When Thomas Eric Duncan, a visitor from Liberia, became ill in Dallas on September 24, he went, as many people do, to the local hospital emergency room. However, serious questions must be raised about what happened when he did.
Duncan entered the hospital with perspiration, vomiting, a fever of 103°F and stomach cramps. He said that he was from West Africa. Many believe the hospital should have suspected Ebola. But the hospital somehow ignored or misread Duncan's symptoms and failed to diagnose his condition and provide an appropriate treatment. After a series of tests, Duncan was sent home with antibiotics and told to take a pain medication.
Duncan's condition deteriorated and he returned to the hospital on September 28. He was diagnosed with Ebola but rather than being treated right away, he was just provided a hospital bed and was in isolation.
Duncan finally received experimental medicine on October 4 which was six days after he was admitted. Treatment was too late and Duncan died on October 8. The misdiagnosis and resulting delay in the beginning of treatment may have contributed to Duncan's death. It certainly put other people at risk: Duncan's family, his friends, and the people with whom he came in contact. (On October 12, it was reported that a Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas nurse who treated Duncan came down with symptoms. The nurse has tested positive for the Ebola virus.)
People have responded to the events surrounding Thomas Eric Duncan's diagnosis of Ebola and his death in a variety of ways. The Dallas County prosecutor considered criminal charges against Duncan to examine whether he intentionally exposed the public to Ebola. Critics of President Obama have shamelessly exploited the situation to say that the president is allowing Ebola and the fear of Ebola to spread. As we answer such ridiculous thinking with a resounding "no", hard questions remain.
The misdiagnosis and delay in treating Thomas Eric Duncan is disturbing. His symptoms and the fact that Thomas Eric Duncan was from West Africa should have sent warning signs to admit him for further tests. But rather they dismissed him.
Was Duncan turned away because he did not have insurance or because of his foreign accent and skin color? Many argue that he was. Duncan's experience echoes the realities revealed in Ferguson, Missouri. Ferguson reminds us that some are discriminated against due to the color of one's skin and others will not. Ferguson reminds us that inequality still exists in much of the United States. Ferguson reminds us that there is a disparity and gap between the rich and poor.
The death of Thomas Eric Duncan challenges us to consider the factors that affect how medical treatment is provided. From Nebraska to Dallas, all must be treated equally and with the highest care. Duncan's treatment came late while the other three Ebola patients in America received treatment right away. We all know that early treatment leads to better success. We must learn from Thomas Eric Duncan's case. The other Ebola patients treated on America soil survived, but Duncan did not. All must be treated equally with the highest care and compassion.
During the time of Jesus, Simon the leper had the disease of his time. People were saying, "unclean, unclean" and put him in a quarantine shelter. The isolation, fear, hatred, ignorance and violence abounded. Rather than distancing himself from Simon the leper, Jesus was with him during his last week on earth (Matthew 26:6).
We who follow Jesus, remember that he had compassion and healed the sick without distinction, without regard to who they were. He saw beyond the external factors to see the person in need and then responded to that need. He calls us to do the same: to become aware of disparities and the discrepancies in how people of different ethnicities and economic statuses are treated here in the United States, and then to join together to work for the day when all people receive equal treatment.
The death of Thomas Eric Duncan and the presence of Ebola remind us of how small and interrelated the world is. What affects some of us directly, will ultimately affect most, if not all of us, indirectly. It is a reminder that the world needs books, schools, hospitals and medicine. Not guns and bombs. It is a reminder that we must learn to help one another out rather than turn our backs on each other. The nations and people of the world must pull together to help one another. Acting together for the good of all humanity must be our motto on this small blue planet where our lives intersect with each other. We all need each other and we need to be there for one another. And we must not be late.
Thomas Eric Duncan received a late diagnosis. His treatment for Ebola was too late. We have lost Thomas Eric Duncan. Our prayers are with his family and friends.