No Borders For Halloween by Pat Conrad MD

spencer zomdoc

Even as neurotic parents, do-gooder advocates, and municipal safety rats try to take the thrills out of Halloween, along comes yet another scary creature to add some real chills. Sometimes the scariest doctors don’t have the perverted genius of Frankenstein, the genocidal malevolence of a Mengele, the diabolical wizardry of a Phibes, the cabinet of a Caligari, or the appetite of a Hannibal Lecter.

Sometimes the scariest doctor is the one who doesn’t wait at home to hand out treats, but who actively goes about handing out tricks, in broad daylight no less! The news is out now that the New York City doctor who contracted the Ebola virus lied to health officials about his movements around the city after he returned from treating victims of the disease in West Africa.

“The New York Post citing law enforcement sources, reported that Dr. Craig Spencer initially told investigators that he had self-quarantined in his Harlem apartment. According to the paper, Spencer’s story fell apart after investigators checked his credit-card statement and information from his Metrocard.” Spencer it seems went all over town by subway, hitting restaurants, a bowling alley, and hanging with his fiancée and friends.

Kindly ol’ Doc Spencer wrote in September on his Facebook:

“Off to Guinea with Doctor Without Borders… Please support organizations that are sending support or personnel to West Africa, and help combat one of the worst public health and humanitarian disasters in recent history.” Spencer did his ER residency in Queens and works at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center when not off to Rwanda, Burundi, the Congo, or (?) Guinea. His online bio states he is fluent in Chinese, French, Spanish and Greek, and he has studied Chinese language and literature at Henan University in China.

So it may be inferred that Spencer is more than reasonably bright.

Some of us not nearly so bright believe that the head of the CDC Dr. Frieden is blatantly, cartoonishly lying about the Ebola virus’ ability to rack up frequent flyer miles on aerosolized mucous. A few of us less-worldly types cannot see why travel to Toronto in 2003 was banned due to SARS, but not from West Africa now. How can Frieden claim straight-faced that quarantining “hot zone” countries will further the spread?

Feckless sources such as CNN paint this guy in happy humanitarian pastels, as though this humanitarian’s self-promotional sideline excuses his indefensible behavior. No, despite all the AAFP MOC “hand washing” horse hockey none of us has been 100% in universal/contact precautions. And yeah, I’ve gone to work in the throes viral chills and aches when no one else was available. But that wasn’t Ebola.

Elitist, arrogant hubris is the newest, most virulent transmission vector for Ebola, a generally fatal disease. On an international scale, it is encouraging the cross-ocean spread of a virus once limited to relatively inaccessible areas of Africa. On a local scale, it allows an arrogant fool of a doctor to justify his dangerous behavior until it is too sickening to hide. And if he survives this, he should lose his license and be considered for criminal charges.

Douglas Farrago MD

Douglas Farrago MD is a full-time practicing family doc in Forest, Va. He started Forest Direct Primary Care where he takes no insurance and bills patients a monthly fee. He is board certified in the specialty of Family Practice. He is the inventor of a product called the Knee Saver which is currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Knee Saver and its knock-offs are worn by many major league baseball catchers. He is also the inventor of the CryoHelmet used by athletes for head injuries as well as migraine sufferers. Dr. Farrago is the author of four books, two of which are the top two most popular DPC books. From 2001 – 2011, Dr. Farrago was the editor and creator of the Placebo Journal which ran for 10 full years. Described as the Mad Magazine for doctors, he and the Placebo Journal were featured in the Washington Post, US News and World Report, the AP, and the NY Times. Dr. Farrago is also the editor of the blog Authentic Medicine which was born out of concern about where the direction of healthcare is heading and the belief that the wrong people are in charge. This blog has been going daily for more than 15 years Article about Dr. Farrago in Doximity Email Dr. Farrago – [email protected] 

  12 comments for “No Borders For Halloween by Pat Conrad MD

  1. Judy
    November 6, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    agree on the license suspension/sanctioning for this behavior, not only among physicians but all other healthcare workers, i.e. Hix RN. Simply quarantining oneself for an appropriate time and monitoring for symptom development should be expected by a professional dealing with such a virus. Acting otherwise is potentially publicly harmful.

  2. Stan Siefer
    November 5, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    I would have expected this article to have been written by someone other than a doctor. It fans the flames of paranoia. I think we have a good idea of how Ebola is spread and this doctor was not sick when he was moving about. I agree that he was not honest about where he had been, but I don’t think he felt he was an infection risk.

