In this week’s epistle passage, Paul compares the gentleness and caring that should characterize our Christian witness to a “nurse tenderly caring for her own children.” That metaphor has a particularly striking resonance today, as two nurses who cared for Ebola victim Thomas Duncan have contracted the virus themselves. Their cases stoked anxiety that the seeds of an Ebola epidemic here in America might have been planted. And if those nascent fears weren’t rampant enough, they gained additional momentum when it was discovered that air passengers may have been exposed to the virus too. The second nurse to contract the virus traveled on a flight from Cleveland to Dallas despite beginning to show symptoms... and most stunning of all, she was apparently cleared to fly anyway by call representatives at the Centers for Disease Control. While the nation fretted about how quickly an epidemic could spiral out of control, the stark reality is that nurses -- those in the trenches who actually have the most contact with patients -- are the ones who face the greatest risks in the course of their caring work... especially when dealing with those suffering with infectious diseases.
In the next installment of The Immediate Word, team member Chris Keating suggests that for health care workers, being “like a nurse tenderly caring for her children” is more than just a nice little bromide -- it’s the living embodiment of Jesus’ call in the gospel lesson to “love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s particularly true for those who bravely treat Ebola patients, like the Dallas nurses who became exposed to the virus themselves. It’s noteworthy that though they were aware of the nightmarish risks facing them, these nurses trusted in their protocols and tenderly cared for Thomas Duncan as if he were one of their own children (though their trust in their own safety may have been undercut by conditions at the Dallas hospital where they worked). Here’s a preview:
Ebola 2014: A Test of the Heart
by Chris Keating
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46
Fears of the Ebola virus spreading across the United States are creating worries for many. But for nurses like 26-year-old Nina Pham, the battle against the disease is proving to be a true test of the heart.
Pham -- the first health care worker in the United States to be diagnosed with Ebola -- had been part of the care team for Thomas Duncan, who died on October 8, 2014. Pham was initially treated at the hospital where she works, but was then transferred from Dallas to an isolation unit at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
She’s a nurse, a 2010 graduate of Texas Christian University. As a medical practitioner, Pham became was among the first to respond to Ebola in the United States, embodying the spirit of Paul’s metaphor in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 -- gently, deeply, and devotedly caring for Duncan. Like Amber Joy Vinson, the second nurse to be diagnosed with the virus, it’s possible that Pham provided care for Duncan with less than optimal preparations or protocols.
In either case, what is true is that both Vinson and Pham approached their work as a calling. As Paul says, “we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children.” Nurses and health care workers treating Ebola patients face the greatest risks of exposure to the disease -- a single drop of an Ebola patient’s blood can contain nearly a half a billion viral particles. It is risky work, especially since health care providers are regularly exposed to a patient’s bodily fluids.
Instead of fear, Pham approached her nursing duties as a calling, fulfilling Jesus’ admonition to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Like Vinson, or another infected nurse in Spain, or nurses on the front line of the epidemic in Africa, she understood the risks. There’s no mention of room for error.
In a time of epidemic and panic, that is indeed a test of the heart.
>> Click here for the full installment.
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