Wednesday, October 29, 2014

This annoys me slightly

People are making a big fat deal about Pope Francis coming out and stating his acceptance of the Big Bang Theory (the cosmological event, not the television show) and biological evolution.

Um, if I remember rightly, Pope John Paul II said essentially the same thing some years ago? To relatively little fanfare, though I did mention the evolution thing in my general biology classes. (Though then again, some of our fundamentalist students unwilling to even learn about evolution still think Catholicism isn't Christianity)

I don't know. The whole "he's a rockstar, he's more liberal in some ways than past Popes, so let's make a big deal out of him" thing bugs me a little. (I probably don't have a right to, not being Catholic. But I am). Actually, I'm bugged by the whole "rockstar" thing. Not just for Popes, for everyone. The whole media-adulation thing. It's kind of like the Dalai Lama - people like to fawn all over part of what he says because he's this cool mystical non-Western guy - but they don't talk about some of the more rigid or harder things he says. I'm sure there's stuff Pope Francis has said and that he believes that your average media fluff-head would be aghast at, but they don't hear that stuff, they just hear the "rockstar" stuff. It's like Christianity lite: wanting the good stuff without thinking about the "go and sin no more" part of it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Dear New York City:

The Ebola thing? It's going to be okay, really. We aren't having any kind of zombie apocalypse down here near Dallas, the guy who died of the disease didn't infect family members, and apparently the two nurses who caught it (probably from either intubating or putting an IV in Mr. Duncan) are doing better.

Though I admit, some of the news channels, with their thinly veiled attitude of OH NO, EBOLA IS NOW WHERE THE PEOPLE WHO MATTER LIVE! is a little off-putting.

We're gonna see more cases. We just are. But we're learning about this fast. I may not have a lot of trust in the CDC or even some hospital administrations, but I have trust in individuals (doctors, nurses) who want to stay safe.

And may we learn something that can be taken over to Africa and used to stop the suffering there - too many kids have lost their parents, too many parents have lost their kids.

Really, the bigger worry, I think, is the fact that there have been "unlinked" but similar terrorist attacks in Canada and your city in the past few days. And that there are young women and men here (the women are the one that boggle me) who think hopping a plane for Syria or where-ever to fight alongside ISIS is a dandy idea. That worries me a lot, too. As a woman, how disaffected and disengaged do you have to be from Western culture to think, "Yeah, going to a country that historically requires women to cover from head to toe and have a male escort when they're outside will provide me far more opportunities."

(I also admit some consternation that those in moderate Islam are not speaking up, the way Christians do about the excesses of that so-called "Baptist" "church" out of Kansas, of the way many did after an abortion clinic bombing.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

lack of confidence

If anything good comes out of the Ebola mini-outbreak in the  US, it will be to show ordinary people that the government is far from infalliable and that they can screw up on a regular basis.

Apparently the CDC told a nurse who had worked with Duncan that it was just fine to fly back home from Cleveland although she was starting to be feverish. (Granted, it was a LOW fever, and she was likely unable to spread the disease at that point).

But now - schools in Ohio are closing down for the day "out of an excess of caution," people who flew on that plane are freaked out. All because the CDC said, "Yeah, sure, get on a plane" instead of "We are contacting the nearest hospital to you right now, go there, they will isolate and monitor you."

I am extremely hopeful no one ELSE catches Ebola - and especially that there are no infections from these nurses having contact with anyone while they were asymptomatic - but it's going to be about a month before we know that.

Crap. I hope this doesn't eff up Thanksgiving travel, but I bet it will. (On the highly unlikely chance that more people become infected, and the disease becomes widespread - well, I will not be traveling to see my parents for Thanksgiving. I've already told them that and they completely understand).

It just seems that so many balls were dropped on this. For bureaucracies that can be incredibly draconian and heavy-handed in many things, it seems like they are not taking this sufficiently seriously. (If it were me? I'd absolutely quarantine every health-care worker who worked with the guy dying of Ebola for about 10 days, and then insist on three clear tests before releasing them. And test anyone they came into close contact with. And yeah, there might be a few false positives, but the main harm of that is someone gets isolated for a while who isn't sick. And I'd make damn sure that there was a way to suit up so you were fully covered, and disrobe to avoid transferring blood or sputum, if you were going to work with Ebola patients. And I'd shut down entry from the West African nations, at least as much as one possibly can do (people lie, people change flights) until the epidemic has gone down) Oh, and something I forgot: I'd have made sure the borders were as secure as humanly possible ALREADY. Which would help with many other problems...

