I recall when news of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa first hit the media outlets here. We in the USA were treated to a number of USA officials essentially saying, 'Don't worry folks. The health-care system in the USA is far more advanced than that in West Africa. It's unlikely that the Ebola virus will find its way here, but if it does, we will be able to contain it.'
That made me feel much better, especially since my favorite TV shows have become The Last Ship, The Strain, and Helix, all of which deal with viruses or other pathogens that are extremely virulent and threaten humanity.
But the recent episode in Dallas has put me at unease. A Liberian fellow, Thomas Duncan, walked into the ER at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital with fever and other symptoms of Ebola (fever, stomach cramps) and told the ER nurse that he had just flown in from Liberia, one of the hotspots of the epidemic. The nurse failed to transmit this information to the diagnostic team, so the man was treated and released. Fortunately, he came back when he became sicker.
Wait a second. Ebola? Liberia? Fever? Duhhh....Where has the aforementioned nurse been for the past few weeks? Good Lord, if those three words in juxtaposition don't raise a red flag to a health care worker, I don't know what would. THPH has blamed the omission on the software glitch (Ah, blame the computer). Had I been the nurse I think I would have picked up the phone (after I stopped shaking) or communicated to the diagnostic team somewhat more directly than using software. [Note added on 4 October 2014: THPH now says that the problem was not with the computer; the diagnostic team got the information on its screen but didn't see it. Stay tuned: the story could mutate faster than a virus.]
It turns out that THPH's ER is less than stellar.
The folks in Dallas are now tracking down the people who have been in contact with the Duncan, who is now very ill. Let's hope the public health workers are more adept than the THPH folks.
And how did Duncan get here? When he left Liberia, he lied when asked if he had been in contact with Ebola-infected persons (he had, and all have died). So I guess it's not too hard to fly here from West Africa. Liberia is considering criminal charges against him, should he survive.
I write about this because the health-care communications breakdown in Dallas is all too familiar to Mary Frances and me. Her mother (99 years old) is in a nursing home in Kentucky that is reputed to be one of the best in the area. We have found that the various shifts do not communicate with each other very well and that 'the ball is dropped' quite often. We know this because we have had to hire a minder for my mother-in-law, a young woman who does a great job keeping tabs on the 'professionals' and calling them out when they screw up.
The Last Ship and Helix are on hiatus now. I think I might skip the last few episodes of The Strain.
'Bureaucratic time and virus time are different.' - Unknown