Saturday, October 25, 2014

Saying "no" to fear

President Obama met recently in the White House Oval Office with Nina Pham of Dallas. Nina was the first nurse in the United States diagnosed with the Ebola virus. After the meeting, the President urged Americans to base their response to domestic Ebola cases "on facts, not fear."

This advice is not new. It echoes from the worldwide flu pandemic of 1918-1920, which killed 75 million people, including 675,000 Americans.

During that pandemic, U.S. Navy doctors tried to find the cause of the disease. Fifty young sailors stationed on Goat Island, CA, volunteered to be flu victims. They did not fear the flu, and wanted to help. They were placed with flu patients; asked to sniff from jars filled with flu germs; and had the germs injected into their bloodstreams. But none of the sailors developed flu symptoms.

According to a 1918 issue of the Oakland (California) Enquirer, "Medical men are now the first to tell patients to eliminate fear. There would be no cases of influenza in California if every person in the state would do as these Goat Island sailors did -- eliminate fear of the disease."

In the words of poet Edgar Guest: The great god Fear grinned back at me: "I am the foe men never see, the hurt they never feel," said he. "I have no voice and yet I speak; no strength and yet I blanch the cheek and leave the strongest mortals weak. I fire no gun. I make no cry, no lodging place have I, yet I'm the countless deaths men die. I am man's cruelest, bitterest foe, yet past his door I could not go, had he the wit to tell me, 'No!'"

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