The director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia apologized for implying that the nurse in Texas was responsible for her own infection with the deadly Ebola virus. This comes less than two weeks after hospital officials from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and other prominent officials blamed a different nurse for releasing the patient with Ebola from the emergency department possibly causing an Ebola outbreak.
The public at large is understandably concerned by the news that a nurse here in the United States contracted Ebola despite wearing full protective equipment. How is this possible? Dr. Thomas Frieden of the CDC seemed to imply it was the nurse’s fault when he stated the infection was due to a “breach in protocol.”
Now there are different schools of thought on this issue. One being this: It must have been a breach in protocol that caused this infection in the nurse because Dr. Kent Brantly and nurse Nancy Writebol were successfully treated at Emory without any health care worker becoming infected. Even though I understand this argument, I believe that it neglects several important points: The first being that the nurse may not have been properly and extensively trained in the proper CDC protocol for putting on and taking off the protective equipment. Secondly, the director of the CDC did state that we may see another health care worker show signs of the disease in the coming days. To me, this implies that the breach in protocol was a procedure that more than one health care worker followed–again suggesting improper training of protocols.
More than this, I am struck by the difference in terminology when it comes to the officials and media discussing the infections of Dr. Kent Brantly and Texas nurse Nina Pham. Dr. Kent Brantly was held in high regard after the media picked up the story. He was a humanitarian working for Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia. He was a hero — holding the hands of the sick and the dying. Not surprisingly, no one was discussing the breach in protocol that lead to his infection. No one from the CDC was speaking out on the national news saying he was responsible for his own infection.
Nurse Nina Pham, 26, is a hero. Like Dr. Kent Brantly, she went where others did not want to go. I can assure you, there were nurses in Texas who refused to be the one to treat the dying Ebola patient. If not refused, they strongly expressed their desires to not be the one treating him.
On a personal note, I remember being the one to step up to the plate with a patient that was suspected to have rabies when I was a young nurse at the age of 24. Most of my coworkers had young children or were pregnant and did not want to subject themselves to a deadly infection that they could bring home to their families. I’m sure this thought crossed Nina Pham’s mind when she agreed to take care of the Ebola patient.
Like Dr. Kent Brantly, Nina Pham is not responsible for her illness. I respect Dr. Frieden for apologizing in a public way for this implication. I realize this is likely the most challenging time in his career. People are demanding answers. I get it. But please, let’s come from a place of respect for the health care worker, despite the initials that follow their name. Please, lets stop blaming the nurses.
Sarah Beth Cowherd is a nurse who blogs at SaraBethRN.com.