I hope this finds you well! I am sorry my updates have been sporadic — life in West Africa has been an adventure that changes daily.
Over a week ago Korto — an Ebola survivor — and her three-month-old daughter, Josephine, came to the unit by ambulance. Josephine had developed vomiting, diarrhea and a fever hours after Korto was discharged from the confirmed unit of the ETU. Josephine tested positive for Ebola and grew weak and dehydrated quickly. Each time an IV had to be restarted, she fought a little less. Eventually, we had to hold her down and shave half of her beautiful head of hair to place a scalp IV. While not a difficult or uncommon task when caring for babies, that moment carried with it a sense of defeat. Korto had to leave the room and the medical staff were visibly grieved by task required of them. Despite all, Josephine continued to deteriorate, her tiny little whimpers being heard less and less from the low risk side of the fence. After days expecting Josephine to pass away, her symptoms suddenly began to disappear. Josephine gradually regained her strength and is now completely symptom free. Her blood tests are almost negative, her cheeks have filled back out and she loves to be carried around by staff in full PPE. Though not official until her blood test is completely negative, she is the youngest survivor of Ebola to date.
Shortly after Josephine was moved to the confirmed unit, a woman named Rachel was admitted to the suspect unit. She is 32 weeks pregnant and has a two-year-old-child at home. Rachel’s blood test came back positive for Ebola. As Rachel entered the confirmed building for the first time, she nearly collapsed in anguish. She refused to go any further into the unit, so we lowered her to the ground. She remained there, crying. A few minutes later, Korto came out and walked right up to her. Korto gently spoke to Rachel- encouraging her and sharing her own experience as a mother in an Ebola unit. After a few minutes, Rachel stopped crying, stood up and walked arm and arm with Korto into the confirmed unit.
Rachel must deliver inside of an ETU. The majority of women miscarry shortly after contracting Ebola. Rachel is far enough along that there is hope her baby will survive a premature delivery- provided the baby doesn’t already have Ebola. Recently, there has been much less fetal movement and Rachel is keenly aware of the danger her little one is in. As a result, Rachel has been quiet and reserved. A few days ago, she became especially withdrawn. After speaking with her, we discovered that there was much more weighing on her heart than the thought of losing her unborn child. Rachel found out a few days ago that the woman taking care of her two-year-old son died of Ebola. Her two-year-old has been living in the village without care, going from house to house crying and begging for food. We are now working with the village chief and child protection agencies to locate him and find placement until Rachel can return home.
Sometimes, death is more merciful than life and God — in his infinite wisdom — grants a suffering person that request. Emmanuel cared for his wife, Mary, for three weeks and for his daughter, Felicia, until she died. Once he developed symptoms of Ebola, he left his wife and came to the ETU. His wife died a few days later. Emmanuel spent most of his time sitting quietly on his bed. A few days after finding out that his wife died, Emmanuel told us that he had a dream where he was sleeping next to his wife again. Emmanuel took that as a sign that he should die and began refusing all food and treatment. When medical staff would enter his room, he would turn his back to them. Not surprisingly, it was another patient that convinced Emmanuel to accept treatment. Tahwoo — now a survivor — told Emmanuel, “You have to fight, you have to get better and you have to tell your story”. Emmanuel began to accept treatment and food. Unfortunately, he died later that week. While I am sad that we lost another person to Ebola, a part of my heart is happy for him. He is at peace He is once again with his family and — with Tahwoo’s encouragement — he left this world fighting rather than in surrender.
I am sure that everyone is busy with last minute Christmas shopping, planning, and decorating. We just finished putting up Christmas trees in each one of our units. Though it has helped create some sense of Christmas, it’s a little strange to come face to face with a Christmas tree inside of an Ebola Treatment Unit in the middle of a tropical Liberian forest and while sweating profusely in full PPE. Those trees are constant reminder of the families and traditions we are missing, but they are also a constant reminder of the reason we are here in Africa. We have all come out of a desire to bring comfort and hope to those that have watched helplessly as their family and friends suffer. We have come to care for those that have been evicted from their homes and left to die on the streets. The world has forgotten the humanity of those behind the face of Ebola; we have come to return that humanity. We have come to return their dignity. Remaining at their side and continuing this fight is — by far — the best Christmas gift we have to offer to the people of West Africa.