    • Pat
      November 6, 2014 at 2:38 pm


      Spencer clearly did not think it was a casual contact transmission risk while zooming around on NY subways; why then was he posing on his Facebook page in full biohazard/barrier gear while in Africa? Did he believe the virus could be spread casually there, but not here? Does he – like Dr. Frieden – not believe that sneeze-borne equates to “airborne”?

      If we have a “good idea how Ebola is spread”, then why the inconsistent information, and inconsistent behavior on the part of those who claim to have expertise?

      Or is Dr Spencer merely a self-aggrandizing do-gooder, and Dr Frienden a political hack? Or is it all of the above?


  3. October 31, 2014 at 9:46 am

    We did see this coming, right? The virus does have the capacity to affect judgement. Happy Halloween.

  4. Jimboramameister
    October 31, 2014 at 9:43 am

    Sir-Lance — We overtreat hyperlipidemia and hypertension on far less evidence of risk than we have from Ebola. Plus, the risk of harm from that treatment far exceeds the risk of harm from a mere quarantine. However, there is no money to be made by quarantining a potential carrier.

  5. Sir Lance-a-lot
    October 31, 2014 at 7:06 am

    What an absolute, irresponsible load of shit.

    You deserve a place with the worst of the panic mongers of Fox News.

    This virus does not spread through casual contact, and time will prove that your hyperbolic concerns about Dr. Spencer’s entirely reasonable travels through the city are completely unfounded.

    If this virus spreads so easily that we must be afraid of a man on the subway, then how is it that Mr. Duncan shared a small apartment with a number of people for eight days, during four of which he was quite ill, including sharing a bed with one of them, and none of them became ill?

    The dangers of this disease, which has been fatal to only one person in the US (a person who was misdiagnosed and sent home) have been severely exaggerated, and you are fanning the fires of paranoia when it is your duty to be calming them.

    • October 31, 2014 at 9:55 am

      Lance, my issue is about the lying and deceit. People who should be careful are instead being reckless and short-sighted. So you run around in public until the headache sends you home. How many people are near you in that hour? What have you touched? I think Dr Conrad’s concerns are valid.

      • JRDO
        October 31, 2014 at 10:14 am

        I agree that Dr. Spencer’s lying and deceit are troubling and unprofessional- it would not bother me to see his medical license somehow sanctioned.

        I agree with Lance that Dr. Conrad’s rhetoric is over-the-top and counter-productive.

      • Sir Lance-a-Lot
        October 31, 2014 at 10:45 am

        I will admit that I haven’t read the details of Dr. Spencer’s misrepresentations (they weren’t in any of the Times articles I saw), so I can’t comment directly on them, but if those reports are true, then I agree that that would constitute unethical behavior, as he had concealed relevant patient information for appropriate public health authorities (the fact that it was his own information is secondary).
        There is such a thing as “discretion is the better part of valor” – though I do not fear his having infected any members of the public, I think that a wise man in his situation would have avoided going out in public as much as practical (invite friends in, go to their apartments) at least past the “average” 7-10 day incubation period. I do not think he should be crucified for this, though. He’s young and he got cocky.

        I believe, though, that considering the historically well documented human tendency to overreact in the face of perceived epidemic, it is vary important to the health of the entire nation that we avoid fanning those flames at all costs, and work to keep everyone’s perspective calm and rational, and steer the national conversation away from non-productive speculation.

        • Sir Lance-a-Lot
          October 31, 2014 at 11:50 am

          Okay, just to update: I found a very brief story in the NY Post that an anonymous NYPD source said that Dr. Spencer had told the police that he hadn’t left the apartment until they jogged his memory with dumps from his credit and Metro cards.

          No the most reliably sourced story (no confirmation), but it sounds like what others have referenced above.

          • Pat
            October 31, 2014 at 11:59 am

            I specifically cited the NY Post report in my column, which was also reported in the UK Daily Mail, as well as on CNBC and ABC.

          • Sir Lance-a-Lot
            October 31, 2014 at 12:06 pm

            “I specifically cited the NY Post report in my column, which was also reported in the UK Daily Mail, as well as on CNBC and ABC.”

            Sorry, Pat, it was early, and I’m rushing between patients now, so I may lack subtlety.

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