Monday, October 6, 2014

13 Ways of looking at Ebola

Last Thursday was the birthday of Wallace Stevens. I quoted verse V from his poem “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” as part of my presentation to the 350 people assembled at a meeting of Health Care Home providers and advocates.   

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

I used this verse to make the point that I prefer the approach that Minnesota has traditionally taken to improve the health of its residents – investment in the “public good” and the “commons.” To me, it’s those investments of decades ago that are paying the dividends of a healthy state today. I made the case that we have to continue that tradition of investing in the “commons” (the social determinants of health), if we are going to keep Minnesota a healthy state for our grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Immediately after my talk I had to participate in a conference call discussing how to respond to the news that a case of Ebola had been diagnosed in an individual in Texas. As we discussed the issue, it was evident that responding to Ebola in its global and local contexts will be difficult and complex. I then thought about the talk that I had just given and realized effectively addressing Ebola will require looking at it in at least 13 ways – probably more. 

With apologies to Wallace Stevens, here are my 13 Ways of Looking at Ebola. 

Among twenty bad diseases
The eye of the world
Was only on the movement of Ebola.

I was of many minds,
Like a world
Watching three countries devastated by Ebola.

Ebola whirled in the autumn winds.
A major part of the world-wide fear.

People and the environment
Are one.
People and the environment and Ebola
Are one.

I do not know what I most fear,
The risk of infections
Or the damage of insinuations,
Ebola identified
Or just after. 

Interference filled the digital screens
With indecipherable static.
The shadow of Ebola
Flickered, in and out.
Embedded in the shadow
An unfathomable threat.

O all you of America,
Why do you imagine vultures?
Do you not see how Ebola
Cannot walk when under the feet
Of public health about you?

I know effective care
And proactive, inescapable containment
And I know, too,
That Ebola can be controlled
By what we know.

When Ebola spread like never before,
It marked the effect
Of many circles of inequity.

At the sight of Ebola
Flying in an interconnected world
Even the bawds of isolationism
Should cry out sharply. 

He rode over the landscape
In a self-confident state.
Once Ebola pierced his equanimity
He finally understood
The need to equip the world
With social justice.

Public health is moving
Ebola must be our teacher.

The darkness gave way to light
The storm was abating
The sun began to shine
And Ebola sat contained
For the present.