Fighting Fear, Fatigue on the Front Lines of Ebola
'Just Like Battle' continued...
“They’re wearing the protective gear, but most people have never worn it before.”
And the working conditions are unpredictable.
“You can’t control when someone is going to vomit on you. You can’t control working a 90-hour week,” he says.
It’s this “perfect storm” of conditions, Fair says, that’s made the outbreak so hazardous for health care workers.
In Sierra Leone, the disease has claimed 50 hospital workers, or roughly 11% of the confirmed cases in that country. In Liberia, 15% of those who've died from the virus were doctors or nurses who caught the infection on the job, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The CDC says we may never know how the two American aid workers became infected.
“For every facility caring for people in that area, there needs to be meticulous infection control to protect not just the health care workers, but also patients’ families, other patients,” CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a press briefing last week. “Hospitals become amplification points if there isn't meticulous infection control.”
Fair agrees, but he points out that infection control practices are only as good as a person’s ability to stick to them. And things can slip when people are tired.
He knows this all too well. In recent weeks, he’s lost two close personal friends, a nurse and a doctor, to the unforgiving virus. They were infectious disease veterans, having cared for sick patients through an outbreak of Lassa fever, a close cousin of Ebola.
“They had experience,” he says, but this time they were dealing with “10 to 20 times more patients than we’ve ever had before.”
For a time, Fair, an expert in Ebola diagnostics, was even testing his own blood for the virus.
When he arrived in Kenema, he gave a hug and a kiss to Mbalu Sankoh, the chief nurse at the hospital. He describes her as a mother figure to him.
Two days later, she developed a fever. Eight days later she was dead.
“I’m trying to stay emotionally objective,” he says. “But it’s never happened before with close personal friends.”