According to the Mayo Clinic’s helpful website the symptoms of a panic attack are:
- Sense of impending doom or danger
- Fear of loss of control or death
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Hot flashes
- Abdominal cramping
- Chest pain
- Tightness in your throat
- Trouble swallowing
I don’t feel any of those symptoms other than, possibly, nausea but that’s clearly because I listen to the political discourse in the United States too closely. Indeed, when I look around the clearest signs of panic are among Democratic politicians rather than the public at large. It’s just like in the movies. The most panic-stricken guy on the boat is the one who’s rushing around frantically telling everyone else to remain calm.
In this post I’d like to suggest that we not remain calm.
In every crisis over the period of the last century or more the only things that have motivated Americans to action have been strong emotions: pity, fear, most commonly anger. Those are what motivated us to enter World War I, to act during the Great Depression of the 1930s (whether you think we acted prudently is another question entirely), to respond to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, to become the primary healthcare provider in Pakistan for a year following a massive earthquake there, or even to send a man to the moon. Calm motivates us to watch the World Series or check out the antics on The Big Bang Theory.
The reality is that the Ebola epidemic that has struck Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone is beyond those countries’ ability to manage. Not only are they among the poorest countries in the world but they have among the least competent and most corrupt governments, not unrelated things. Since healthcare workers are highly at risk from Ebola the epidemic has depleted their already weak healthcare systems.
The number of deaths from Ebola in those countries is already approaching 5,000. There are projections that within a month or so it will rise into the tens of thousands and if unchecked it could rise into the millions by early next year.
Each new case is accompanied by the possibility that the virus could go airborne, a prospect that would be a disaster of global proportions, or that it could become endemic in that region of Africa or even beyond. Those are things we don’t want to happen.
The time-honored approach to dealing with the disease and the approach that has been successful in Nigeria and Senegal already has been to isolate the active cases and track down and quarantine those most at risk from the disease due to their contacts with people with active cases. That still is not impossible, as Nigeria and Senegal have demonstrated, but it soon may become so and Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are incapable of managing the problem on their own. I also think that our own greatest safety lies in treating the epidemic successfully in West Africa.
We need to intervene with all due speed and I don’t see calm as motivating us to do that. It’s the last thing we need. A few hundred soldiers erecting tent hospitals, our present commitment, isn’t enough to do the job.