Spain through the looking glass

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A dog’s life

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It’s been a week of ignoble spectacles in Spain, and all thanks to a woman called Teresa Romero, a little squiggle of a virus called Ebola, and a dog.

In the beginning, we didn’t even know Teresa’s name. She was a nursing assistant in her forties, and she’d made the papers for the sort of reason of nobody wants to see their name in print: she’d been unlucky enough to be diagnosed with Ebola, having contracted the world’s trendiest disease after treating one of the two Spanish missionaries who’d been repatriated to Spain from West Africa suffering the virus.

The news, while a shocking way to start the week, wasn’t a complete surprise. Ever since Spain had taken the controversial decision to fly the missionaries back home for treatment — surely it was safer to have them treated in Africa, many said, perhaps not considering how they might feel in the same situation — there had been talk of improvisation at the Madrid’s hospital where they were being treated. One nurse I interviewed provided a scary insight into a world of fifteen-minute training sessions and general incompetence. But for weeks during the summer the government continued to assure everyone the situation was under control and we had nothing to worry about.

Then we found out about Teresa, and everything changed.


When you discover someone has a disease like Ebola in the city where you are living, this is what you want: you want a statesman-like figure being completely transparent about how the infection could have occurred and providing clear information on the virus itself. You want to be able to feel confident that behind the scenes health officials and professionals are ticking all the right boxes. What you don’t want is typical Spanish high (or should that be ‘low’?) theatre. You definitely don’t want to see, for example, Madrid’s regional health boss smugly blaming the nurse herself for catching the disease in an effort to deflect attention from the authorities. (“It doesn’t take a Masters degree to put on a protective suit,” he said after the woman was reported to have said she may have touched her face with her gloves while removing her uniform.)

But the low point of the week for me involved a dog called Excalibur. While Teresa fought for her life in a Madrid hospital, with her husband and up to a dozen other health workers also isolated in the same institution, it emerged that health authorities planned to put down Teresa’s dog Excalibur.

Over two days, thousands of Spaniards, and people around the world, found the time to sign a petition, send out a tweet or write a message of support on Facebook for Teresa’s dog. Excalibur should be isolated and treated too, people said. There was no evidence Ebola could spread from dogs to humans, they argued. More and people posted pictures of their dogs next to signs telling the Spanish authorities not to kill Excalibur.

Now I admit I’m not a dog person ; I like dogs well enough, I like patting them and going walking with them, but I guess I don’t really want to share my life with one, especially in a city apartment. That said, I’m certainly not anti-dogs, and I didn’t want to see Excalibur put down. But the spectacle of all of these people banding together to save Excalibur as the human death toll crept up towards 4,000 in West Africa was frankly disturbing. I’d hate to think most of these people actually care more about Excalibur than about the thousands in Sierra Leone and Guinea, but sometimes you have to wonder.

Or perhaps I’m just heartless.


Written by georgemills25

October 12, 2014 at 18:32

Posted in health