My husband claims if I don’t have something legitimate to worry about, I’ll make something up. And as much as I hate to admit it, this is one of those very rare, exceedingly annoying instances when he is right.
“You worry too much! Everything will work out! And even if it doesn’t, your worrying about it isn’t going to change anything–so just stop it!”
Yeah, okay. I’ve been a champion worrier for half a century, but since you’ve now told me to stop approximately 17,587 times, I will. Yep, just like that. I’ll crinkle my nose, click my heels, cross my arms and blink my eyes, and all my worries will magically disappear.
Some of my concerns are valid ones (in my opinion), based on consuming (some might say obsessive) love for my family and friends and previous run-ins and near-misses with disaster. So I lie awake at night not only replaying previous terrors but also imagining countless worst-case scenarios that will most likely, almost definitely, never happen. But there’s still a chance . . .
Even worse, though, are all those worries I “invent” when the more pressing ones are taking a momentary breather. I can’t help myself. (“Yes, you can,” says smarty pants spouse.) What if there’s a copperhead lurking underneath all those leaves between the back door and the car? What if global warming is real? What if pesticides finally kill off all the monarch butterflies and honey bees–and what are those same pesticides doing to our food supply? What if I unintentionally hurt someone with my words or actions? What if I get hit by a car while riding my bike? What if the stroke that claimed my mom’s life decides to victimize me as well–or even worse, what if the dementia that destroyed my dad decides my feeble brain is easy prey? What if those two guys in the driveway wanting to sell me frozen steaks really just wanted to find out who was home? What if the six-ounce chocolate chip cookie I just devoured converts overnight into ten pounds of wiggly, jiggly blubber around my already overcrowded middle?
You get the idea. (Heck, you might even know the drill.)
But despite my constant need to have something to fret over, there is one thing that has yet to register on my anxiety radar–and probably never will.
That’s right. Even though the media have been doing their usual, irresponsible best to generate a firestorm of fear and apprehension–with much of their leading “news” stories on the subject based on broad speculations and sweeping half-truths–I’m just not buying into the hysteria. Am I being naive? Maybe–but I doubt it. After all, these are the same people who, in the last decade, have also pushed the panic button on swine flu. And bird flu. And E. coli. And SARS and Anthrax and West Nile virus.
But, surprisingly, I’m still here.
Ebola is a horrific disease that has claimed thousands of lives and caused tremendous heartache in the tropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa where the lack of education and proper medical care contribute to the rapid spread of the disease. The first recognized outbreak of the Ebola virus was in 1976 in Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo). In that outbreak, 318 persons were diagnosed with the disease, and 280 (88%) of them died. Since that time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than two dozen outbreaks of the disease, with almost all of those outbreaks small in number and located in isolated areas of Africa. In fact, during the entire 38-year recorded history of the disease, only two deaths have been reported as non-African in origin (both of those deaths due to laboratory contamination, both in Russia, one in 1996 and one in 2004).
The current Ebola outbreak is the largest in history. As of October 31, 2014, 13,540 cases of the disease had been confirmed in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with 4,941 of those cases (36.5%) resulting in death. Outside of those three countries, the CDC had confirmed 27 travel-related cases elsewhere, with 10 of those cases resulting in death–and none of those cases leading to a single death of the victims’ family members, friends or chance acquaintances.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the possibility for transmission isn’t there, but because the disease has been studied since 1976, we know that, with the proper precautions, transmission can be prevented with a few safety precautions. According to medical professionals and the CDC, Ebola is not spread through air or water but rather through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with
- blood or body fluids (including urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola,
- objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus,
- or infected fruit bats or primates (apes and monkeys).
Although some of my friends would like to convince me otherwise, I have no reason to believe that members of the medical community or the staff of the CDC are involved in some widespread government conspiracy to withhold information or generate misinformation. Seriously, what would be the point? And since I, as well as the overwhelming majority of Americans, have no intention of traveling to West Africa, have no intention of handling blood or body fluids of Ebola patients, and have no intention of handling or eating bushmeat, I feel safe in believing that fear is a much greater contagion and that most of us truly have more important things to worry about. I don’t disagree with logical precautions being taken, and if I were a healthcare provider, I would want assurance that my employer had up-to-date (and enforced) protocols in place for the diagnosis and treatment of Ebola (and all highly contagious diseases, for that matter), but for the rest of us . . .
So far, in 2014 one person–Thomas Eric Duncan–has died in the United States from Ebola, after traveling from Liberia already infected with the disease. Of the more than 40 people who had contact with Duncan before he was put in isolation, none contracted the virus. And the two nurses who did contract the virus from him during his hospitalization have since been cured. However, in 2011 alone, the CDC reported that
- 596,577 Americans died from heart disease,
- 576,691 Americans died from cancer,
- 142,943 Americans died from chronic lower respiratory disease (including emphysema),
- 128,932 Americans died from stroke,
- 126,438 Americans died from accidents (including motor vehicle accidents),
- 84,974 Americans died from Alzheimer’s disease,
- 73,831 Americans died from diabetes, and
- 53,826 Americans died from influenza and pneumonia.
Instead of allowing the media to alarm us over something that most of us have no reason to fear, perhaps we should be more concerned over our own complacency and negligence in dealing with the familiar, but still very real, threats to our well being. Sometimes disease is unavoidable, and death eventually takes us all, but most of us could do a much better job of protecting our health and prolonging our lives. Instead of worrying about the almost non-existent possibility of contracting the Ebola virus, maybe we should spend a little more time worrying about the junk food we gobble mindlessly, the hours we spend decaying on the couch, the bad habits we refuse to give up, the flu shots we refuse to get. (I’m guilty on all counts.)
There’s no doubt we live in a world fraught with dangers, some of them recognized and avoidable and some of them hard to see and beyond our control anyway. But we also live in a world of infinite beauty and joy and magic. If we allow our fear of the dangers to govern our actions and consume our thoughts, then we risk missing out on all the goodness that abounds. If we focus so much of our attention on our fear of dying, then we forget to live–and that may be the greatest tragedy of all.
Advice from this champion worrier? Let common sense be your guide . . . and move on. And that’s advice I intend to follow myself–just as soon as I polish off these cookies, check my blood pressure, and scan the driveway for copperheads.
Some of your hurts you have cured,
And the sharpest you still have survived,
But what torments of grief you endured
From the evil which never arrived.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson