Searching and hoping for comfort

A doctor with MSF, Gabriel Fitzpatrick, gives a heartrending account of working at the center of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.

In the suspected cases ward I saw a small child getting his nappy changed by a nurse who was wearing a full body plastic protective suit.

The child was clinging on to the nurse, searching and hoping for comfort in a place which does not allow direct skin-to-skin contact. As a father myself, this image stuck in my mind.

On the same evening, a mother and her two children were admitted to the hospital with confirmed Ebola. Within days the mother and eldest child had passed away.

It is startling how quickly this virus can kill patients. The remaining child is still receiving supportive care but his chances are not good.

There are a few rules in the Ebola treatment centre that are sometimes difficult to remember and go against our natural instincts.

Firstly, shaking hands with anybody is forbidden, and you must keep a certain distance away from people at all times. This can feel isolating.

Especially, no doubt, for the patients. The child trying to cling to the plastic-covered nurse is just…crushing.

So let’s include some better news.

There are happier stories – some of those who catch Ebola survive. For some unknown reason their bodies beat the virus.

More than 300 patients have been admitted to MSF isolation centres in Sierra Leone. To date about 50 have recovered and returned home.

Every few days, patients who have survived are discharged from the hospital. This is a big occasion and is celebrated both by those who have recovered and by hospital staff.

Certificates are presented to these patients during a ceremony with somebody invariably performing a dance. West African music is supplied via a mobile phone.

It didn’t work; the clinging child is still in the foreground.



  1. johnthedrunkard says

    Do the survivors come away with any immunity? Or are they returning to the same odds they faced before?

  2. quixote says

    I was thinking about Ophelia saying the “better news” didn’t work. Me too. That’s why we’re not able to do what Gabriel does. Some people’s ability to keep calm and carry on is mindboggling.

    About immunity. I had the same question. Deep in a medical article, I read that filoviruses — Ebola is a filovirus — don’t naturally result in immunity. Horrible.

    On the other hand, blood serum from recent survivors does seem to confer some passive immunity. So if they can figure out how to use that on a large scale, that would help.

  3. Trebuchet says

    The two Americans victims who were flown to Emory University have recovered and been released to their families. I saw quite a moving press conference this morning , although Dr. Brantly’s religiousness was a bit off-putting. You can expect outrage from the usual right-wing nutjobs claiming their release is an Obama plot to spread Ebola in the US any minute now.

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