Via The Globe and Mail, Stephen Douglas writes the best single piece of reportage I've seen from the Ebola hot zones: Courage, death and survival: On the front lines of the Ebola outbreak. Excerpt (but read the whole long article):
The man everyone calls “Shawarma” looks tired and weak sitting in his rickety wheelchair. I’m immediately worried as I enter the Ebola Treatment Center at the Kenema Government Hospital. Shawarma, in his early 30s, is an Egyptian national who was transported to the center from eastern Freetown after being discovered in a private “mushroom” health clinic – one that popped up outside the network of licensed clinics. He tested positive and spent two months in isolation.
Shawarma’s hair is uncombed and he hasn’t shaved, for risk of nicking himself, in two months. Beside Shawarma is Mustapha, a very lean looking man in a tight blue T-shirt. He too was in isolation for the past six weeks. Mariama wears a head tie and looks dazed and confused. Fatmata, standing off to the side, is young but her gaunt cheeks and hollowed eyes tell a different story.
Today these four are being discharged from the Ebola Treatment Centre. They have survived the virus and can now return to their homes.
Two days earlier two nurses passed away in the same clinic, Josephine, the hospital matron, tells me. My friend, Hawa Rebecca, was one. When I tell Josephine that Rebecca was a friend of mine, we exchange condolences and Josephine tells me what a fine nurse and friend Rebecca was to her. More than 20 nurses and healthcare workers including Sierra Leone’s top virologist who was leading the Ebola effort, the Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, have died from contact with the Ebola virus.
Josephine moves from the sadness of death to the joy of discharge very quickly as she introduces me to the survivors. “We have very bad days here and today we’re celebrating a good day,” she says as she gathers the nurses and doctors around her.
We’re standing in the entrance way to the clinic, behind the white plastic walls that separate the triage area and the isolation unit, and as we talk more and more people in scrubs and gloves join the group. We all stand apart and no one touches anyone.
Josephine makes a compelling speech full of motivation and praise for “the team” and wishes the four survivors well. “You are well now but you still need to heal,” she says, and the staff applaud.
But I’m struck by the thought that these survivors have to go home, continue to get well, deal with the negative stigma of being an Ebola patient and also mourn the loss of members of their families who didn’t survive.
There’s a short lull in the proceedings as nurses adjust their goggles and wander back to their stations and doctors turn to each other to discuss specific patients. I’m pulling at my plastic hood and trying to get some air down the front of my slippery overalls. It’s hot standing under the sun and it’s very hot under my plastic coverings. My feet ache in the rubber boots that are two sizes too small. My shirt, under the gown, is soaked in sweat and my goggles have fogged up. I’m thankful for an auto-focus lens on my camera.
Following the brief ceremony and posing for pictures, each survivor is called into the office to receive a small allowance of 60,000 Leones (approximately $13 U.S.) and a letter stating they are now healthy. The letter, on A4 paper, is signed by a doctor. It carries an official hospital stamp and has the date in the top right-hand corner.
Two of the former patients have to ink their thumbs and provide a thumbprint in a large ledger to acknowledge receipt of the money because they can’t read. I’m not sure what they’ll do with their letters.