6th February 2015

Breaking News…

“An Australian died today in Sierra Leone.  The first Australian casualty of the Ebola crisis.  The nation is in shock and mourning alongside the family.  Sarah Newton, a doctor, was with the first batch of volunteers sent after the Australian Government finally relented to international pressure.  Despite Australia having the agreement with the UK government to evacuate any Australians, Sarah was too sick to be airlifted.  Instead she was treated in one of the purpose built clinics for volunteers.

Interviews with fellow medical staff said that Sarah had been confident that despite continued staff shortages and battling fatigue she had taken every safety precaution.  When she showed the first signs of a fever she assumed it was the result of something else, possibly malaria. Consequently she had not reported to sick until she had started vomiting.  While they gave her the best possible care and worked around the clock to save her, she passed away in the early hours of the morning.

Back in Australia, Sarah’s family refused to talk on camera, preferring mourn their daughter in private.  They describe Sarah as a hero, who has always put other people’s care before her own.  They are distraught at her loss and now due to restrictions regarding Ebola related deaths they will not be able to bring her body home for a family burial.  Sarah’s body will be cremated in a service with her colleagues in Sierra Leone.

A memorial will be held next Saturday at St Thomas’s, Church in Nth Sydney.”

As I watched the news cast I felt relief, guilt and empathy for Sarah’s family.  Grateful it wasn’t my friend.  As much as I tried, I could not contain my tears.

I was late for work this morning.

5th February 2015

I was over at Mum and Dad’s for dinner this evening.  There is nothing like home cooked food.  Fresh asparagus, meat cooked on the BBQ, and fresh fruit for dessert.  Yum!  While Dad got the BBQ ready I popped up to the chemist to get Dad’s script refilled.

I really do like Mum and Dad’s pharmacist, he knows his stuff and is a lovely man to boot.  He and his family have been here for years, he came over from Senegal to go to university.  I couldn’t stop for much of a chat, just enough to enquire about his daughter.  She had gone back to Senegal on her gap year to visit her grandmother.  Met a boy and fell in love.  She was now heavily pregnant and ‘stuck’ there until she had the baby.

She was good, though he was nervous about her and would much rather that she was here in Sydney with the rest of her family.

I had to wait while Carl filled the script and I noticed that there was a good stock of surgical gloves so grabbed a couple of boxes, one for Mum, the other for Grace.  I think though I’ll get Mum to hold on to Grace’s along with all the food I brought.

Oh, and in other news.  Richard asked me to go to Waitangi Day festivities with him on Saturday.

1st February 2015

After the swim, and while the kids were watching Frozen, over a few glasses of wine Juliet relayed some of her experience on the ward in Sierra Leone.  It was sobering.

“Each day brought new cases, people didn’t stop coming.  Men and women; young and old, wealthy and poor; black and white.  If you were breathing, you were at risk.  Everyday, became about ensuring you were protected.  It was the only thing keeping you from becoming infected, so you’d get paranoid.  We developed a ritual about putting on our PPE gear.  Put it on, check for gaps and holes, then check again.  Then get someone else to check for you.

All through out the day you would check for holes and bare skin.  It was like being in a sauna.

It was worse when they brought in small children, it made me think of Sophie and Daniel…

You could have two children come within a couple of days of each other, about the same age and progression of the virus.  You’d treat them in the exact same way with fluids, the high protein peanut paste and you’d still loose them.  And there was no telling which one might pull through.  Sometimes the ones you thought were sure to die, pulled through.  Others, who should have had a fighting chance, died.  It was heartbreaking.

And the smell.  Burning bodies, chlorine and death.  Nothing gets rid of it.  It permeates the very air you breathe.  It gets into your clothes, your hair and your skin.  I had to burn all my clothes before I left and when I finally got home I soaked in the bath for hours, I thought seriously about shaving my head.

In the end you just get numb.  Numb to all the death.  You turn into a robot just to get through the day.”

I would have believed her, except for the tears rolling silently down her face.

13th January 2015

I caught up with Juliet again this evening.  She sounded much better.  Rested.  There was still a sadness in her voice that was hard to ignore.  She is doing better than I would in her situation with 2.5 weeks left in isolation.  I think I would have gone slightly mad with nothing much to do except read, watch movies, or surf the internet.  And she has a family waiting for her.

