Via The Scotsman, a columnist defends Pauline Cafferkey: Dani Garavelli: Show mercy for suffering of Ebola nurse. Cafferkey is charged with misleading health authorities about having a temperature when she returned from service in Sierra Leone. Excerpt:
If the hearing, to be held in Edinburgh next month, finds against her, she could be struck off. In the meantime, she is being abused on social media by trolls who have accused her of “turbo virtue-signalling” and of exposing other people on the connecting flight she boarded from Heathrow to Glasgow to unnecessary risk.
Of course, I have not seen the evidence that will be put in front of the hearing. But you do have to wonder at the wisdom of pursuing a woman who has already suffered so much for what was – even if true (and the allegations may well be false) – a misjudgment made in extremis.
I imagine months of dealing with death in the African heat plays havoc with both body and mind (in her diary Cafferkey talks about the way the oral hydration salts made her vomit). And I imagine aid workers – exposed every day to Ebola – frequently overreacted to minor symptoms; that they fretted every time they coughed or sneezed, and were consumed by the possibility the virus was already working its way through their bodies.
How easy would it be to convince yourself that a slightly inflated temperature was another over-reaction – a projection of your worst fears, especially when you were so close to home?
Admittedly, Cafferkey’s flight from London to Glasgow could have been catastrophic (although Ebola is spread by bodily fluids and there is no suggestion she was vomiting). Those on board had to be contacted and checked, a process which must have been inconvenient and scary for all. But no-one did contract the virus during that flight.
Surely there ought to be a balance between the need to enforce the rules and an acknowledgment of the nurse’s contribution to society. After all, not only did Cafferkey save lives, she provided scientists with vital information about the way the disease behaved; by studying her medical history, they learned more about the recurrence of the disease in survivors and how to treat it.
At the very least, any investigation that had to be held should have been swiftly resolved not dragged out over a year and a half. She has already spoken of the additional stress the protracted inquiry has caused her. And – let’s be blunt – there was always a risk of her dying without ever being given the chance to defend herself. What kind of message does this treatment send out to aid workers of the future?
During the Ebola outbreak we often saw seemingly irrational behaviour by patients, who often denied their symptoms or escaped from hospitals. The most famous case was Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian official who was already very ill when he boarded a plane to Lagos, Nigeria. Thomas Eric Duncan, who took Ebola to Texas, may have been similarly affected.
So I'm quite prepared to believe that Cafferkey's judgment was also impaired when she returned.