Kaci Hickox, Self-Absorbed Hero

Posted: Oct 30, 2014 12:01 AM

There is something uniquely jarring about a display of selfish insolence from someone who is so praiseworthy in other respects. Maddening traits usually come from maddening people, as their true character surfaces.

But the insults delivered to a concerned nation by heroic nurse Kaci Hickox are particularly hard to absorb, because the proper reaction of revulsion does not mix well with the sentiments we would like to be sending her way. 

Those sentiments would be: We are so glad you are home safely, we pray for you to remain symptom-free, and most of all, we honor you for the courage you displayed in deploying to West Africa to help fight Ebola.

I’m sure the nation harbors exactly those attitudes about Ms. Hickox, but our outgoing warm thoughts have been doused by the waves of complaining she has treated us to since setting foot back on American soil.

Granted, her first days back in the U.S. were in a makeshift tent none of us would have enjoyed. Returning Ebola-fighters deserve better than to poop in a box.

But America deserves better than the haughty scolding she has issued since leaving New Jersey for Maine. From her home state, she now informs us she has no intention of obeying limits placed on her for reasons of public safety. She will not be “bullied by politicians,” she says, weaving details of how her reaction to inconvenience has grown from shock to anger.

If Ms. Hickox wishes to see what anger looks like, she should visit Twitter. The country isn’t enjoying her griping. She showed selfless devotion to her fellow man in going to Sierra Leone. That attribute did not make it back through customs.

Instead, we get lawsuit threats and the same kind of snotty condescension that has us loving the CDC so much right now.

On a tour of network news shows Wednesday morning, Ms. Hickox demanded that an undereducated America worship at the altar of the “science” that she invokes to argue for her immediate release from the constraints of public safety. She brandishes her absence of symptoms in an attempt to escape a 21-day time-out that would provide substantial reassurance to a public rocked not just by Ebola but by the rank ineptitude of government in responding to it.

We are thrilled that she feels “absolutely great,” as she told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” We would feel great as well if she were to accept a sensible quarantine as a result of close proximity to people with a deadly disease.
But while Ms. Hickox worked hard to help Ebola patients feel better, she has only contempt for her fellow Mainers and other Americans who are wholly entitled to wonder if the elites know all they think they know about a disease that is fairly recent and until now foreign to our shores.  

But relax, you stupid people, she tells us, invoking the willfully ignorant claim that the “science” does not support quarantines. 

Ms. Hickox and anyone similarly misguided should know that quarantines are not solely matters of science. They are matters of policy and pragmatism based on what we know from science and what we may not know.

We do not know when within the 21 days an exposed person may become symptomatic. Shall we allow Ms. Hickox to bowl and dine out until the moment her fever spikes? And when it does, are we to believe that she is only contagious at that exact moment, having posed no risk five seconds earlier? 

We are in for some ugliness if this woman who deserves so much credit plows forward with behavior that will earn substantial and deserved scorn. Maine’s Republican Governor stood firm Wednesday, invoking his responsibility to place the health of citizens above the convenience of nurses fresh back from the Ebola Zone. How long before the White House roughs him up for listening to citizens instead of the latest Obama preaching?

It is the President, in fact, who has delivered the meanest slap to Ms. Hickox’s profession, suggesting that health care workers will balk at trips to West Africa is quarantine awaits them upon their return. This is an attack on doctors, nurses and logic. The true calling to venture into that cauldron should not be extinguished by the prospect of three weeks of web-surfing and pizza deliveries.

Self-quarantines do not work. Actual doctors— some of them with press passes— have returned to America unable to restrain themselves from gallavanting among us.

Are we to be treated to a parade of whining caregivers who leave their posts in the Ebola zone only to return with armies of lawyers waiting to assert their “right” to put us at risk?

Let us stipulate that Ms. Hickox poses very little risk to her little Maine Hamlet and the nation of 320 million that lies beyond. But we do things every day to reduce even tiny risks. We build storm shelters to address the tiny risk of tornadoes. We warn our kids against the tiny risk of abduction.

Ms. Hickox’s petulant reaction to a very minor inconvenience launches an entire question of the mindset of some health care workers. If these folks are indeed over there because they care about the health of fellow human beings, how does that vanish during the journey home?

This repellent attitude threatens to color our image of the motivation for going in the first place. Is it an exotic adventure? Is it a salve for liberal white guilt? Is it a story to tell at cocktail parties?

That sounds deeply dismissive, but Ms. Hickox’s bellyaching does not call to mind the caring accommodation one usually associates with health care workers.

And while I do not attach politics to everything, I will make anyone a bet: not one conservative health care worker will return home fussing and moaning about a 21-day quarantine.

Whatever her motivations, Ms. Hickox should know three things: She is draping her proud profession in a cloak of dark public disapproval, she is alienating the good people living around her who would otherwise be planning parties in her honor, and perhaps most urgently in view of her own priorities, if she goes to court, she will lose.