For a while I didn’t really know what to talk about, so we talked for a long time about silly, everyday things like whether or not I had a boyfriend, the weather, the kids, work.  After a while our conversation drifted to Sierra Leone.  Not the horror of all the death, it was still too raw.  Too fresh. Instead we talked about the local health care workers.  Their courage in dealing with people from their communities.  Their unfailing support of victims.  Watching exhausted as everyday more people succumbed to the virus.  Juliet was impassioned about the disparity of treatment between international aid workers and them.

International aid workers are evacuated to Europe or the US.  Local health care workers are treated locally, sometimes in facilities purpose built by the US and the EU.  For a long time there was nothing.  And while lessons have been learnt and shared about the care of patients (electrolytes and intravenous hydration) the death rate of local workers is still higher.

It seemed to me, after reading the papers yesterday, that without the guarantee of evacuation, the flow of much needed international volunteers would stop.  Doctors and nurses would choose not to go.  I’m not sure that even if there was the option for the locals to be evacuated that they would take it.  In their shoes I would want to stay somewhere that I was familiar with, where by my family was close by.  So given the choice, I’m not sure I would want to be evacuated.

11th January 2015

First American Aid Worker Dies in Liberian Clinic.

That was the headline that greeted me this morning while I drank my morning cup of coffee.  It was the on the front page of every major Sydney newspaper.

“The aid worker had arrived in Liberia in late December to provide relief to those already on the ground.  It is not yet clear how he contracted the virus.”

That poor man.  I wonder what happens in situations like this with the body?  Does he have to be buried/cremated in Liberia?  Or can the body be shipped home?  His family must be distraught.

The article goes on to say, that “He was the third US healthcare worker to have been treated in the clinic.  He is the only US worker so far to have died.  Attempts were made to evacuate the worker but all dedicated aircraft were already deployed evacuating other patients.  Aid agencies are now reporting a wave of cancellations from US volunteers scheduled to depart for West Africa.  One volunteer in Liberia commented she now ‘just wants to get out of there.’”

Another doctor was more explicit.

“We doctors feel the pull. But each of us has reasons to stay back, reasons that get bigger as we age: children, partners, parents, grants.  The yellow medical armor may not suffice, even when donned on our shores in the best facilities.  And the possibility now exists of quarantine when we return — no “Welcome back, our hero” signs at the airport, but straight to house arrest.  Employers are gently pointing out that if we choose to volunteer, that is admirable, but we’re effectively on our own, not covered by our health insurance.  If we fall sick in Africa, there is no guarantee of being evacuated, no promise that even our bodies would be flown back.  I fear that volunteers who get any fever out there will be quarantined with others who might be infected, waiting on the test.  And if it is Ebola, they will be moved to the infected tent — no I.C.U., just confinement.  From there, who knows.” New York Times

It must be such a tough decision for people.  To want to go to the aid of all those in need and yet have uncertainty about what will happen to you should you fall ill.  I’m glad that’s not a choice I have to make.

9th January 2015

There are not enough beds or aid workers.

That was the startling conclusion I came to today when I was doing my research.  There are just not enough – doctors, nurses, volunteer aid workers or beds.

Even with the 17 new centres across Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, each with 100 beds, with 8,000 new confirmed cases each week (plus the estimated 12,000 unreported), the clinics will be over-run with infected people.  People will be dying without care, without treatment.

The poor medical staff and aid workers must be exhausted.  Emotionally, physically, mentally.  I’m so pleased that Juliet will be home in a couple of days.  She’s been gone since the Australian Government relinquished and allowed our doctors and nurses to go to Sierra Leone.  She’s been over there nearly a month now and I’m so worried about her.  I’ve only had a couple of texts from her, which is unlike her.  I hope she is being careful.

I’ve talked to Justin a few times and he says Juliet’s hanging in there but she’s run down, fatigued both mentally and physically.  The medical staff work long shifts, catching a few hours of fitful sleep between rotations.  Justin is looking pretty haggard, I can’t imagine how tough this is on him with her away not really knowing how she is doing and having to keep up appearances for the kids.

I know this sounds terrible, but I am glad I’m not there.