The ongoing story of the Maine Ebola nurse Kaci Hickox, along with her bicycling partner boyfriend, looks to be hitting the road. The boyfriend, Ted Wilbur, has dropped out of his nursing student program and the couple will be heading off for parts unknown.
Her boyfriend, Ted Wilbur, withdrew from an accelerated nursing program at the University of Maine at Fort Kent on Friday and said the couple will stay through Monday, after which a state court order expires and Hickox will no longer have to submit to daily health monitoring, inform state officials of travel plans and let them know if her health changes.
Wilbur said the couple will depart Fort Kent in the middle of next week, drop off some items in storage in southern Maine, and then leave the state.
“We’re going to try to get our lives back on track,” Wilbur said Friday night.
Up until now we’ve been focused largely on Hickox herself and how much interaction she would have with the public during her 21 day cool-down period. (That expires tomorrow, by the way.) But it turns out that the boyfriend has been getting into some confrontational situations himself. He dropped out of the nursing school program at the University of Maine at Fort Kent because they would not accommodate the conditions he set for his return.
Wilbur said he withdrew from the nursing program because university officials – who told him there had been threats against him – refused to communicate to students that any harassment, threats or demonstrations against Wilbur would not be tolerated.
Wilbur said school officials pointed out that those acts were prohibited, and said they wouldn’t act ahead of Wilbur’s return to school to reinforce the prohibitions.
Wilbur was concerned about the threats and also about potential silent protests, such as students getting up and leaving a room when he entered.
This is a curious situation. Apparently the university was allowing Wilbur to call in and listen to lectures without physically attending, but he found that process to be “hard to follow.” They were ready to let him return to classes once the quarantine time was over, but Wilbur wanted the school to address the students first and warn them about how they should behave toward him when he came back. The school is insisting that the possible negative reactions he feared were already against school policy and were trying to strike a balance between his rights and the safety concerns of the students and local residents.
Either way, negotiations broke down, Wilbur quit the program (receiving a full refund of his tuition) and now he and Kaci will head out on the road with no announced plans. It seems like an unnecessarily tense, confrontational ending to the story. I can’t help but compare their situation yet again to that of Dr. Colin Bucks. The California doctor returned from helping others in Africa and immediately went above and beyond what the state requested in terms of quarantine. He sent his own dog away to live with someone else, moved into his house, arranged to have food and supplies delivered, and refused to set foot outside the house. From every report we’ve seen, his neighbors – and everyone else involved in the situation – have treated Dr. Bucks like a returning hero. He hasn’t exhibited one symptom of being ill, but assured everyone that he wouldn’t take any chances in terms of potentially exposing them.
Would it really have been so hard for Hickox and Wilbur to adopt a similar approach, rather than taking a stand for individual rights or whatever the point was they were trying to make? The individual clearly has basic rights in such cases, but so too does the larger community. It just seems as if this could all have been handled so much better.