Thursday, January 29, 2015

Reflections from Rick's first week in Liberia

I’ve been here 10 days now, and spent last weekend on call at ELWA Hospital, the 55 bed facility that SIM runs just outside Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city.  The news here is good – the Ebola epidemic really seems to be coming to an end.  But in the healthcare setting in particular, its effects will be felt for many months to come.  

Many outward changes have been made at ELWA due to the Ebola crisis.  All patients, staff and visitors now enter the hospital compound through a single gate where people must wash their hands with bleach and have their temperature checked before entry.  Bleach is everywhere throughout the hospital.  Staff members with sprayers wash down the floors multiple times per day and are on hand after surgeries or other exposures to blood or body fluids to decontaminate staff before “doffing” their gowns and gloves. Temporary buildings have been erected to house our outpatient clinic because our old clinic became part of the Ebola Treatment Unit, ELWA-2. But for the most part, ELWA Hospital is up and running, and most beds are full.  

The new screening entrance to the hospital.
For me personally the first week was about confronting the reality of death.  Many patients die in the hospital—this should not be a surprise, right?  But emotionally it is a challenge to face mortality so frequently. 

We counseled several patients about their metastatic cancer this week, presenting them with the hard information that the cancer had progressed beyond a stage where anything could be done from the medical point of view. We talk with these patients privately, off the busy ward; then, along with the hospital’s chaplain, we pray for them if they wish. The comfort and compassion we offer, along with an honest explanation in plain language, are important hallmarks of the work we do. 

To read about Rick's other patients over the weekend, please go to
Doctor's notes: American Ebola survivor back in Africa, dealing with loss

1 comment:

Steve Pennings said...

Losing patients has to take a huge emotional toll on a doctor. I wish I'd asked my father how it affected him.