I mean, the federal government can insist that kids can't have school lunches with white bread in them, but they can't tell someone who was directly exposed to the virus and starting to show symptoms, "No, don't fly home, go to the nearest hospital that has an isolation unit" instead? Priorities are so far messed up. (Also the fact that only a tiny part of the NIH budget, apparently, was dedicated to researching this.)

I wonder if this is going to be the HIV/AIDS of the 2010s....Only this disease seems like it might be harder to avoid if you're a health worker.

Monday, October 13, 2014

And another case

As I said before, I live within the Dallas media market, so I've been hearing a great deal about this second case of Ebola - a nurse who cared for Duncan has contracted the disease. At this point it seems likely she will pull through (she's not as sick as he was, and got care faster). But it raises some issues, I think:

1. Screening at airports. We should be doing this ANYWAY for the really bad infectious diseases. I mean, if you transport a pet across state lines you are really supposed to have a veterinarian's certificate showing they aren't carrying anything transmissible. People have, I think, changed - when I was a kid, if we had a vacation planned and one of us got sick? Either no vacation, or the sick person stayed home if there was someone available to care for them. Now, because of changes in attitudes (ME FIRST, ALWAYS ME ME ME) and changes in airline policy ("every ticket nonrefundable! You gotta problem with that?") and business policy ("You're sick? Too bad, you still need to get to that meeting. Take some Dayquil and go.") more people are traveling sick, or that's my sense.

2. Heck, in this crisis, we probably SHOULD shut down entries from West Africa as much as possible. Didn't they stop flights to Israel a couple days this fall when Hamas was lobbing missiles around? That seems less of a threat to the American populace in general than in bringing in people who may be sick with a serious disease.

3. That said, given that Duncan died, it may discourage other travelers: America isn't some magical country where you can come to when you're sick and get cured. Health care has its failures here, too.Especially if you're poor, if you're "not from here," if you're a person of may not get the same treatment. Oh, it might be better treatment than some small rural hospital in a developing nation, but big-city hospitals are not perfect. In fact, I'd probably avoid a big, central-city hospital for emergency care, if I were given a choice.

4. Apparently a nurse's union is crying foul that the claim of "protocol mistakes" seems to be putting the blame on the nurse. Okay. We are now to the point where we need to man up and woman up and stop worrying, at least for the nonce, about hurt feelings. If there was a protocol breach, it needs to be said that there was and the details need to be made public. And steps need to be taken to stop future ones. That said - there needs to be better training for doctors and nurses, stat (as they say in the ER). None of this BS of handing them a piece of paper with a weblink where they can watch a video on it. None of this BS of giving them a sheet of instructions. This is something that needs to be practiced. Important, life-saving things need practice: you need to actually USE a fire extinguisher in a "dry run" before you may have to actually put out a fire. If you own a gun, the responsible thing to do is to do periodic target practice to keep yourself up to speed.

5. And another thing: the first person who cries "racism" or "classism" or whatever about the airport checks needs to be told to man up or woman up. (Though I'd be willing to bet if a European-American nurse working for Samaritan's Purse or something was coming back from Liberia on a commercial flight, they'd be checked just as hard as a native of that nation. Or at least, I'd expect they would be. Or maybe even checked *harder,* seeing as they actually worked with sick people)

This situation, I think, represents a bit of a crossroads. If we toughen up and stop worrying so much about 'feelings' and do what is the right thing for the majority of the populace and health-care workers, we can most likely defeat this. But if we dissolve, as we seem so often to these days during a crisis, into blaming other groups for stuff or complaining about how things are "unfair" or playing the "whatever" card, we could see a lot more cases, and it will get a lot, lot uglier.

It makes me wonder what would have happened in WWII if we had the softer attitudes we seem to have now.

