Thursday 21 August 2014

The Dreaded 'E' Word

Since I returned to Sierra Leone almost three weeks ago nearly every conversation turns to the 'E' word at some point.......of course I'm talking about Ebola - something that I don't think I'd even heard of a year ago, but which now is constantly in the back of my mind.
People mention it like it's a rude word....with a little chuckle almost as though they feel silly for taking it so seriously. There are chlorine hand washes at the entrance to most businesses, and shaking hands is a big no-no. Some people touch elbows as a way of greeting or bang fists, but most people just nod or raise a hand in greeting. Worryingly people don't see me as a threat - because I'm a westerner most people presume that I'm 'safe'.
There are many rumours flying around - one morning I was woken by a phone call at 4am and told I had to wash in hot salt water and pray to ward off ebola, the message spread like wildfire and most people complied. A Nigerian Pastor is sending over 4,000 vials of his special 'holy water' which will keep everyone safe - I wish he'd send 4,000 bottles of hand sanitiser instead.
It seems that every other day a new rule is imposed: no football, no public gatherings, cinema halls closed, clubs closed, Okada's not permitted from 7pm to 7am, banking hours restricted, local markets to close at 6pm.
Today for the first time I saw people dressed in PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) - an ambulance  passed me as I headed out of town and the occupants were wearing protective clothing. That made it all just a little bit more real. I heard later that there was a suspected case at the ferry terminal today so perhaps that's where they were going.
I woke up with a headache the other morning and straight away checked if I had a fever - I think I'll go into full panic mode if I get an upset tummy! I got a bit of heat rash and my first thought was....oh-oh, a rash is one of the symptoms.
Many private clinics have closed down now and this week the Ola During Children's Hospital was closed - all patients were sent home, even those that were critically ill. Pharmacies are no longer allowed to offer any treatment to customers. People are scared to go to the hospitals that are still open for fear of catching the virus. The danger is that many people will lose their lives through treatable illnesses either because they are too scared to get treatment or because there is nowhere to go to get treated.
There has been much in the press about an armed group attacking an ebola centre in Liberia. Although it is very tense in the city, so far thank God, it has been peaceful here in Freetown and I pray with all I have that it stays that way.

Waterloo Hospital
Dr Koroma at Waterloo told me about a patient who was admitted with vomiting and diarrhoea - he called all staff into an emergency meeting and went over the dos and don'ts for the umpteenth time on how to deal with the patient. It turned out to be a case of food poisoning, but it certainly put the wind up the staff. The next day the staff told the doctor they thought they should close the hospital - fortunately he was able to convince them to carry on working.
The hospital have prepared an isolation room in case of suspected Ebola patients - if they do get any Ebola patients then anything that goes into that room will have to be destroyed: medical equipment, bedding, BP machines, clothes etc etc. The only thing that will come out are the people.....hopefully.
I received a big donation from friends at Holy Trinity Calgary today which I took straight to the Doctor Koroma to allow them to continue with their preparations in case of Ebola patients. This donation, along with the one I took to the hospital a couple of weeks ago from friends in the UK,  means they are able to properly prepare for Ebola, if it weren't for the donations the hospital has received they would still be trying to cope without even gloves. Thank you doesn't seem enough.....but THANK YOU so much to everyone who has sent donations for the hospital.
Because of the Ebola threat patients are staying away from the hospital - when I visited today only 6 were admitted. No patients means no money for wages and Dr Koroma is very worried about how they will manage to pay the wages this month.

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