Ebola is a scary disease, and it’s a shame that most Americans watched silently while the epidemic hurtled out of control in a few countries in West Africa… and didn’t begin to pay attention until poor Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed in Dallas — after initially getting sent home from the ER at Texas Health Presbyterian.
I’m not surprised that the folks at Texas Health did not understand the significance of Duncan’s announcement that he had recently arrived from Liberia, because — as I said, we Americans weren’t paying all that much attention to the raging epidemic so far away.
But now that Americans are being diagnosed here in America, we’re not only paying attention – we’re obsessed. And that’s not such a good thing, either.
Thanks to breathless media coverage and politicians who have seized on the disease to spread fear and misinformation, the entire country is in a panic, calling for closing borders and mandatory quarantines for anyone and everyone who enters the US from one of the affected countries. Last week, a friend posted on social media that a medical professional had refused to see her because she had recently visited Ethiopia (which is 3400 miles from the countries with the epidemic).
And on Facebook this morning, I was dismayed to see a discussion among acquaintances about how “selfish” nurse Kaci Hickox is for protesting her quarantine after her working with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone.
Selfish? A medical professional who has spent years in nursing people in underdeveloped countries under difficult conditions … is selfish?
If she’s selfish, what does that make the rest of us?
Science has had decades to study Ebola. We know that even if someone is infected, the disease cannot be spread until there are symptoms – and even then, you would have to have contact with the person’s body or bodily fluids. You are not going to catch Ebola by breathing the same air. You are not going to catch Ebola by sitting next to someone on a train or touching something that person has touched (unless he put it in his mouth first). Dr. Craig Spencer, the New York patient who was hospitalized last week, knew the protocols established over years of experience by Doctors Without Borders. Dr. Spencer followed them and reported to health authorities as soon as he started exhibiting symptoms.
The nation’s Ebola panic truly began when nurses Pham and Vinson contracted the disease after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan. But what of the other 70 or so people who came in contact with Duncan before he was finally admitted to the hospital? No one else in Dallas has been stricken with Ebola — not even the family members who were confined to a small apartment that likely contained linens and towels he had used while suffering from the virus. That’s a pretty good indication that the experts are right: the majority of us are in graver danger of dying from the flu.
There have been missteps in our response to Ebola, but I think this is understandable when dealing with something new. The CDC has been quick to correct their course: They did not have sufficient guidelines in place when they allowed nurse Amber Vinson (one of the two stricken nurses who treated Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian) to travel on a commercial airline. That won’t happen again. But they also likely prevented further infections in Dallas by moving Vinson and Nina Pham from Dallas Presbyterian to special facilities at the NIH and Emory University Hospital. Both women have recovered and have been released.
Quarantines are a necessary means of keeping the disease from spreading — but I believe that imposing them indiscriminately upon everyone who returns from West Africa is overreach. Exiling Kaci Hickox by to a tent without heat or a toilet is a terrible way to reward her for her service. Hickox was right to get on to social media and expose her mistreatment at the hands of the state of New Jersey. And as she has been tested and is definitely NOT INFECTED with Ebola, she’s equally right to protest the quarantine imposed in Maine, where she currently resides.
If New Jersey and New York are determined to quarantine health workers returning from West Africa, let’s do it right. I say we give them a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria and pamper them during their confinement. Instead of a quarantine, let’s give them a vacation – reward them for their sacrifices instead of treating them like pariahs.
Today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced a 21-day quarantine for troops returning from West Africa. Let’s put them up in a suite, too and show them some real appreciation for a change.
At the very least, we should have a reasoned discussion about this before imposing quarantines willy nilly on everyone who might be exposed. And those discussions should be based on science – not fear.
Unfortunately, what we’ve had has been chock full of the latter. It makes me wonder whether we live in the 20th century – or the 14th.
I was born in the mid-1950’s, at the height of the baby boom. I have vivid memories of watching Leave It to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet in glorious black and white. My sister will confirm that as a child, I lived for the Fall Premiere issue of TV Guide, which I devoured and memorized and selected all the great shows I wanted to watch.
I loved television so much that I decided I wanted to work in production, and majored in it in college. I used to cut out early in the afternoons to catch reruns of Mary Tyler Moore and was only half-joking when I told people it was for research. And for a while, I pursued that dream, culminating in a behind-the-scenes job at The Tonight Show, as well as writing and selling a couple of sitcom scripts.
Of course, that was another lifetime ago. Why I left the wonderful realm of television production and entered the real world of working people is fodder for another post. The point I’m trying to make is that for a very long time, television was my LIFE. And I never got over the anticipation of the joys of a new season, sampling as many new series as I can and making the hard decisions when the networks would inevitably schedule three really good shows right against each other. Of course, those dilemmas did not last long, as the programs I fall in love with tend to die in the ratings.
Which brings us to the Fall 2014 season. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m finally growing up, but I’m finding very few shows that I care enough to DVR for an entire season. And that’s a problem, because I’ve been at home recovering from surgery — which means this is the first time in years when I’ve had the time to watch a lot of TV. As it turns out: it’s not so easy.
