Via Metro, Helen Branswell of The Canadian Press writes: Holding onto humanity in the Ebola zone. Excerpt:
Finding a livable balance between despair and hope can be a daily, even hourly struggle for health-care workers in West African’s Ebola crisis. In a world where death is ever present, health workers may see more lives end in a week than most humans would see in a lifetime.
Caring for patients requires health-care workers to make a connection with the people who fill the rudimentary compounds that are Ebola treatment centres. But making connections in the Ebola zone is an emotionally perilous business, some who have worked on the outbreak admit. Seven out of 10 people infected in this outbreak die from the disease, the World Health Organization estimates.
Watching patient after patient after patient succumbs taxes one’s coping skills, acknowledges Ane Bjoru Fjeldsaeter, 31, a psychologist from Trondheim, Norway who recently returned from a month in West Africa.
“A good friend of mine, one of the nurses … he said that the hardest thing about this mission isn’t seeing all the suffering. It’s how hard you have to work with yourself to stay human,” says Fjeldsaeter, who was in Liberia — the worst hit country — with the medical response group Medecins Sans Frontieres.
“Because the easiest thing, actually, is detaching. It’s caring a little less every day, because you’re just so overwhelmed.”
Fjeldsaeter is one of a number of psychologists and psychiatrists that MSF — also known as Doctors Without Borders — has sent out with its Ebola response teams.
They head teams of local staff who work with infected patients and their anxious or grieving families. They also tend to the mental health needs of the staff of the treatment units and the burial teams responsible for the grinding but critical job of safely disposing of the corpses of those who lose the battle with Ebola.
Nyassa Navidzadeh, a Montreal-based psychiatrist, says the work involves helping people to understand that the stress they are feeling and the way it may manifest itself — through nightmares or flashbacks, for instance — is a normal reaction to an utterly surreal reality.
“You’re feeling these things because these are not normal situations. These are not normal things that you’re seeing every day at work,” she tells them.
Navidzadeh spent a month in late summer working at an MSF treatment centre at in Liberia, at Foya, near the border with Sierra Leone. She is planning to go back to the Ebola zone in December.
She says she understands the tension Fjeldsaeter describes: How do you continue to care when caring hurts so much? But if you stop caring, what then?