Here’s the thing: my husband could’ve been Kent Brantly. He stood in JFK Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia while their first Ebola patient came in. My perspective as a wife was first to be angry and irrational–why did you go back to Liberia? Holy shit. Get out of there now. Et cetera.
He did get out of there. His incubation period passed, and I knew he’d be fine. Obviously I was relieved.
Then Kent Brantly’s story hit the news. I felt for his wife. I wondered if she’d be a widow. I wondered a lot about what it would be like to be a widow.
As these wifely thoughts percolated, Josh filled in details about his experiences in Liberia. We often have our morning coffee on the porch together. And Josh brought back some wonderful coffee from Dr. Brisbane’s plantation. As we sipped our rich coffee, Josh frowned at how the nurses rationed gloves. His brow pinched together as he wondered if JFK would have to close down, and how would people get their medicines?, and think of the pregnant mothers who can’t get to the hospital. (As of today, the hospital had closed, but was reopened.) Josh speculated about the doctors and staff getting Ebola. His eyes became teary. “There aren’t enough doctors, already.” He didn’t say anything about regretting leaving Liberia because that’s not something you say to your wife.
Then we got word that Dr. Brisbane had indeed gotten Ebola. Soon after, word came that he died. I never knew him, but I’ve been there while Josh grieves his friend, so I’m sure Dr. Brisbane was a wonderful man. (I still can’t seem to brew that last pot of Monrovian coffee from Dr. Brisbane’s plantation.)
Then another Liberian doctor died. And some of the staff.
The news crews came. Josh was interviewed five or seven times, I think. I was struck, but not surprised, by how much was edited down–the parts about real people dying and about a Liberian hospital in need of things as basic as gloves and power cords–while the fear that Ebola could come to America was reported over and over. It’s a valid fear, but only one part of the story.
In other news, Kent Brantly and Nancy were coming home for treatment. I was happy for Kent’s wife. She wasn’t going to be a widow. America can contain and treat two cases of Ebola.
But what about the Liberian doctors? What about the Liberian widows?
All my thankfulness that my husband was home safe got wadded up with the realness of people dying and the unfairness of white vs. brown and rich vs. poor and educated vs. uneducated. It’s a strange, sad entanglement. I’m married to a man who has an important skill. He’s promised to his family–a husband and father, and he’s committed to skillfully treat sick and dying people and manage disasters. It has suddenly become harder to ask him to choose the family–harder, but not impossible. I’m selfish for me and my kids. I do not wish to be a widow.
Dr. Brisbane (and many others) made a choice to keep doctoring the people of Liberia. He could’ve retired to his coffee plantation. But he went to work at the hospital. And it cost him his life. His wife is widow. Fourteen kids lost their dad.
Josh was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. He wrote an essay about Dr. Brisbane and his sacrifice. It is a beautiful and well-written essay. You should read it.
There are things we can do. We can help Liberian nurses get gloves. We can help Liberian doctors get equipment they need to stay safe while treating patients. There can be fewer widows and orphans. Please consider donating to The Dr. Sam Brisbane Fund. (If you want to hear Josh discuss how the money will help, watch this video.)