As some have feared and others predicted, the Ebola situation in Dallas has worsened. The man who became the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States was identified a couple of weeks ago as Thomas Eric Duncan, a 42-year-old Liberian native who arrived here on September 20. He died of the disease early on October 8. The facts surrounding Duncan’s case have changed almost as quickly as promises from the mouths of Texas politicians. But, then again, when the media hurries to publish a story, the truth almost always gets lost in the chaos.
Duncan had been accused of lying on a questionnaire he was given upon boarding a flight from Monrovia to Brussels on September 19; one that asks travelers if they’ve had recent contact with an Ebola patient or have recovered from the ailment. We learned almost as soon as news of Duncan’s dilemma became known that he had carried a pregnant 19-year-old woman to and from a taxi cab shortly before he departed Liberia. The woman died of Ebola not long after she’d been turned away from a local hospital because they were filled to capacity. Then, some of her other relatives got sick and died. By the time she passed away, Duncan was already in Dallas.
Now, news reports claim that neither Duncan nor any of the pregnant woman’s relatives were aware she had Ebola. Apparently, the latter didn’t realize it until after she died. Such is the case in Liberia and other developing nations of West Africa. The health care infrastructure is as pathetic as the road infrastructure. That’s why it doesn’t surprise me that the pregnant woman was turned away from a hospital.
“If he had known he had Ebola … he would not have put the love of his life in a situation like this,” family friend Saymendy Lloyd said of Duncan after he died.
But, officials at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas should have known better than anyone in a ramshackle hospital in Liberia. It’s bad enough that – when Duncan first arrived on September 25, complaining of fever and nausea – the hospital merely sent him home with a prescription for antibiotics. Now, we’ve learned he had a 103° temperature that night. I’m not a healthcare professional, but even I know someone with a 103° temperature needs to be hospitalized. Then, there’s the breakdown in information. The nurse who saw Duncan initially recorded his temperature in the hospital system. But somehow, that crucial bit of data got lost in the electronic shuffle. Hospital officials were quick to blame the software, which was designed and distributed by Epic, a Wisconsin-based firm that controls about 20% of the U.S. market in electronic hospital records. Another piece of lost information – Duncan revealed he’d recently traveled from Liberia.
Someone once told me that computers are only as smart as the people who operate them. No, I responded, they’re only as smart as the people who design them. Actually, it’s both. Presbyterian Dallas’ story keeps shifting, so hopefully they’ll settle on a final version before the book and TV-movie come out. Regardless, none of it leaves me with any sense of confidence in the U.S. health care system. The U.S. has spent more time and money building prisons and sports arenas than health care facilities. Our backward-thinking politicians have made sure oil companies got large tax breaks, while funding for education is always put up for a vote – and fails.
Yet, it’s gotten worse. A nurse who tended to Duncan while he was in isolation at Presbyterian has now tested positive for Ebola. The news just broke, so there aren’t too many details, except that she’s a 20-something native of Fort Worth. Supposedly, her apartment has already been cleaned out, although reports state her dog is still inside. Hopefully, the animal doesn’t suffer the same fate as the pet of a Spanish nurse last week. I mean, I’d rather sacrifice the entire Texas State Legislature instead.
And, the drama continues.