WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE (probably not from Ebola, though)


Spreading Disease, Hollywood Style

Around 2 million people die every year in the US. About 38,000 will overdose on drugs, 33,000 will die in a car accident, 31,000 will get shot (on accident or by choice), and a little over 26,000 will fall down and not get up.

In any given year, 3,000 to 49,000 other people will die from the flu or complications from respiratory disease linked to the flu.

The rest of us will hang around for about 78.9 years until various body parts fail or our cells betray us. I don’t often wish I was 18 again, but sometimes I miss that sense of immortality endemic to youth.

Shortly after I started teaching literature, I had a student ask if all “great” literature (his air quotes, not mine) were about death.

Of course not, I told him, but death and taxes are the elemental constants of human existence. Taxes you can avoid if own a multi-national corporation with off shore offices or you have a Congressional patron allowing you to shirk your duty to America and mooch off your fellow Americans.

Death not so much.

You, I continued, are sitting in this 8:00 am class, listening to me prattle on so you can earn 3-hours of credit, so you can get a college degree, so you can get a good job, so you can buy a house, so you can subscribe to a good cable package, so you can stock a little mini-fridge full of beer and yet, before it’s all said and one, you’re going to die.

Death isn’t a question of if. Just when and how. Don’t get excited, though, if you don’t snort some coke, throw back some shots, and then drive 100 mph waving a gun around the car, you’ll probably be around for the midterm. Please study.

By the way, thanks for spending what might be your final moments with me. I hope you get your money’s worth.

Of course, I should have also said if an airline pilot, beaten by a rogue, genius gorilla trained in James Franco’s attic takes an international flight after a nose bleed, then WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE.

From the simian flue. Or the SARS. Or the HIV. Or the bird flu. Or the Ebola. Or whatever turned everyone into zombies in the Walking Dead. 

Feel free to skip the final is that happens. 

Sell your stocks. Stockpile tomato sauce, pickles, and fruit cocktail. Bury your gold. Use your book as a fire starter. Literature matters, but when the apes take over, knowing how to find Shakespearean allusions in Sons of Anarchy won’t help you survive.

He never asked another question in class.

I’ve written before about the 24-hour news cycle and the impact social media has on public perception of information. If aliens landed in America (and any of them weren’t shot or put in deportation centers near the border), they would assume America was in the midst of an Ebola pandemic.

Ban travel, Republicans say. Appoint an Ebola Czar, the President says. It’s a conspiracy, my crazy cousin says. “Obama is from Africa. Ebola is from Africa. I’m just sayin’.” Blame the Center for Disease Control, blame Budget Cuts, just be sure to blame some one before we all die!

It’s enough to make me wish Justin Bieber would punch someone so the headlines would change. Maybe President Obama will do us all a favor and hold a latte while he salutes the Marines to give the folks at Fox News something else to talk about.

Honestly, I don’t want to downplay the danger of Ebola (or any other infectious disease) and I understand that by definition something infectious can spread without warning. Around 4,500 people have died in Africa, and we have a moral obligation to help countries not as fortunate as us contain the disease. We also have a vested interest in working to solve world-wide medical crises. This disease can be isolated and contained.

But our political leaders also have an ethical responsibility to calm down just a tad. I realize that American politicians seem to have the emotional stability of a teenager on prom night, but can we at least pretend to care about the facts?

ONE person has died in America from Ebola.


I’m no math major, but that seems like a relatively small number.

So far in America, there have been two infections. Two is really just another way of saying a couple, which is still not many. I haven’t even had to use all the fingers on one hand, yet.

We also know that Senegal and Nigeria have been declared Ebola free, and the Spanish nurse who contracted the disease has tested negative.

I’m not really one for big, sweeping declarations, but even though we’ve cut the CDC budget by almost 50% since 2006, and, as Judy Stone points out in her Scientific American article, we’ve politicized science funding to the detriment of our preparedness, we still have the best medical facilities and infrastructure in the world.

America is uniquely capable and prepared to stymie infectious disease outbreaks.

If we can keep our wits about us and let science work.

No offense Senator Cruz, but until I see the MD after your name let the experts do their jobs.

Like many of you, I’m growing increasingly weary when politicians turn things like Ebola outbreaks in Africa into an opportunity to score political points at home. When Rick Perry had to stand as the voice of reason in your political party, you know things are going off the rails.

Travel bans weren’t a good idea under President Bush (because they don’t work), and they won’t work any better under President Obama. ISIS is not gathering at the US/Mexico Border with vials of Ebola ready to infect Americans with rapid fire sneezing. We don’t need an Ebola Czar to coordinate our Ebola response because a private hospital in Dallas didn’t follow protocols. How much is this guy going to get paid to tell hospitals to follow protocol and why can’t I apply for that job?

What we really need is someone to reassure us tell us that yes, we are all going to die (but probably not from Ebola) and probably not today.


About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

2 Responses to WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE (probably not from Ebola, though)

  1. John Wegner says:

    Thanks. I don’t always feel rational, but it’s nice when a few of those thoughts leak out onto the page.

  2. browncoat777 says:

    Finally a rational mind!

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