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Saturday October 18, 2014

The sad tale of Ebola, a Spanish nurse and her dog

A few months ago Spanish nurse Teresa Romero was probably happily – and quietly – going about her business in Madrid, packing in a full week as a nurse at the general hospital and in her leisure time walking her beloved dog Excalibur in Parque del Retiro and enjoying tapas on a Friday night with her husband and friends. But all of a sudden her life was to change dramatically and unexpectedly – alas, not for the better.

Along with other selfless medical staff at Carlos III Hospital in Madrid it was Teresa’s unhappy lot to be one of those selected to care for an elderly Spanish missionary newly arrived from Africa and infected with the deadly Ebola virus. Protocols were supposedly in place to ensure the safety of the medical team treating him but some time after the priest had died Teresa began to feel unwell and it was discovered that she had caught the Ebola virus from the victim.

The Spanish government immediately went into overdrive, insisting that the hospital and staff concerned had carefully followed safety procedures but soon it was reported that Teresa may have inadvertently touched her face with a protective glove worn while tending the priest.

In the eye of an international media storm the nurse was immediately quarantined along with her husband and 15 other unfortunates including a hairdresser with whom she’d had contact. And as if things weren’t bad enough Teresa Romero was told that Excalibur would have to be put to sleep for fear that he might transmit the disease. As a media circus developed outside her home, animal rights campaigners arrived en masse demanding the dog be saved. It wasn’t.

Meanwhile as the nurse’s condition deteriorated Spanish politicians argued about whether there had been a serious breach in protocol with Javier Rodriguez, Minister for Health in Madrid, bluntly suggesting that the nurse ‘might have lied’. He further dryly suggested that it didn’t take a Masters to learn how to take off a protective suit and that some learnt more quickly than others. His words have met with a backlash from the Spanish public, many of whom believe that Teresa Romero is being made a scapegoat for possible failings by the authorities.

Happily the nurse’s condition is improving and hopefully she will make a full recovery but her life will never be the same again. If indeed she did make a mistake, she will forever stand accused of having put other lives in danger but would that be fair? What must be remembered is that the heroic Spanish nurses and doctors treating the Ebola patient were facing a deadly virus that they had never had to deal with before. They followed the protocols they had been given to the best of their ability and so Teresa Romero should not be vilified. She was, after all, just a dedicated nurse simply doing her job whom no one has the right to judge.

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