I feel a slight pang of sympathy for nurse Kaci Hickox. An accomplished medical professional who selflessly devoted her time and expertise to helping stem the outbreak of viral hemorrhagic fever in West Africa, Hickox earned the unflattering moniker “Ebola nurse” after she returned home from her travels and embarked a crusade to fight what she considered unwarranted mandatory isolation.
And, as perhaps anyone would in her circumstances, Hickox is bristling at being dubbed the “Ebola nurse” in the press.
“I never had Ebola. I never had symptoms of Ebola,” Hickox wrote in an op-ed published in The Guardian. “I am now past the incubation period – meaning that I will not develop symptoms of Ebola.”
“I never had Ebola, so please stop calling me ‘the Ebola Nurse’ – now!” she demanded with a heavy dose of what has become her familiar sense of entitlement.
Here is where my sympathy for Hickox runs thin.
It was Hickox who allowed herself to become a media sensation when she began giving the press interviews from her isolation tent in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie’s administration refused to allow her to travel to Maine via public transportation without first submitting to monitoring. It was Hickox who, when she was released from quarantine in New Jersey, refused to abide by even requests to voluntarily self-isolate by the state of Maine. It was Hickox who courted media attention by ostentatiously going for a bike ride in a theatrical display of contempt for the will of her home state’s representative government.
Possessed of a sense of martyrdom, Hickox embraced the notion that she was being victimized by small-minded potentates who refused to acknowledge the science which indicated that she was no danger to others. When a Maine judge reversed a court order that had made Hickox’s self-isolation involuntary, he essentially suggested that Hickox had been mistreated. “[T]he court is fully aware that people are acting out of fear and that this fear is not entirely rational,” that judge ruled.
Perhaps this is true, but Hickox’s demand that her vindication be delivered to her today – “now!” in her words – is indicative of an incomplete understanding of the nature of self-governance. Despite his vilification in nearly all the media outlets which chronicled Christie’s decision to quarantine Hickox, a full two-thirds of New Jersey’s voters approved of his decision.
Neither he, nor Maine Gov. Paul LePage, nor New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, nor California Gov. Jerry Brown, nor any of the other state governors who elected to impose limited quarantines on potentially Ebola-infected individuals were doing so out of a narrow disregard for science. They were acknowledging the volatile political conditions the Ebola outbreak had created in the United States, and the fact that the scientific community was not of the uniform opinion that Ebola’s transmission pathways were universally understood and immutable.
Hickox, for all her worldliness, obstinately refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of those conditions which led to her confinement. Now, she thinks she is owed an apology because the press turned on her – a figure they set out to aggrandize, but who speedily squandered the public’s pity. Hickox’s apology will not be forthcoming, and that is only likely to further confuse this supposedly learned figure.