6. I've also been a hell of a lot more lenient about excused absences for sickness in my class. I want to train people that if they get really sick - because there WILL be a Norovirus outbreak or the flu - that they need to stay home. I've had a flu shot but I can still catch Noro and I don't want to get sick. (And I have approximately doubled how often I wash my hands, just to train myself). And yeah, maybe some people are taking advantage of that to skip class. But you know what? They do worse on exams. So it sorts itself out. I take attendance because the administration says I have to. I'm not going to encourage someone who may be contagious with WHATEVER to come to class. In fact, I have actively discouraged students who called me to say stuff like, "I'll make it to the exam if I can stop throwing up long enough" to NOT come and to reschedule.

As for me? I'm going to do my best not to come into contact with ANYONE'S bodily fluids. Luckily, in my job, that's not too difficult, provided someone isn't an idiot in lab who cuts themselves on a broken beaker or something. And even then, I can just hand them a Band-Aid and tell them to take care of it.

The nuclear option? I have several month's worth of canned and other nonperishable food, I have lots of books, so I go in my house, lock the door, and don't come out until the disease dies down. And I have chlorine bleach to wash stuff off with if I have to.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ebola vaccine

Apparently, they're working on one. Good. It can't come fast enough. Because then the good doctors and nurses and missionaries who go into the Ebola areas can be protected before they go. And people who live there who aren't so anti-scientific they think vaccines are of the devil, they can be protected. (And yes - apparently one of the issues in some areas of West Africa is that there's enough anti-Western-Science, pro-superstition beliefs that people won't get a vaccine that might save their life.)

Would I get it? Well, I live somewhere I'm highly unlikely to be exposed, but if I knew it was reasonably safe and effective, and if I felt there was a slight chance of exposure, yeah, I would. I'd want to be protected.

I admit that the slightly mean and snarky part of me wonders how the anti-vaccination types here (which range from the "my child is too special for the even small risk of a bad reaction, screw herd immunity" to the "vaccines are tools of capitalist fat cats that make money for the evil pharmaceutical companies, so I resist them, screw herd immunity" to the "God didn't intend us to stick disease in our arms, screw herd immunity" crowd)

(To that last one, my response is: "God gave the doctors and pharma researchers the smarts to figure out out. And vaccines may not be "natural" but polio is "natural" and I sure as shooting don't want polio")'

Because I think SOME of the anti-vaccination sentiment in the US comes from the fact that we've never really seen an awful and deadly and scary outbreak of a disease (especially one like polio that seemed to preferentially claim children). We've forgotten the reason why we fought so hard. (I see similar parallels in the small but alarming crowd of anti-water-chlorination people. Yes, there are some bad byproducts to chlorine exposure but trust me, cholera is a lot worse).

A lot of this thought was brought up by the fact that apparently there's someone in a Dallas hospital who may have been exposed while traveling. Dallas is not all that terribly far away, certainly it's within a day's drive. And I wonder: who else might that person have exposed before they got to the hospital, or while they were waiting there? How soon does someone become contagious when sick, and do we really KNOW?

Can you imagine: "Your child may have been exposed to Ebola; the librarian at their school just came back from missionary work in Africa and is showing symptoms." Or "All you professors teaching International Student X, you may have been exposed." Or, or,'s kind of scary.

I know some people are saying this is the Zombie Apocalypse that our pop-culture has so gleefully presented to us. I admit, I hate dystopian fiction and things like zombie shows because I'm all too good at imagining what it would be like if it REALLY happened, and I'm fearful that there could be a patient or two who travels around a lot, or goes to a crowded store, or goes to work for a few days, before realizing what they REALLY have, and then everything hits the fan all at once....

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I'm glad it's back

The season premiere of NCIS was last night. This is one of the few shows I actually make time to watch and the only one on the regular networks that I watch.

I hadn't really watched the re-runs over the summer when they showed them; part of it was I'd seen them already, part of it was that I'm still having a little trouble warming up to the new female agent (Ellie Bishop).

It's not so much that Bishop is so terrible, it's just that she's Not Ziva, and I liked the character of Ziva. And, well, okay: I tend to feel like Abby should be the smart-but-quirky female character. But I guess with Ellie they had to go with kind of the closest thing to the anti-Ziva they could do. (They couldn't do a true anti-Ziva: that would have to be a brainless, spoiled princess-type who would never manage to advance in the military and who wouldn't be accepted by Gibbs anyway).

But I liked last night's episode. I think it was because it tended to have most of what I like NCIS for anyway: Gibbs watching out for his team and also kicking bad-guy ass. There's something satisfying about Gibbs kicking bad-guy ass, and it's a satisfaction that relatively few shows give these days.

