How Could A Doctor’s Death From Ebola Possibly Be ‘Good’?
Here are three words you don’t often see in close proximity: Good. Death. Ebola.
Yet there they stand, united in the headline for an essay in The New England Journal of Medicine this month: "A Good Death: Ebola and Sacrifice."
The essay was written by Dr. Josh Mugele, assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine at Indiana University’s School of Medicine, and Chad Priest, an assistant dean at the Indiana University School of Nursing. They pay tribute to a Liberian colleague, Dr. Samuel Brisbane, director of the emergency department at Monrovia’s John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center.
They’d worked closely with Sam Brisbane on a disaster-medicine program. He was a memorable character, they write: “at once caring and profane … his laugh was best described as a giggle, and he swore frequently.”
And he was terrified by Ebola. “Dr. Brisbane was a wreck,” they recall. When they asked how they could protect themselves, he told the authors: “Leave Monrovia.”
his summer, Dr. Brisbane treated a patient with “suspected Ebola.” A few days later, the 74-year-old doctor came down with symptoms of the virus. He died on July 26.
"With apologies to his wife and family, who saw him dire horribly and unjustly," Mugele and Priest conclude, "we believe our friend died a good death – as did all the nurses and doctors who have sacrificed themselves caring for patients with this awful disease."
We spoke with Mugele and Priest about the idea of a “good death.”
You believe Dr. Brisbane died a good death because of his self-sacrifice?
Mugele: Dr. Brisbane was an older gentleman, he had a coffee plantation, he had a wife and children. He didn’t have to treat these patients. He didn’t have to be a doctor at that stage of his life. And he kept doing it even though he knew [Ebola] was very contagious and he had a high likelihood of getting it. Dying was a selfless act on his part.
Illustration by Maria Fabrizio for NPR