Members of District 13 ambulance service are watched by neighbours as they disinfect a room in a Liberian town where they had picked up six suspected Ebola sufferers.
I was working as a travel nurse at a children’s hospital in California when I got an email from International Medical Corps asking if I was interested in deploying to Liberia to help fight Ebola. I wanted to go immediately but I was locked into a contract at the time. The more I heard, the more excited I got. Within three days of finishing my contract, I was in Alabama being trained in how to treat Ebola patients safely and within a week I was in Liberia.
I have now been at the Ebola treatment unit (ETU) for two weeks and what an incredible experience it has been. This week, I am on the night shift so my working day starts at 7pm. Tonight, we have 12 patients in the unit who are confirmed as having the Ebola virus. One of the patients is a nine-year-old girl who came with her mother when they were both sick. Her mum tested negative for Ebola but unfortunately the girl tested positive. Her mother opted to go home, leaving her daughter behind. She is very weak and really scared now that she is here all alone, so I am going to spend some extra time with her tonight, feeding her to try to get her strength back up.
Our personal protective equipment (PPE) suits get really hot. We spend up to two hours at a time in the ETU with the patients, which is about the longest you can comfortably remain inside the suits without a break.
Everyone I know is very supportive of me being here. I have been doing this type of volunteering for organizations such as IMC for a while. My family are used to me announcing that I’m off to some place where there is a disease outbreak or some other risk to my safety. I guess they were more worried than usual about the risks associated with Ebola, but they are still totally supportive.
I am worried about the backlash against health care workers who are responding to the crisis in West Africa. I have heard media reports calling for people such as me who have been treating Ebola patients to be quarantined for 21 or even 42 days. These ideas are not based on the medical facts. People only need to be quarantined if they are showing symptoms and if you do not have a fever, there is no risk of you transmitting Ebola to someone. We work really hard here, the hours are long and the work is physically and emotionally tiring. When we get time off every six weeks, I would like to think I can travel anywhere I want to but I suspect we are reaching a situation where I am not going to be welcome in many places.
Four new patients arrived at around midnight in ambulances. Tonight we saw a father and two sons: the dad is really very sick, throwing up every few minutes. We gave him and the other patients plenty of fluids and medicine to help with the vomiting and then we took the blood test that would confirm whether or not they had the Ebola virus. After triaging the patients, we made our way to the confirmed ward to carry the body of a patient who had died earlier in the night to the morgue.