The first Ebola patient to die on U.S. soil was a Black man. According to CNN, Thomas Eric Duncan, 42, most likely caught the virus while coming to the aid of Marthalene Williams, 19, a pregnant woman who collapsed during Duncan’s recent trip to Liberia. While Duncan’s family and friends mourn his loss, Pastor George Mason of Wilshire Baptist Church, spoke of his inability to comfort Duncan’s partner, Louise Troh, who at the time of Mason’s interview with Anderson Cooper, was still in isolation.
Duncan became ill a few days after arriving in the US. He first went to a Dallas hospital on September 25, complaining of fever, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Though Louise Troh claims to have alerted the hospital staff at least three times of his recent trip to Liberia, Duncan was released from the hospital with antibiotics. He was not tested for Ebola.
On September 28, after having three days to potentially expose others to the deadly virus, Duncan returned to the hospital via ambulance. It was then that he was admitted and isolated.
A recent CNN article outlines the differences between the care received by Duncan and the four other White patients, who each survived. For example, two of those four patients received a drug called ZMapp. Duncan received a drug called brincidofovir, but not until October 4th- six days after he was admitted to the hospital with potential Ebola.
Dr. Robert Haley, an expert with the Dallas County Medical Society, claims that it is unlikely that Duncan could have been saved if the treatment had started the first time Duncan and Troh went to the emergency room.
“The treatment they did was state-of-the-art,” said Haley. “It was more intense than any other patient has received in this epidemic; it’s just the best that you could have done.” He also called the efforts of the medical staff that worked to save Duncan’s life “heroic”.
Despite what the experts say, it is hard for me to believe that this is all just coincidence. Not only was Duncan a Black man in America, he was an African in America, without health insurance. It is common knowledge (among minorities, at least) that the biggest determinants of treatment and care in this country are both class and race. Duncan was on the losing side of both.
Some say that there were several factors working against Duncan- the hospital did not have advance notice of his arrival (and were therefore unable to acquire the drug ahead of time), the drug Zmapp had been depleted by the previous survivors and that Duncan’s blood type was incompatible with serum donors, making a blood transfusion impossible. The idealist in me wants to acknowledge that as implied, Mr. Duncan fell victim to a series of unfortunate events, none of which had to do with his race or socio-economic status. The realist in me, however, believes otherwise. As a Black woman in America with a Black son, I have to look at all the evidence- and after the Tuskegee experiments, after Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell, there is a definite pattern. The realist in me tells me that after Emmitt Till and Oscar Grant, Eric Garner and Ramarley Graham, after the Scottsboro Boys, there is a definite pattern that I had better not ignore- and that as a person of color living in America, if I want to live, I had better not contract Ebola. RIP Mr. Duncan.