Lunchtime at the office is time for eating chips and surfing the web.
As I was enjoying my lunch yesterday Charles, a colleague, came by and announced (quote): “Ebola in Siaya”.
“Siaya?” I asked tentatively as I tried to mentally calculate the distance from there to Nairobi.
“Siaya is in Nyanza province,” He patronized adding, “I have a friend who is a public health officer there, and he just called me to confirm the news.”
I wanted to ask if his friend was OK, even though I knew it was a dumb question; but I’m learning to keep these things to myself (self-improvement-five!). Instead, I turn on the google and sure enough, a young man has been admitted with symptoms of the disease.
Suddenly, I got a flashback of watching an interview on the television two days before, in which a Kenyan government official said there was no possibility that the virus would spread into the country because he “trusted” the health officials on the other side of the border to contain it. But NOOOOOO, the virus has spread 400 Km in 4 days! This realization was followed by a twinge of anger [Curse you, lying politicians!], and then slight panic and despair [Will I be safe if I walk home instead of taking the bus? Where can I get a face mask? WHY you have to eat that infected monkey, you crazy West Uganda person? AAAH! THE ZOMBIES ARE COMING!!!] But finally I had to accept that there wasn’t much I could really do. And so I finished my lunch.
Having calmed down the irony of the situation dawned on me: I worry more about the miniscule chance of catching Ebola and bleeding to death, than, say, heart disease or diabetes from the cumulative hours I have spent sat on my behind consuming processed, high-fat foods. Never mind the recent findings that too much sitting down correlates with a shorter life expectancy.
Could it be the uncertainty as to why, where and how this invisible yet complex thing will end my life that make it all the more frightening than other slower, more plausible and painful ways in which my body can fail me? Is it the likelihood that I would get a second chance to change my ways if the doctor told me “Don’t eat another chip, or you will die”? Or, is there some consolation in knowing that I can control my own destiny, for example in the event that the doctor said no-more-chocolate-ever-or-you-will-die (as I would undoubtedly choose death)? If a few moments of pleasure are really so great that we convince ourselves it’s worth the risk of contracting HIV, getting cancer, or smashing a car into a tree, what makes us turn around and value our lives so much as to fear death by Ebola Express?
Why are our health priorities so misplaced?
Health Behavior and Health Communication theorists have been asking such questions for decades, in search of the perfect Model or formula to fill society’s behavior-attitude gaps. For example, in 1969 (good year I hear), psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross came up with a description of the five stages of change in emotional responses to death (or, as in my case at the office, terminal illness). They are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Fear/Depression and finally, Acceptance…
TO BE CONTINUED…