Paul Gibbs: We must not turn our backs on people who are ill. Even with coronavirus.

(Courtesy photo) Paul Gibbs awaits kidney surgery at Intermountain Medical Center.

I’m struggling to contain my fears about the coronavirus. We shouldn’t get hysterical, but it’s a very real concern and, as a person who both has respiratory problems and is on immunosuppressant medications due to a kidney transplant, I’m at a relatively high risk for this.

And it’s clear that the current administration not only isn’t prepared, they’ve undercut the systems put in place by predecessors to deal with such a crisis. The president dismisses this crisis as a “hoax” because it’s politically inconvenient. This is serious.

That said, I’m upset to see some online comments getting angry and alarmist about the news that a patient with the virus (who contracted it outside of Utah) has been brought to Intermountain Medical Center for treatment.

Great precautions have been taken to keep this patient from being an infection risk. This isn’t increasing the danger to us and, again, I say that as someone who is more scared of this than most. But this person needs care and, as with refugees and immigrants, when we allow our fears to chase away our decency and compassion, we lose everything that’s good.

[Read more: Utah will start its own coronavirus testing, but general risk remains low, state says]

Intermountain Medical Center is like a holy place to me. I had my kidney transplant there. Because of having had nine kidney surgeries and hospital stays in my early childhood, I grew up with a crippling fear of hospitals. Even into my adult life it was difficult for me to go a doctor appointment without my mother, my support system because she was the only one who really understood.

At the time of my transplant, my Mom was in a care facility from having multiple strokes (she passed away just a little less than two months after my transplant.). So, along with my medical fears, I was dealing with my worst phobia and doing it without my support system.

But because of the exceptional care I received at IMC, I don’t have that fear of hospitals any more. I love IMC. I love the people there. My life was saved there. My friend (who is now like my brother) gave me his kidney there. I beat my phobia there. My family calls it “our hospital” and both of my sons were born there.

I go there sometimes when I need perspective or clarity, because the way I feel at IMC is a feeling people commonly associate with the sacred places of various religions. Nowhere on Earth means more to me.

I’m so proud that “our hospital” is taking care of a person with this virus. That by doing so, it is helping stop the spread of it. I’m so grateful that we have hospitals here that are so good that people are brought here for treatment for the biggest health issues.

Utah has top-notch medical facilities and professionals, and I trust our Department of Health to handle this. We can fight this disease better through simple precautions, such as regular hand washing, than by hysteria or isolationism.

I absolutely refuse to let my fear rob me of my compassion for people who are sick or suffering. To do that would desecrate what I went through and what was done for me at IMC.

We cannot let this become something else to turn us against each other. We will get through this much better if we try to do it together, with concern for all.

Paul Gibbs is a filmmaker, kidney transplant and health care activist who believes all problems are best solved through compassionate solutions. He lives in West Valley City with his wife and two young sons.

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