, but they evacuated him in full hazmat and with a big police escort. What they say and what they do are at odds. Watching the prepared statements stiltingly read by officials who avoid addressing the issues head on don’t do much either. No one wants to say they don’t know what to do next.
But then I start to do the math. The Daily Mail has a timeline starting on September 16 when he flew to Guinea. He was symptomatic on October 21-23. There’s a 21 day incubation period, so he was exposed around the first few days of the month, about two weeks into his stay in Guinea. Is it really dangerous or really hard to get? That the people infected in the US are trained medical personnel is highly suspicious, and from someone supposedly following strict protocols. That they are blasé enough about it to return to normal life (flying to Cleveland?) is even worse. The same Daily Mail article shows the NYPD putting their gloves, masks, and caution tape in the corner trash can. Maybe it’s harmless, but it’s stupid to do it on camera.
Hospitals are the worst places to be sick because doctors don’t wash their hands. I use to be a radiation worker and I’ve been trained in chemical warfare. Decon and transmission are serious issues. When I see the people at Chipotle wearing the dinky plastic gloves, I know it’s not about protecting me because everything I’m worried about is on the counters and the utensils, which are on the wrong sides of the gloves. With radiation it’s easy to know what you affected because a simple geiger counter will tell you. Most of the doctors I see don’t wash their hands before they see me. Most of them that are going to touch me do (that most of them don’t is a sad statement on medicine in the US), but the other ones are still touching chairs, clipboards, and many other things. That stuff stays in the room and can jump to the hands of a doctor who just washed his hands. And I’m not a germaphobe. Still, these are the people telling us not to worry, and the side of this problem that keeps getting infected.
Craig was in Guinea for less than a month. I’ve been in my share of disaster and war zones. I don’t know Craig’s story, but I’ve seen plenty of people parachute in, put in a little bit of work, then high tail it out when they get bored. They get the story of having worked the problem without really having to commit to it. People laud them as heroes and humanitarians, but forget about the people they left behind who can’t fly out when they are done There’s a name for this sort of thing: disaster or dark tourism.
I’m surprised that anyone would work in an epidemic area for less than a month. It seems to me that such a short stay is too much of a risk and costs too much to setup to be worth it. Taking a 21 day quarantine period must make no sense if you were only there for 26 days, but isn’t that big a deal if you are there for nine months. If that’s all the time you have, you probably shouldn’t go. The Doctors Without Borders general requirements states a minimum of 9 months for a rotation. So far I haven’t seen any reporter ask why he was there for such a short period.
How is it that Nigeria is the leading example of ebola response?. Does it matter that it’s ebola and not some other nasty disease we can’t handle? For what it’s worth, my favorite doctor is Nigerian. He knows his stuff and tells it like it is.
I also think about the 1972 outbreak of smallpox in Yugoslavia. Martial law and ring quarantines shut that noise down, but it also took a cruel dictator to do it.
Still, some news sources say he “self-quarantined”, which we now know to be false, and some have updated their stories to say “self-monitored”. For such a deadly disease, we’re going to rely on the victim to tell us he’s bleeding out? I read Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone when it came out, but then the author says he exaggerated.
None of this makes any sense to me still, but these are the things I think about on my runs now because I see that ebola is right in my neighborhood.