Thomas Eric Duncan and Jesse Jackson: Strange bedfellows of Ebola

There’s no evidence that Thomas Eric Duncan ever met Jesse Jackson, but he has posthumously become the reverend’s best friend.

Jackson says that Duncan’s family contacted him because they were having trouble getting answers from the doctors and hospital staff where Duncan was in quarantined treatment.

The family said that they felt isolated, an interesting way to describe themselves in light of the fact that they were related to the first individual ever diagnosed with Ebola here in the United States.

At the time Duncan’s family was ruminating about their mistreatment, the Dallas County prosecutor was considering criminal charges against Duncan.

Reverend Jackson insists that Duncan did not realize that he had been exposed to Ebola, even thought he transported a woman to a hospital in Liberia who was so sick, she was immediately quarantined and died while Duncan was still at the hospital.

That must have slipped his mind, because Thomas Eric Duncan failed to report any contact with sick individuals as he boarded a plane just 4 days later, bound for the United States.  Duncan succeeded where so many have failed.  He boarded an airplane concealing a weapon of mass destruction.

In fairness to Duncan, it’s not unreasonable for anyone exposed to Ebola to try to make his or her way to the United States.  He was, in all reality running for his life.  Sadly, he lost that race on October 8.

Jesse Jackson would like someone-anyone-to believe that Thomas Duncan died because he was poor or because he was black.  Jackson insists that Duncan’s treatment upon his first arrival at Dallas Presbyterian Hospital was negligent and shoddy because Duncan had no health insurance.

As much as we’d like to believe we’re number one in everything, our healthcare system is anything but.  There are some cracks.

It will be debated for some time whether or not Duncan would have survived had he been admitted upon his initial visit to the hospital.  Or if the outcome might have differed if America had adopted a single-payer system, like the rest of the civilized world.

In any case, his symptoms were not that severe on the evening of September 25 and no one in America had ever diagnosed a case of Ebola.  A black man with a fever and flu-like symptoms did not set off any alarms.  That same man reporting that he had recently returned from Liberia should have.

It bears repeating that up until that time, no one among the millions of patients seen in America’s emergency rooms since forever has been diagnosed with Ebola.  No one, that is until Mr. Duncan reappeared at Dallas Presbyterian Hospital on September 28.

A few years ago my wife went flying over the handlebars of her bicycle and landed on her chin.  When I arrived on the scene about 20 minutes later, she was still bleeding and in pain.

I took my white wife to an emergency room in a predominantly white suburb, where we presented all the necessary health insurance documents.  She was examined, X-rayed and sent home with over-the-counter pain killers.

A week later, her pain continually worsening, we returned to the emergency room at the same hospital where a new round of X-rays revealed a fractured jaw.  I thought it was astounding that they didn’t see the fracture on our first visit, but several doctors assured us that it just didn’t show up on the original X-rays.

Shit happens.  They don’t always get it right the first time.  Sometimes they don’t get it right at all.

In Thomas Duncan’s case, the hospital not getting it right on his first visit might have cost him his life.  It’s also possible that, had my wife gone to the same emergency room with the same symptoms as Thomas Duncan, she, too might have been sent home with some ineffectual remedy.

Jackson was also incredulous that there was only enough ZMapp-an experimental anti-viral agent-to give to the two white patients transported to the United States from Liberia after having contracted Ebola.

Considering the fact that ZMapp is experimental, difficult to produce, had never been administered to an Ebola patient and none were anticipated here, it shouldn’t be too surprising that there wasn’t enough to go around.

When Dr. Kent Brantley received his first dose of ZMapp on July 31, it was an unnamed drug thought to have been produced in only enough quantity to treat one patient.  Having enough to treat two patients was as close to a medical miracle as you can get.

Now, Dallas nurse, Nina Pham is fighting for her life thanks to the arrival of Ebola via Thomas Eric Duncan.  Whether they treat her with ZMapp or brincidofovir-the drug given to Duncan-remains to be seen, as does her very survival.

Disease is not fair.  Sickle cell anemia is as racist an affliction as you can find.  Tay-Sachs is anti-Semitic.  AIDS could definitely be accused of homophobia.

Medicine is a scientific discipline, but it isn’t always scientific and it may, in fact be in its infancy.  I know of two people who died in the last 6 months of some undiagnosed ailment that destroyed their nerve cells over a period of years.

The doctors are still scratching their heads.

Mr. Duncan took a shot and lost.  The problem is that he made the rest of us his unwitting accomplices, putting an as-yet-unknown number of people at risk.  For now, all we can do is keep our fingers crossed-or pray or burn incense or whatever you do-for Nina Pham.

And keep the Reverend Jesse Jackson in your prayers.  There’s plenty of real racism in ‘America.  Maybe we can help him find it.

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