A couple weeks ago, my daughters and I were eating lunch in a small restaurant. The patrons were few (it was before the noon hour rush), and the diners were widely spaced apart.

Three tables over, a pair of pleasant-looking older women were chatting when one of them started coughing. And coughing and coughing. Without a handkerchief or napkin over her mouth. Coughing. She finally excused herself and went into the restroom (which was right behind where we were sitting) and we heard her whooping loudly in that enclosed space. In a few moments she reemerged and joined her friend.

The hiatus lasted about 30 seconds and she started coughing again, violently. She excused herself once more and locked herself in the restroom, where the ferocious sound continued for a full five minutes before she was able to regain control and join her friend, at which point they finished their lunch in peace.

My daughters and I made a dark, muttered joke about Ebola and left it at that. However, even though I felt the need to use the restroom, I didn’t. Frankly I don’t know when we’ll return to that particular restaurant because of the moisture that was spewing from the poor woman’s mouth all over the dining room and bathroom.

Such is the effects of a foreign disease that is still, as of this writing, confined to extremely limited parts of the country, thousands of miles away from us. I’m 99.999999 percent sure this woman wasn’t suffering from a potentially fatal disease… but there’s always that 0.0000001 percent chance that she was.

Remember that old idea of Six Degrees of Separation? The notion is you could connect to any person in the entire world, no matter how remote, through no more than six people.

It’s kind of the same thing with a highly communicable disease. In theory there is no more than six degrees of separation between us and someone with Ebola. Someone could cough on someone who could sneeze on someone else who could vomit on someone else, etc., until the chain reaches from Texas or New York City to anywhere else in America in short order.

We like to think we’re already fairly isolated on our little farm in north Idaho, but in fact nothing could be further from the truth.

  • One of our daughters works as a housekeeper for a friend’s upscale motel, changing linens and cleaning up after guests. Who knows where these guests came from?

  • Our other daughter takes music lessons from a talented gentleman who is also head nurse at our local hospital. Who knows where his patients came from?
  • We have a dear friend who flew in to stay with us for a few weeks, hopscotching from Virginia through Denver to Spokane. Who knows where her seat-mates came from?
  • Some individuals in our church recently departed for some charitable work in Uganda, a thousand miles from the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa. But how many people will they be in contact with to, from and during their stay?

And on and on it goes. Everyone is in contact with everyone else, doubtless by no more than six degrees of separation. Who wraps, handles, or cooks restaurant or grocery store food? Who delivers our packages and mail? With whom do our coworkers associate? With whom do our children go to school? What other patients do our doctors see?

You see how it works? I doubt more than six degrees of exposure separate us from the poor souls infected with Ebola.

Unlike other lethal diseases that can be controlled by behavior, Ebola’s methods of spreading are insidious and not completely understood. Will sitting next to an Ebola carrier be enough to spread it? How about an Ebola patient handling mail? Food? Is Ebola actually airborne or must someone come in contact with bodily fluids? Will face masks suffice or must we all attire ourselves in full-body hazmat suits to ride a bus, shop at a mall, or fly on a plane?

There are more unanswered questions. Why won’t our government close the borders? Why won’t it halt flights? Why is the CDC performing a comedy of errors as it responds to confirmed cases? Why is our country inviting refugees from Ebola-stricken nations using the “honor” system to determine their exposure?

It’s not just the scary nature of the disease. It’s that Washington is apparently doing everything it can to ensure the rest of us are exposed to it before our medical system is ready to handle an epidemic.

Evidently I’m not the only one thinking along these lines. “Ebola started as a faraway thing, and that was scary enough,” notes a Washington Post article. “Then it jumped to a Dallas hospital, where one man died and two nurses were infected. [Then] Ebola took a different kind of leap – a psychological one – as concerns spiked nationally about how the threat of the virus might interfere with commerce, health and even daily routines.”

It’s this psychological impact that could end up having a profound effect on America.

You see, it’s not just the reality of Ebola that could disrupt our country, it’s the perception that’s just as damaging. How many people will forgo traveling? Attending performances? Shopping? Riding public transportation? Americans are more worried about the remote possibility of exposure to Ebola than they are about the dangers of confirmed diseases such as the flu or Enterovirus D68.

And of course, politicians are quick to jump on the fear-pandering bandwagon for their own personal agendas. And this, more than anything else, holds the potential to cause permanent and devastating harm to America. After all, why let a perfectly good crisis go to waste?

In many regards it’s not Ebola that should be causing concern among Americans, beyond rational and sensible precautions. It’s our government’s response to Ebola. Make no mistake, one of the government’s greatest desires is to control all medical care, and the spread of Ebola (or just the carefully managed fear of its spread) would lead inexorably toward that goal. The lust for power and control is a common malady amongst the Washington crowd, and they’ve demonstrated that everything from gun control to travel can be interpreted through a medical lens. Remember that.

So be careful out there, folks … there are a lot of politicians among us, and they’re highly contagious and dangerous to your health.

Learn how to achieve a simple lifestyle without “going green” or joining a monastery. Read Patrice Lewis’ helpful book, “The Simplicity Primer: 365 Ideas for Making Life more Livable”

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