Georgie will be on the BBC World service this evening at 7:30 talking about her role and IMC’s work with pyscho-social support in Sierra Leone.
She was interviewed for a programme called ‘Health Check’ and I’ll post a link from the iplayer as soon as it’s up.
From talking to her this week it sounds like there may be cause for cautious optimism. Although the crisis is far from over the rate of new infections finally seems to be falling. There are new hotspots and new tragedies every day and it is far too soon to begin celebrating, but there is hope that things are moving in the right direction.
The job is still fraught with challenges. Now the two treatment centres in Port Loko and Makeni are up and running, Georgie and her colleagues are dealing much more directly with the brutal realities of this disease. Her posting before Christmas was focussed on training and preparation, but her daily work now involves working with survivors, communities and bereaved families. Death is a daily occurrence but there are still brighter moments. Georgie wrote to me about one of her favourite traditions at the treatment centre – the “happy shower”.
“Georgiana! The clothes for the Happy Shower – where are they?”
That’s a question I am always delighted to be able to answer.
On the morning of a patient’s discharge a feeling of happiness runs throughout the centre. We usually discharge patients at around 10am, so shortly before that time nurses, doctors, WASH team, kitchen staff and cleaners all gather outside the door to the happy shower.
The happy shower is the last shower that the survivors will take in the Ebola Treatment centre we run in Lunsar. It marks the end of a long and difficult process for our patients, and the moment that they can rejoin their communities and begin to rebuild their lives. It’s a rare moment of joy in the daily business of the centre.
The psychosocial team bring the music and the drums.
Inevitably there are delays.
It might be because the medical team are still struggling into their PPE, or it may be that the patient needs a meal before they leave, or it might be a delay whilst we try to locate a vehicle. Sometimes we are waiting for a community chief – or in the best cases we are waiting for the patient’s family to come and meet them.
But somehow the delay only builds the happy tension and means that the celebration will last longer.
As soon as the different teams begin to gather outside the safe side of the happy shower some one will start banging the drum. Everyone knows what this means so any staff that are able to will come and join the gathering.
Next, the medical team are spotted walking into the ward to show the patient what needs to be done.
Then the patient will appear, surrounded by the staff in full PPE and a first spontaneous cheer will rise up from the assembled crowd.
The PPE’d staff walk with the patient into a small shower room where they shower first with 0.05% chlorine, and then a second tap is turned and they can bathe in fresh water with a bar of soap lovingly provided by my pscyhosocial team.
You can only imagine how it must feel to take that final shower in the Ebola centre. To stand there with the fresh water running and to know that, unlike so many other poor victims, you will be walking out alive. How it must feel to wash the centre from your skin and to look ahead to what lies beyond. Finally there is a knock on the door and the cry of “Where are the Happy shower clothes?” rings out – and we are there to send in the fresh clean cothes.
The drums are now sounding louder as the lock on the door begins to open and then –
There is the patient: clean, fresh and Ebola free – and on the low risk side of the fence for the first time.
The shouts rise up and the drums beat harder, the singing and dancing starts and everyone is moving – the patient included!
The happy shower and any discharge is the best part of the job – when you see a patient in the flesh without a fence or a 6 foot gap between you and them you see them for the first time.
You also see the personalities of the staff and the relief they feel with every ‘win’ we get.
It is easy to see patients just as victims and the staff as blobs in PPE who just have to keep going while they see death after death – but for every happy shower when personalities and relief come singing out of us, it makes it all worth while.
Don’t forget to listen out for Georgie on the World Service tonight!
Update: Here’s the link to the show – I think she came across really well, but I may be biased….