Panicked

Axel had a routine procedure done at a small surgical center in Peabody. Since he was given general anesthesia he wasn’t allowed to drive himself home. I took the morning off and became his ‘ride.’

Axel likes to chat with people and casually mentioned his wife had just returned from West Africa. All the alarm bells went off. People in the US are more panicked than in Cote d’Ivoire.

When I came to pick up the patient I was called into the nurse’s office. She told me she had to follow procedures. Could I confirm that I had been in Sierra Leone? I don’t know how they got that idea and so I disconfirmed that and told her I had been to the Ivory Coast. She wrote it down, and then asked , “in which country were you on the Ivory Coast?” Americans’ poor geographic knowledge is partially responsible I think for the panic here. People think Africa is one country and so anyone who has been to the western part of that country, with its ivory coast, must be a serious threat.

I explained to her that I was very far from the Liberian border and that I had not been in contact with sick or dead people or animals, had not eaten bush meat or bats and had washed my hands multiple times per day, greeting people with elbow salutations. I also mentioned I had been back for a week and had no symptoms. Still, we had to go through all the procedural hoops.

But it didn’t end there. The Director of the facility was alerted and he alerted the MA Department of Public Health which told him to contact me daily for temperature updates. So he called last night. It was an awkward call and he kept saying how much he appreciated what I and my colleagues were doing for public health in the world, but could I also please tell him my temperature.

I told Axel to stop mentioning my visit to West Africa or I have to start putting my daily temperature on my blog and facebook.

But I can see the dilemma – if I were really sick there are powerful incentives to hide it. After all, even if it is shortsighted, who would want to see his or her life disrupted, put into quarantine, friends and family lifted from their beds as well and all the bushes and flowers around one’s house killed with bleach and bedding carted off to be burned, when it turns out it was only a case of the flu? I can see why people may not want to step forward.

1 Response to “Panicked”


  1. 1 jofacilitator October 19, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    Sending you both of elbow bumps…… 😉


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