It’s a mystery. Why do doctors such as Billy Fischer and David Wohl put themselves in harm’s way, again and again, to fight the Ebola virus a world away? The same question, with names and diseases substituted in different parts, could be asked of many doctors over many decades.
For Fischer and Wohl, of UNC-Chapel Hill, the answer is it’s just what they do. They’ve been to West Africa a number of times, treating victims and survivors, learning all they can about the transmission of a disease first identified nearly 40 years ago.They have studied the virus and seek clues in survivors.
And it appears after some hope that the virus was in some kind of control that eradication will be a long time coming.
“The reality is,” Fischer said, “we’re not done with this outbreak (which killed over 11,000 people).”
Some Ebola survivors have long-term problems. The virus can linger in their eyes and joints and cause chronic pain. Fischer and Wohl study those people for clues as to how the virus may spread, how it can be treated. And, they hope, how it might be cured or prevented.
Medical science requires more than education, or sophisticated labs, or money. Sometimes, it requires doctors who possess bravery and determination, against all odds.
The World Health Organization has been blasted by some for not reacting with enough alarm and investment to the Ebola crisis. But the doctors connected to the fight, such as Fischer and Wohl, have rightly earned praise.
But the praise doesn’t drive them. Wohl remembers once when he was coming back from West Africa, he had to isolate himself and look for symptoms for three weeks, to ensure he wasn’t infected. No parades or applause. Just self-imposed solitary confinement.
How many other doctors do this kind of work or have done it over the decades past? Probably too many to count. They do not wait for the diseases to come to them, which means they help to prevent the diseases from coming to America. This is the kind of work that would terrify many people. But bravery in this area translates into the same outcome as bravery on any battlefield – saved lives.