Ebola or You?

Of all the reactions I’ve heard to Ebola’s arrival in America, only one shocks me:  the voice of surprise.

We’ve had two decades to figure out this thing, a god-awful hemorrhagic fever that kills 70 percent of its victims. First news of Ebola came for many of us from thriller writer Richard Preston, courtesy of his frightening bestseller, The Hot Zone.

Truth is, twice as long ago, healthcare workers first discovered the virus. It surfaced in 1976. In Africa. Convenient for us?

We Americans have been complacent too long about this ticking time bomb.

It’s past time we open our eyes and prepare for Round Two. Ebola will return to the U.S.—even bigger next time.

While we’re opening our eyes to the reality that is Ebola, let’s look at a scourge that never left.

Hospital-acquired infections (HAI) sicken 1.7 million Americans a year. Of these, 99,000 die. Translation: eleven Americans die every hour of every day from an infection they picked up at the hospital.

These infections occur, as the acronym implies, when patients, hospitalized for one illness, “acquire” another (two for the price of one?). HAI most commonly involves infections of the urinary tract, bloodstream, lungs (pneumonia), or surgical wounds.

Yet, studies prove that these infections can be avoided via simple, consistent steps by healthcare workers. Hand washing. Cleaning patient skin prior to procedures. Wearing hair covers, masks, gowns, and gloves.

And we were surprised when two Dallas nurses became infected from an Ebola patient?

It’s a national crisis, maybe even a scandal. That’s how I view it, thanks to personal experience.

In April, 2012, I suffered a stroke. One week after brain surgery, I developed life-threatening Klebsiella pneumonia, triggering Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). Death knocked on my ICU door more than once in the days that followed. Thanks to hyper-aggressive treatment, I somehow survived a double-whammy condition that kills half of its victims.

My doctors never determined exactly where the pneumonia originated. They did replace tracheostomy tubing inserted after I developed breathing problems during surgery.

It’s a common affliction—ventilator-assisted pneumonia—that affects one-third of all ventilated patients. For shorthand, medical professionals call it VAP.

When something becomes an acronym, you know it’s common. Marry two acronyms—VAP and HAI—and you’ve got a national scandal.

Nearly 200 Americans an hour are diagnosed with a new, hospital-acquired infection. Every hour of every day. We do nothing.

Where’s the public outrage? The political willpower to reduce these obscene numbers?

Instead, here we stand: a killer virus in our heartland; one patient dead; six patients recovered or still hospitalized.  One quarantine ended; another to lift in ten days.

The U.S. is moving on.

Not so the families of 271 Americans.

Today, they will lose a family member, someone they loved who will die from an infection picked up in the hospital—the place they went to get well.

A Picture Demands a Thousand Words

He dares me to leave.

In the photo, my friend Ed—another writer, further along in this journey but just as challenged by the demanding dictates of a daring life—sits in front of the exit door of the restaurant. A bear of a man, I sense the threat behind his posture but cannot articulate it.

DareWhen I view the iPhone photo, I understand.

His stance is a silent challenge to me. His eyes match the posture as if to say, “walk away from this writing life, Melanie, do it. Now. I dare you.”

Smart man, this fella is. Because he knows me well enough to know that I won’t. I can’t.

Ed knows my story.

A number of years ago, an eerie voice–ghost-like, insistent–awakened me and sketched out the full plot of a novel. The smoky baritones of a male detailed instructions about how this novel would launch a four-part book series. He—It?—outlined precise items such as the protagonist, her antagonist, and supporting characters along with plot twists, story climax and resolution.

“And you—you’re the one who’s going to write this quadrilogy,” the voice accented the last word as if to get my attention even more than it already had. “Look it up when you wake up in the morning.”

In a soft whisper so as not to disturb my sleeping husband next to me, I addressed the cool darkness that surrounded me, “OK, fine, you crazy man-voice, I’ll do just that—write your book, this four-parter. Sure, whatever, old guy.”

I turned out the light, rolled over, and returned to a rare, hard sleep.

When I awoke, the notes lay there immediately next to my stretched-out hands. I did not remember placing them on the nightstand so close to my bed. The notes I had written rambled cross-wise across several pages of my journal, each side of paper, filled with line after crooked blue line of nearly-illegible pen scratches. That’s what happens when you wake up a menopausal woman at 4:07 in the morning and order her to do your bidding.

Suddenly, I remembered. I rushed to the computer to look up the word “quadrilogy.” But Wikipedia didn’t describe a series of novels. It referenced the term in connection with the movie series, “Alien” and “Die Hard.” Now that clears up things, I thought.

Seven-plus years later, I still reference the notes scribbled from that long ago morning. The pages are faded, folded, and filthy now. They travel with me like they’re an active part of my life. Because they are. They’re part of why I can’t walk out the door that looms, with Ed, in the picture. It’s like the two of them—man and door—have teamed up in a strong and silent double dare.

I look again at the picture. For the first time, I spot the “Exit” sign hanging behind and over Ed’s head.

“Go ahead and leave, walk out,” the stance of the three—Ed, door, sign—seems to speak in silent unison. “But we’ll be back. In the morning, 4:07.”

With one final, lengthy glance at the photo, I throw up my hands.

“Got it, guys,” I whisper back to the trio. “No more wake-ups, no more excuses. I write today. Every day. Somehow, I make it happen.”

No quitting. No leaving. No walking out.



For months, the call to blog has screamed at me.

I kept stalling, hoping the technology would perhaps change and thus the need to be present here would vanish.

Alas, no such luck.

So it was that a few weeks ago, I promised myself and someone else that today-August 9th, a personally significant day in my life and especially so this year (yes, the why of that is a future blog post)-would be launch day.

Now it’s a day nearly gone and I sit here, amazed, looking at this screen. My blog is one quick click on the “Publish” button from liftoff.

Journey beginning.


This really isn’t so hard after all.

There’s a learning in this moment.