This Nation of Cowards

by William Rivers Pitt, Truthout | Op-Ed –

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at a news conference in New York.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at a news conference on Ebola in New York, October 24, 2014. The governors of New York and New Jersey on Sunday stood by their decision to require medical workers who had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa into quarantine, despite deep concerns about the impact it might have on fighting the epidemic and the lack of clarity about exactly how the plan would work. (Photo: Katie Orlinsky / The New York Times)

It is likely that most of us, myself included, will live out our entire lives and die without ever meeting someone who willingly and purposefully volunteers to spend their vacation thousands of miles away, tending to people with diseases that make the talking heads on CNN and Fox want to hide under the bed. Kaci Hickox, a nurse from Maine who graduated from Johns Hopkins, is one such person.

In 2010, Hickox traveled overseas with the organization Doctors Without Borders to treat people suffering from yellow fever, one of several trips she made with that organization. Until last Friday, she was in Sierra Leone for a month, spending her vacation time helping to treat people infected with Ebola, the virus that has been burning through western Africa at an unprecedented rate. Kaci Hickox went to one of the most unstable countries in the world to help fight a deadly disease because someone had to, and so she raised her hand.

On Friday, she came home to a timorous nation of cowards.

That same day, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo teamed up with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to establish a mandatory 21-day quarantine for any health workers returning from West Africa. When she landed at the ironically-named Liberty International Airport in Newark, she informed an immigration official that she had just returned from Sierra Leone, and was immediately hustled into a room. For the next several hours, she was questioned harshly by several people wearing bio-suits without being told exactly what was going on. According to her, nobody seemed to be in charge.

One man whose gun was visible under his bio-suit, in Hickox own words, “barked questions at me as if I was a criminal.” After several hours passed, she was brought to University Hospital in Newark in a speeding sirens-blaring lights-flashing caravan of eight police cars. Upon arrival, she was stuffed into a quarantine tent with scant furniture, a port-o-potty and no shower, and was informed that this would be her home for the next twenty-one days.

Kaci Hickox, in her own words:

I had spent a month watching children die, alone. I had witnessed human tragedy unfold before my eyes. I had tried to help when much of the world has looked on and done nothing.

At the hospital, I was escorted to a tent that sat outside of the building. The infectious disease and emergency department doctors took my temperature and other vitals and looked puzzled. “Your temperature is 98.6,” they said. “You don’t have a fever but we were told you had a fever.”

After my temperature was recorded as 98.6 on the oral thermometer, the doctor decided to see what the forehead scanner records. It read 101. The doctor felts my neck and looked at the temperature again. “There’s no way you have a fever,” he said. “Your face is just flushed.”

My blood was taken and tested for Ebola. It came back negative.

I sat alone in the isolation tent and thought of many colleagues who will return home to America and face the same ordeal. Will they be made to feel like criminals and prisoners?

Hickox began raising Hell about her treatment and the violation of her basic rights. The right-wing blogosphere launched itself into action, denouncing her for being a Democrat and dismissing her complaints because she voted for President Obama. Gov. Christie, one of the duo who ordered her mandatory quarantine, stood by his decision because, as he said, it was his job to protect the citizens of New Jersey. His concern for his constituents was evident, given that he was more than a thousand miles away when he defended his quarantine policy, campaigning for Rick Scott in Florida.

On Monday, Christie was forced to retreat, announcing that Kaci Hickox would be “allowed” to serve out the remainder of her mandatory quarantine at home.

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Reprinted with permission