Howard Markel tries to understand why NYC’s first Ebola patient went out on the town the day before going to the hospital:
I cannot presume to know what Dr. Spencer was thinking when he went out bowling the other night. He might have just been bored. He might have just not been thinking at all about the potential risks to himself or others. But if he is like me when I was a bold, young physician out to conquer illness as if I were a soldier in a good war, I bet he just thought Ebola could not happen to him.
Julia Ioffe confesses that this was “something my Soviet family and I could never get used to in the States, the stubbornness with which Americans trudge to work or school with triple-digit fevers or noses like spigots”:
Just look at this survey by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, published at the height of flu season in 2011, that shows that a full two-thirds of Americans don’t stay home—as the CDC advises them to do—despite having symptoms of the flu and therefore being highly contagious. Forty percent said that the stuff they needed to do outside the home—work, school, trying my beverage—was more important than the risk of spreading the flu.
She attributes this to more than simply the Protestant work ethic:
From where I sit, it often looks like the other side of American individualism, which becomes selfishness when you lay it on thick. It’s the belief that you and your needs are acutely exceptional and important, and take precedence over those of the people around you. It’s the unspoken belief that your day radiating sickness at the office is worth a couple of your colleagues being bedridden with your flu for a week.