An Update from the Front Lines of the Ebola Outbreak

11/06/14

Kelly Melton is a Children of the Nations sponsor who has traveled to Sierra Leone several times. She is currently in Freetown with a medical aid organization, helping to set up Ebola treatment clinics. She has graciously agreed to share her trip journal, to give you a firsthand view of how the Ebola outbreak is affecting Sierra Leone. Below is an update from Kelly, on her arrival and first few days in Freetown.

 
                                                   Kelly on a COTN Venture Trip to Sierra Leone in 2012.
 
October 26
I didn't sleep the night before my trip, as there were too many last minute preparations that needed to be done. I was in a bit of a fog when I reached the airport, so I pretty much slept the majority of my first two flights. Things began to sink in when we landed in Conakry, Guinea, and the flight attendants donned masks and gloves before we took on more passengers. The man who sat next to me was an MSF employee who was going home after only three weeks because of post-traumatic stress disorder. 
 
The sights, sounds, and smells that hit me when I stepped off the plane in Freetown were familiar and a part of me felt like I was “home.” As I waited in line to wash my hands in chlorine before entering the airport, I was once again snapped back to the reality that things here are very different. 
 
The health check wasn't much of a check at all. A form with a list of symptoms is handed to you along with a pamphlet on how Ebola is transmitted. You check “no” next to the symptoms, sign the form, then hand it to a man taking your temperature. I'm not sure they even looked at the form.
 
There is definitely a tension in the air, and fewer people are moving around the city. People are touching elbows rather than shaking hands to greet each other. Restaurants are open, but you must wash your hands in chlorine at the door and have your temperature checked before entering. The healthcare system has collapsed. Clinics have closed because they are scared of having to take an Ebola patient. This is concerning because now the most basic medical needs, that are not related to Ebola, are not being met.
 
A makeshift sign at the Murray Town health center in Freetown reads: Ebola is real and in Sierra Leone. If someone you know is Sick with Fever, Diarrhoea, or Vomitting call for help from healthcare workers. Do not keep a sick person at home. It could be Ebola. For more information call 117 (toll free).
 
October 29
I'm doing well, and feeling healthy. Yes, there are those all too familiar frustrations of feeling like things are moving too slowly, or that I'm not doing enough. They come with the territory and I'm used to those popping up during a deployment. It certainly tests my patience.
 
I'm working with a local clinic that is the only one still operating and seeing non-Ebola patients in the area. I have taken the lead on getting them a holding/isolation unit for suspected Ebola cases to separate them from the rest of the clinic. As things stand right now, if any suspected cases arrive at the clinic, they are sent away, back out into the community, with instructions to go to a treatment unit. It's questionable if they actually do go to a treatment unit.
 
Things feel safer than you might imagine. As horrific as things are for the community, especially the healthcare workers, I feel relatively safe. I'm definitely working in more of an administrative and advisory role and not doing any clinical work. I've attended more meetings with the “higher-ups” of the command center than anything else up to this point. The closest I've been to an Ebola patient is when they drive by in an ambulance. I've kept myself out of any “red zones.”
 
Uninterrupted sleep would be an amazing gift right now. The persistent heat and chorus of stray dogs every night seem to rob me of that pleasure regularly. A million thoughts run through my head a day, but I find myself too exhausted by the end to have the energy to write them down.
 
As with every deployment, I'll process things after the fact when I look back and reflect on what has transpired. I am sure I'll have plenty of time in quarantine to do that.