Daily deaths, local heroes, physical challenges and happy tears… here’s a week in the life of Tracy Zordan, an Australian working in the heart of Sierra Leone’s Ebola epidemic.
Monday: Three local staff members have been diagnosed with malaria. It makes me angry they have to deal with so many heath issues. Isn’t Ebola enough?
The team here constantly amazes me with the compassion they show to the patients. Many have no medical background; they are simply people who want to help and have been trained on the procedures to do so. And as a registered nurse with 15 years’ experience, I can honestly say they give some of the most kind and considerate care I have ever witnessed.
Tuesday: The heat in my personal protective suit is intense. It feels like a sauna and I can wear it one hour before it becomes so hot that it’s dangerous. I come out drenched in sweat, needing to change my hospital clothes every time I enter.
We buried five people today including a two-year-old child who’d been in the centre for a few weeks. We buried his mother a week ago and his older brother is still inside fighting for his life. He used to smile but now he just sits quietly. I’m sure he’s wondering why the people in the white suits keep taking his family away. He’s only four.
Wednesday: I chatted with Toby from the infection prevention and control team. He told me he was a primary school teacher but all the schools and universities have been shut down due to the outbreak. I asked him why he is working at the centre, and he replied he lost some of the children in his class to Ebola. He says it’s his job to protect them as a teacher and now he needs to work here to stop this virus from spreading further. He thanked me for risking my life and leaving my family to come here and fight alongside him, but of course I would. No country should fight this alone.
Thursday: “Tracy, the water isn’t working in the red pipe!” is the shout I hear as I enter the Ebola treatment centre. The centre can’t function without a water supply. We use 25,000 litres per day not including drinking water. Everything’s disinfected with chlorine of varying strengths. “No worries, I’ll follow it up,” I reply, and head off to see what the issue is. For a nurse, I’ve really learnt a lot about water, plumbing and chlorination treatments. We use so much chlorine I smell like a swimming pool, day and night.
Friday: It’s a great day. Five children between the ages of two and six were discharged. They’d been at the centre for almost five weeks. They came in with mothers, brothers and sisters. Sadly all have lost their mothers. Most have lost their brothers and sisters. We thought they were orphaned until our Red Cross colleagues found some relatives. Four of them have fathers who are alive and well, and one will be staying with her aunty and uncle. There were lots of happy tears when the fathers found out their children were alive and on their way home. I’ll miss doing the hokey pokey dance with them every morning.
Saturday: Too many deaths today and we struggled for space in the morgue. It’s the first time I have cried since I arrived.
Sunday: “Congratulations! Your blood test is now negative for Ebola. You can go home today!” This verdict is always followed with clapping, singing, smiles and laughter as patients realise they’ve beaten the odds. We give them a ‘happy shower’ – a low-strength chlorine solution followed by a fresh water shower – as a final decontamination process. There’s more cheering and clapping as we release two sisters from the centre. The younger sister was close to death several times; we could hear the older sister telling her that she had to drink, to stay strong and that they were going to be leaving together. It makes me so happy to know she was right.
Visit redcross.org.au to join the fight against Ebola.