Thanks to Lucie Lecomte for sending the link to this Buzzfeed article: A Miracle In Liberia's Biggest Maternity Ward, Despite Ebola Crisis. After describing how JFK Memorial Hospital was shut down, the story finds a more encouraging side:
So it was some small miracle when [Dr. Wvannie] MacDonald reopened the maternity wing in her hospital two weeks ago. But it isn’t business as usual. There’s not a nurse in the ward who isn’t wearing a hospital gown and a long apron. Most cover their hair with what looks like a surgeon’s version of a shower cap; everyone wears latex gloves, even the few who look like they’re just doing paperwork.
In the old days, all those layers would be alienating. “Now it’s a different type of care we give,” she said. “We want to care, but we have got to care in a different way… [by] caring for ourselves first.”
That also means triaging patients according to the relative risk they present — not the medical risk of their condition, but the infection risk of where they’re coming from. MacDonald and her team are fairly confident in the health of women who’ve been to JFK for checkups throughout their pregnancy. But strangers scare them.
“Anyone we don’t know? Red flag,” MacDonald said. “Anyone from a hot spot? Red flag.”
“Hot spots” are parts of Monrovia where Ebola cases are spiking. “Red flags” get attended by people in full PPE — masks, goggles, double gloves and all.
Last week, a woman no one in JFK had seen before could be found writhing on a gurney in the corner of an examination room. She was from a “hot spot” but needed a Caesarean section.
“That’s 12 people who are going to have to be in PPE,” MacDonald said. “Two surgeons. Two midwives. The anesthesiologist. The people who clean the bedding. The people who clean the equipment. The people who mop up the room after…”
PPE is cumbersome to get on and time-consuming to remove, and the suit isn’t reusable. They’re not cheap, either.
The World Health Organization, the United States, and China, among other donors, have sent PPE to the country. But the supplies are creeping along, and right now, MacDonald is outfitting her staff with personal donations from old friends who ship gear from the U.S. by DHL.
“It’s the fastest way to get it in the nurses’ hands,” she said. But it’s not foolproof, either: Last week, two boxes got stuck in customs because of confusion over whether MacDonald would have to personally pay an import tax on the goods.
Still, MacDonald and her staff are more than making do. On a recent Monday morning, nearly 40 women waited for regular prenatal checkups. In just the first week the ward reopened, 15 babies were born here, and gloved-and-garbed nurses seemed lighthearted, relieved to be back at work.
That didn’t surprise MacDonald.
“Newborn babies give you such joy,” she said. “You see life again.”