Guest post by Patrice Gordon, a British Columbia nurse practitioner and Red Cross delegate, currently working at the Red Cross Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone.
I thought I was prepared for what I'd see here but now I know you can't truly be prepared. It's beautiful, ugly, wonderful, awful, tragic and hopeful; all wrapped in one package.
At the centre, we have a young boy who lost his father to Ebola a few days ago. His sister died just last night and his mother is infected and too ill to care for him. This little boy needs such close care. Really, he needs someone next to him every minute to give him sips of fluids, keep him from pulling out his intravenous line, give him medications, and to keep him as clean as possible. But the extreme heat means we can only wear personal protective equipment (PPE ) for one hour at a time. We work in teams or pairs to provide care or move people, so there can be gaps when no one is with him in the high-risk area. When we're out of PPE, we can be at the double fence around the area to see and talk to him, but we can't touch or physically help him.
Standing at the fence, calling his name, making eye contact, telling him he'll be okay, that someone will be there soon is all I can do some times. The instinct to protect and care is so strong, but there's a very good reason for the time limitations in PPE. Too long in the suit means a chance of collapse from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Even if we feel faint and head to the "undressing" area, it takes at least ten minutes to safely, methodically decontaminate and get out of these “space-suits.” If someone did collapse, they would be at risk along with colleagues who extricated them. So, to protect ourselves and stay healthy for all the patients, we must have strict rules.
Canadian nurse Patrice Gordon cares for a one-month-old baby girl who has tested positive for Ebola.
Our multi-national Red Cross group is one of the finest collections of people on the planet. The support, fun, mutual concern, and expertise are amazing to see. To watch so many people working so hard to fight against Ebola is a privilege. I am witnessing humanity at its best.
I want a magic wand to get rid of this virus. But I'm glad I'm here. We are helping to give people their greatest chance for survival. It's hard to feel fully human inside our PPE, but people can feel our touch, hear our voices, and see our eyes caring for them. We are helping people to still hope, when they have many reasons to feel hopeless.
The Canadian Red Cross is looking for more nurses, healthcare workers and other personnel to join the fight against Ebola.
Canadians can donate to the West Africa Ebola Fund to support ongoing efforts to stop the spread of Ebola.