Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Beyond the Selfie to Selfless

In a world dominated by selfies, it is refreshing and reaffirming to see examples of selflessness, even in the worst of situations.

Ebola-care-Dr.-BrantlyDr. Kent Brantly from Texas is fighting for his life in an isolation ward in Monrovia, Liberia after contracting Ebola while leading a medical team attempting to stop the spread of the deadly virus with no cure.

Nancy Writebol, a medical relief worker from North Carolina, is also fighting for her life, amid worries she may have infected her fellow missionary husband, David.

Brantly and Writebol didn’t have to be on the frontline of fighting a killer infectious disease. They chose to go there. They wore layered protective suits that are decontaminated after each exposure to a patient with Ebola, treating a disease that causes massive internal bleeding and has a mortality rate of up to 90 percent.

Even as his condition turned grave, Brantly, 33, who has a wife and two young children, said he has no regrets about being called to serve the sick. A colleague at John Peter Smith Hospital Health Network, where Brantly completed his residency in family medicine, said it was Brantly’s life dream to be a missionary in Africa.

An elder at Brantly’s Texas church said if there was one word to describe him, it would be “selfless.” “He really cares more about other people than he cares about himself.”

That’s not a description bandied around a lot in contemporary society, more known for self-interest and the celebration of “ME.”

However, there may be many more examples of sacrifice and selflessness than Brantly and Writebol. The value of their struggles with Ebola should remind us we all have the capability to serve. It shouldn’t take the terrifying threat of a mass epidemic to jolt us out of self-absorption.

Plagues have wreaked destruction on civilizations for centuries. Modern medicine and public health strategies have subdued, but not totally eradicated the ravages of plagues, so their specter is less threatening and perhaps somewhat unreal.

Until now, Ebola has sprung up in relatively isolated villages, where it could be quarantined and controlled. The current outbreak is more widespread and therefore harder to corral. Its more far-flung outbreak has stretched medical and public health resources. When medical professionals succumb to the disease, some of their colleagues desert the cause, forcing clinics and hospitals to close, increasing the likelihood of the disease spreading even further, claiming even more lives.

SelflessThese realities, plus the knowledge that a vaccine for Ebola is at least two to five years in the future, makes the efforts of Brantly and Writebol all the more remarkable. They knew the danger and they took the risk, for the good of their fellow man – an ocean and a continent away from home.

The elder in Brantly’s Texas church told a reporter, “[Brantly] is the kind of guy who says, ‘Somebody needs to do it, and I have the skills to do it. I’m going to do it.'” That is the anthem of a selfless person.

Too bad there isn’t an Instagram to document selflessness as easily as selfies. It would be a welcome change to share reflections of the soul, not just pictures of our navels.



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