Guest post by Patrice Gordon, a B.C. nurse practitioner and Red Cross delegate currently working at the Red Cross Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone.
The days are flying by, a blur of highs and lows. We move from gut-wrenching tragedy to clapping, dancing celebration in the three steps it takes to cross between patients. Three steps more, back to tragedy again.
Yesterday, we had a six-year-old girl arrive in an ambulance full of suspected Ebola cases. She came with no contact information. We weren’t even sure of her name. Today, she died with one of our team, dressed in full protective gear, holding her hand. I’m so thankful she wasn’t alone. Many of us are parents and we took her death hard. Now, the community health team begins the search for her relatives.
Several days ago, a mother and father arrived at the centre with their two daughters, Magdalen, aged one month, and Mariana, 7. The family all tested positive for Ebola. Then, as the little girl and father watched, the mother grew gravely ill and died, literally in front of them. Now, the father’s symptoms are worsening.
Another patient, Haja, is the mother of three healthy children at home. But she lost two other children to Ebola last week. Still, in the midst of her grief, she is helping care for Magdalen and Mariana. Haja and the children give something priceless to each other. The generosity and grace of Ebola sufferers plays out, over and over. For all the tears that are shed daily for the tragedy that we see, there are just as many shed in deep appreciation for such displays of compassion. I’ve learned that tears fog up my goggles.
Haja assists Patrice as she cares for a one-month-old baby with Ebola.
The sustaining reality is that there is hope. From inside the high-risk area, patients and staff can look across the fences to three large dome tents called the “Hotel of Hope.” When someone recovers from Ebola, they have a “happy shower” – a chlorinated shower – then walk over to the Hotel of Hope, as we all cheer, hoot, clap and shed tears of joy.
The news that Time magazine has named Ebola fighters, “Person of the Year,” has also been a great morale booster here, for patients and healthcare providers. Every day, I get emails and Facebook messages with words of support and love for the people of Sierra Leone. I delight in passing those messages over the fence, and watching faces light up. It’s so important to let patients know the world is watching. And caring.
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.