Someone once told me to look for the helpers in time of disaster- that they’d always be there. They were right, and I latched onto that idea like a child to a blanket. With this, I was always able to search for the things I wanted to believe in. I’m not sure if this was a bad thing- it certainly was easier. But I have come to realize that I have reached an age at which I can’t ignore things any longer. No matter how hard I try, I can’t depersonalize the death tolls I see in the paper. People aren’t just names anymore.
I don’t watch scary movies. I don’t read sad books (especially not ones about dogs). And I don’t like to read the newspaper. I avoid it because I don’t like what I read. But media prevents me from this. People all over the internet are voicing their thoughts, emotions, and ideas. Some, not all, but some, say things that matter and things that change the way that I think.
I had these pictures in my mind of how things would be when I was older. I thought that I really understood the hardships in the world. This glimmer of understanding led me to believe that I needed to, and could, help. I wanted to work as a doctor in places where people needed me. I wanted to save lives. Now, I’m not saying that I no longer want this. Because it is. But what’s hit me is that these expectations are fantastical. Sinha, in his article Why Do Doctors Commit Suicide? states that “400 doctors commit suicide every year.” The pressure on doctors to solve every situation is unrealistic; external limitations such as the lack of funding and lack of technological advancement define the extent of doctors’ power.
What has prompted this disillusionment has been my following of the outbreak of the Ebola Virus case. When I signed up to follow these accounts on Twitter, I thought that I would find hope in the success stories that I assumed would come. It’s not to say that some of those stories have not come, but more often than not the articles have been negative. I have had to acknowledge the limits on humans’ capability to save lives.
Fink, in an interview with NPR, Budget Cuts Hobble The World Health Organization’s Ebola Response, summed this up perfectly, saying “you can only keep something going for so long with just passion. You have to marry that with the resources.” Private donors fund 80% of the WHO’s resources; this fact in itself might seem as if it would restore one’s faith in humanity. Yet, in the case of the Ebola outbreak, the lack of funding has impeded the WHO from responding faster to the quickly spreading disease. In contrast, from the very start of the outbreak of the SARS epidemic “there were millions and millions of dollars, private money, pouring into WHO because it was affecting really, really wealthy businesses in the countries where SARS was spreading.” Despite our best intentions, it seems that our responses to these outbreaks rely heavily upon how they affect our lives directly.
The effects of the lack of funding have been horrifying, as the disease devastates every human who is pulled into its wake. According to the director of WHO, in an interview with NPR, in some hospitals “two doctors take care of 100,000 people.” Sbethi, in his opinion article for the New York Times, Studying Ebola, Then Dying From It, exposes the fact that it is not only the patients who are dying, for “the constant flow of severely ill patients made it impossible for hospital staff members to protect themselves… By the middle of the summer, they were both dead.” With a timely and a better funded response, the virus might be contained to less than 20,000 people. However, if our response continues at the current pace, the virus could infect up to 80,000 . The impacts of the disease increase exponentially the slower we are to respond, for “the virus is evolving as it spreads from human to human.”
It wasn’t only the facts about the deadly disease that surprised me. What haunts me is the tremendous extent of the consequences of the outbreak. Through twitter, I was exposed to Quist-Arcton’s expose, Remembering Shacki: Liberia’s Accidental Ebola Victim, the story of a boy who, caught in the crossfire after an Ebola center was attacked, was shot and taken to the hospital. But, “its emergency room had lost two doctors to Ebola and wasn’t able to care for him. So he was shuttled to Redemption Hospital, where he died on Aug. 22 from loss of blood and body fluids.” Additionally, I began to learn of the economic consequences that the virus would have through Nossiter’s analysis on the virus, Ebola Is Taking a Second Toll, on Economies. Especially because Guinea, Libera and Sierra Leone “have only recently emerged from decades of war and political upheaval, Ebola has dealt a hard blow” on the economy. Because of the high death rates, there are not enough farmers, so harvests may be cancelled or will be less substantial, which may lead to a limited food supply and an economic fall in these countries that rely heavily on agriculture.
So, I guess I would say that I’ve learned more about myself than about medicine. I’ve learned that the way that I previously viewed disaster response to be overly optimistic. This mindset has been detrimental to my understanding of the real world that exists outside of the bubble in which I live. I can’t, and I won’t, spend the rest of my life in this bubble. If I did, I might stay sheltered- but I would also be limiting myself and alienating myself from the rest of the world.