DALLAS – On October 8, 2014 the first confirmed case of Ebola in the United States ended in heartbreak with the death of Thomas Duncan. Less than 24 hours later reports were flying that a second possible patient had walked into a CareNow clinic in Frisco, Texas with Ebola like symptoms. As information came in it revealed that the second possible case was a Dallas County Sheriff’s deputy, who had been in and around the first victim’s home. Although it was a false alarm, it caused a state of heightened awareness throughout Dallas County. In wake of the second confirmed case, a nurse of Duncan, emergency services officials are now faced with a stark reality. How do we care for the patients while trying to prevent the spread of a virus that has no known cure?
Firefighters, police officers, paramedics, doctors, nurses, and other emergency services personnel are all committed to serve. Even though we serve the community in different roles, we all have similar missions. So within emergency services, how do we protect ourselves while at the same time trying to administer aid and serve our community? What steps is our local, state, and federal government taking to protect us?
As the son of a fireman I have spent a lot of time in and around the firefighting community. I’ve been inside ambulances and on fire engines. I’ve watched my dad as he cooked for the guys on his shift, and I’ve witnessed them drop their food and run to save someone’s life. But I never really allowed myself to think that in order to save someone’s life; my dad was putting his in harm’s way. With the outbreak of Ebola we are fighting an invisible enemy that we have never encountered before. Now, anyone with a fever is a possible case. Despite the heightened state of awareness and increased possibility of infection, the mindset and attitude of our emergency services personnel hasn't changed. Procedures and precautions have been put in place, but we are still just as ready as ever to serve.
So how do we fight a virus that can’t be seen? The Center for Disease control has provided us with multiple resources on preventative measures, http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/prevention/index.html; as well as steps to take in a healthcare setting, http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/abroad/pdf/african-healthcare-setting-vhf.pdf. As emergency services personnel, during this time it is important that we put an emphasis on the small things. We want to gather as much information as possible before going into a potential infectious situation, and if we find ourselves in one of those situations we must refer back to the basics: Practice careful hygiene, and avoid contact with blood or bodily fluids, or any item that might have been contaminated by blood or bodily fluids.
During this time it is easy to think we know the answer. For instance, suspend all air travel from infected countries, or isolate the patients even more than we already have. However, without having all the facts it is easy to think we have all the answers. The best thing for us to do now is trust. We need to trust the CDC and our government to handle this situation in the most efficient way possible, while at the same time being over cautious in our daily routine. Without that trust we feed the panic and encourage the mayhem. In the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Although Ebola is something to fear, now is the time when the public looks to us for help. And just like we have in the past, we will stand ready to answer the call.