I have tried, but cannot get excited about all the series this year that are based on comic books. I love the look of Gotham, but that’s about it. The show is very well done, but there’s something missing. I don’t really care about the characters. They’re just … boring. Even the villains like baby Penguin Oswald Cobblepot and crime boss Fish Mooney just make me yawn. Needless to say, I haven’t even bothered to peek at all the other comic book series currently airing on the networks: The Flash, Arrow and Agent Carter.
I will say that I am still watching last year’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and feel it got a lot better as the series progressed, so I’m giving Gotham a little more time. I just wish the characters were a bit more fun to watch, like the ones on Sleepy Hollow. I tend to avoid horror-type shows, but Sleepy’s over-the-top scripting and sense of humor hooked me last year. It’s like Scandal, only with the Founding Fathers and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
I have to laugh every time CBS touts Scorpion, its series about a bunch of crime-fighting geniuses as a huge hit. The show is overwhelmingly stupid and I will be surprised if it lasts an entire season. And I won’t even go near Stalker, thanks to all its fear-mongering promos. Between breathless reporting on ebola, terrorism and crime, I get enough paranoia on the local news. I don’t need it in my entertainment programming.
Maybe my ennui is rooted in the long, long, network roll-out this year – from early September for a few Fox shows into late October or even November on the other networks. NBC waited until Tuesday to debut its highly touted romantic comedy Marry Me. Thanks to the CBS decision to air Thursday night football, some of their new sitcoms and returning Thursday series won’t begin for another couple of weeks.
By the way: The Marry Me pilot was worth the wait. Funny and unexpected, with lots of energy. Casey Wilson and Ken Marino are adorable as the engaged, 30-something couple. If they keep it up, it will be the best of the three rom-coms on this Fall’s schedules (the other two being A to Z and Manhattan Love Story). I like rom-coms. They’re one of my many guilty pleasures. I’m watching all three, even if I end up hating myself for it.
Other shows I’ve been sampling this year:
Madam Secretary – Not as good as The Good Wife, but good enough.
Jane the Virgin – AWESOME pilot. Crazy concept, but they made it work. Jane (Gina Rodriguez) is a virgin who is artificially inseminated by accident and lives a real-life telenovela. It’s funny and charming and magical. I can’t wait for the second episode.
Selfie – This show, based on Pygmalion and anchored in the world of social media, is growing on me. I didn’t care for the way they characterized Karen Gillan’s Instagram-obsessed Eliza, but I actually LOL’d a couple of times watching the second episode, where John Cho’s analog Henry Higgins character gets hooked on Facebook. I was a fan of producer Emily Kapnek’s last series, Suburgatory, so I’m willing to trust her and continue to watch for a while.
Black-ish – This reminds me a lot of the Bernie Mac show, which I adored when it aired years ago. Not surprisingly, both were co-created by Larry Wilmore (who will be replacing Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central soon). ABC was smart to program it on the same night as Modern Family, The Middle and The Goldbergs – it fits right in. And like those other shows, it boasts a capable cast – from the parents (played by Anthony Andrews and the wonderful Tracey Ellis Ross) right on down to the kids (Marcus Scribner, Yara Shahidi, Miles Brown and Marsai Martin).
The Mysteries of Laura – The tone of this cop show reminds me a lot of Castle. It’s not going to win any awards, but Debra Messing and Josh Lucas are engaging performers.
Red Band Society – I did not expect to like this series set in a pediatric hospital ward, and it felt ironic to begin watching it following my recent surgery. I was pleasantly surprised by its heart and its winning cast (I would follow Octavia Spencer anywhere). The plots are outrageous (they let teens who need organ transplants out of the hospital whenever they want? And admit an undocumented teenage cancer victim for treatment without parental consent or insurance?), but once you suspend your disbelief (and get reeled in by the sweetness of the cast), it’s an entertaining hour.
How to Get Away with Murder – This is the one everyone’s watching, thanks to the Shonda Rhimes connection — and so am I. But I’m not yet at a point where I’m lovin’ it. But Scandal took me some time to warm up with, too.
It bothers me that the networks have nearly given up on programming anything on Friday or Saturday nights, preferring to air repeats of shows they run earlier in the week. It saves them a ton of money, I’m sure – but the result is fewer opportunities to take chances on something quirky or original. I understand that viewership is down, but I am also old enough to remember when Saturday night was THE highlight of the CBS schedule, with Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett generating huge ratings from every demographic (because these were the days when families sat down to watch TV together).
That’s why I’m so grateful for streaming services like Netflix. Last Saturday, I binge-watched something called The Peaky Blinders, which is a British gangster series set in the era right after World War I (kind of a UK Boardwalk Empire). All I can say is: WOW. And that I’m sorry for the lag between when it airs in the UK and when we finally get it here (the second series is running on the BBC now and it will likely be another year before I get to find out what happens next). I recommend it highly.
And ask you: What should I view THIS weekend?