Dr. John Carroll has sent the link to this article in NEJM: A Good Death — Ebola and Sacrifice. May all of us deserve such a good obituary. Excerpt:
A friend of ours, Dr. Sam Brisbane, died recently. He was a Liberian doctor, and he died from Ebola, a horrible, nightmarish disease.
Information coming out of Liberia has been scarce. Since Dr. Brisbane's death, we've learned that other doctors and nurses with whom we've worked have also contracted Ebola and have died or are being treated in the types of rudimentary facilities we see on the news. As we live in dread of each phone call, questions about how we die and what we're willing to die for have been weighing on us.
The ancients had a concept of a “good death” — dying for one's country, for example, or gloriously on the battlefield. Solon, the sage of Athens, argued that one couldn't judge a person's happiness until one knew the manner of his death. The Greeks recognized that we're all destined to die and that the best we can hope for is a death that benefits our family or humanity.
For emergency-medicine clinicians like us, the concept of a good death can seem too abstract, intangible. Rarely are the deaths we see good or beneficial. We see young people who die in the throes of trauma; grandparents who die at the end of a long, debilitating illness; people who kill themselves; people who die from their excesses, whether of alcohol, food, or smoking.
Last year, as part of a new disaster-medicine fellowship program, we developed a partnership with John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center in Monrovia, the only academic referral hospital in Liberia. We collaborated with the hospital administration to develop disaster-planning and resilience programs and teamed up with the emergency department (ED) staff to enhance medical training and establish epidemiologic studies of trauma.
It was there that we met Dr. Brisbane, the ED director. He immediately struck us as a genuine ED doc — at once caring and profane, light-hearted one minute, intense the next. A short, bald man with weathered skin and thick glasses, he spoke openly and easily; his laugh was best described as a giggle, and he swore frequently.
When we conducted an initial vulnerability analysis for the hospital, we discussed our concerns about severe supply and personnel shortages, regular power outages, and occasional electrical fires.
Dr. Brisbane replied that what scared him the most was the potential for an epidemic of some viral hemorrhagic fever. He was right to be scared. We encountered rationing of gloves, a limited supply of hand soap, and an institutional hesitance to practice universal precautions, probably because of the limited resources. The hospital was not prepared for the kind of epidemic it's now facing — nor was the city of about 1.5 million people.
Thank you, Dr. Brisbane.