I like the character of Gibbs. In many ways I think he is a deeply moral man. Sometimes the things he does (e.g, shooting the druglord suspected of killing his wife and daughter) may be a bit outside the strict letter of the law, but in terms of "what's right," it's still something that seems moral. (As in: the druglord was never going to be brought to justice, he was ruining other lives, and so Gibbs essentially did what Atticus Finch did to that rabid dog: took it out so that it couldn't endanger others). Gibbs is quiet - it's kind of a running gag how little he says. He does what's right. He protects the innocent, especially those weaker than himself. He has a soft spot for children and for people like Abby. He gives tough love (and head slaps) when necessary. In my mind, he's the kind of man we need more of.

(Yeah, okay, so Gibbs isn't real. But I tend to think one of the uses of "art" or at least of "entertainment" is to show us a world we long for or something to aspire to).

I will admit I can do with less of the CBS drama-queening the "next week's episode" teaser - apparently it's something bad/sad involving either Ducky or Vance. Well, okay: the actor who plays Ducky is getting up in years (if I remember correctly, he's older than my dad, and my dad is nearly 80) and I could see the actor wanting to bow out gracefully by retiring and somehow having Ducky written out. (But please, no melodramatic deadly diseases). I'm concerned it's Ducky, because he's one of my favorite characters (But I also like Vance. But then again, they already wrote a storyline with a Director that had a terminal illness, even if she chose to go out in a different way).

But anyway - it had some of my favorite things (Gibbs being laconic, Gibbs protecting his team, Gibbs kicking ass, Abby being the worrier of the team, a little bit of Tony and McGee sibling rivalry) and I missed that over the summer.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Feeling better

I was REALLY bummed out earlier this week, to the point of having one of those "I don't know how much longer I can do this, but I don't know what other career to go into" conversations with a colleague. Part of it was the rude student, part of it was that half of a class failed to turn in an important assignment, part of it was that students flaked on me about something they had promised to do.

But last night, I had my capstone-level class. And we discussed projects the students could do. Several people had good ideas; the student I talked with the most had a really fascinating idea that could even be publishable, depending on the results he gets.

We need more students like him. Part of it is that he's a little older (just a few years younger than I am) and had a whole career (as a paramedic) before coming back to school to do what he "really wanted to do" (his words).

More and more, I'm starting to lean to the idea that some have proposed, that of having 2 years mandatory military (or other) service for younglings before they can go into the workforce or college. And while that would have ticked the heck out of me as an 18 year old (I was ready for college - I knew what I wanted to major in, I even kind of knew what I wanted as my career), there is a critical mass of people now (maybe there always was) who don't really have a clue just yet, and who kind of drift around their first two years and often wind up wasting a lot of time (and taking longer to graduate). And there's also the whole whine factor: I've had people whine at me because there are no make up labs and they were SICK and that's just UNFAIR. (Oh honey. Oh. Life isn't fair and the faster you learn that the better). Or that a month is too short a time to write a five page paper in. Or that "all that math" is "boring." And I can't help but think: If you had just spent the past 2 years scrubbing latrines and marching, or spent the past two years picking up trash on the roadside, or spent the past two years building stuff in National Parks, you wouldn't be whining nearly so much.

(And yeah, I get the "but how, as a nation, would we pay for this?" I don't know, but I wish we had some way we could, because there are an awful lot of people I get in my classes who come from totally coddled backgrounds who expect everyone to bow down and do just what they want. And it ticks me off. And it ticks off the mature students, like the guy I was talking about above).

But anyway. I live for students like that guy - the people who have a passion, who want to be here, who know why they're here. He also talked about how he recruited his kids as field hands and how his daughter is really interested in birds and is keeping a Life List - she's 11. And I wanted to tell him, but I sometimes get shy about doing stuff like this, that he was a good dad because he was showing his kids that it's cool to be interested in stuff, that it's worth having things you care deeply about. I hope in a few years he maybe considers sending his kids here, we need more students who care.

I find my own passion for doing research flags when I have to deal with too many students who seem content to drift along, but it reignites when I talk to someone like that guy. (Actually, same with my passion for teaching).

I don't know how to keep from letting the energy vampires in my classes get me down. I do know I need things like conversations with students who do care to keep me going.