As many of you know, I recently went to the CDC’s Ebola Safety Training that was held at the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Aniston, AL. I was expecting a good experience, but it surpassed my expectations. The practice we received was excellent.
Part of our days were spent in lectures to fills us in on the most up-to-date information about Ebola in this outbreak. Some of this was humorous (we can’t have a whole conference and never laugh), some was sobering, and most was quite enlightening.
I wanted to share with you some of the better quotes from the conference.
“If you find a chimpanzee dead in the jungle, don’t eat it“
I can’t say I’ve ever been tempted to eat a chimpanzee even if it were already dead. But, if I were staring in the jungle and food was lying right there, I would be tempted. Unfortunately, Ebola kills chimpanzees just as well as it kills humans. Some of the outbreaks in the past have been started with a dead chimpanzee found in the jungle.
In fact, don’t even touch it.
“Your hands can kill you”
We touch our faces a lot. Ebola and most infectious illnesses need to come into your body through your mouth, nose, or eyes. The dirtiest part of your body, your hands, need to keep away from your face when working with Ebola.
This require a surprising amount of discipline. As I am typing this, I rubbed my right eye without thinking. It is such a constant part of our lives to touch our faces. When working with Ebola, this needs to stop.
This is most important in the Ebola Treatment Unit. With every surface as a possible place for Ebola to hide, we are not to adjust our goggles or fix our respirator. If we must fix something, we need to doff out of the unit to do it safely.
“Ebola is the Anti-Compassion Disease”
Everything we do that shows compassion or care for someone is forbidden by Ebola. We can’t hug them, care for them, feed them without taking a serious risk. All human contact is cut off by this ruthless menace.
Imagine for a moment that everyone who cared for you was wearing a giant orange suit. The only skin you can see if their eyes in the goggles. When I was practicing in the ETU, I couldn’t recognize my classmates. Ebola even denies you the compassionate looks of those caring for you.
The worst case of all for this was the very real case of when a pregnant woman comes into an ETU with Ebola. The outcome for her and her baby is not good. She will almost certainly spontaneously abort the baby and then she will almost certainly die.
So the question arose, how should we handle such a case? Compassion drives us to hold her hand through labor and help deliver the baby. Caution warns us that there are a LOT of body fluids involved in delivery and we would be under a tremendous risk of being exposed to Ebola. There are no easy answers.
Ebola is the anti-compassion disease.
“Your first responsibility is to keep yourself safe.”
As health care workers, we generally think of the patient first in priority. Not so with Ebola. Our safety take preeminence. If I should get Ebola, the first casualty will be the reputation of the Ebola unit in the community. Credibility is a precious thing in these settings. Many will wonder at us if we can’t keep ourselves safe.
The second casualty will be the negative press worldwide which will discourage others from going into these places to help. Additionally, the huge resources that will be needed to send us to our home country will further burden stretched resources.
The third casualty could be me. While no American health care staff have died of Ebola, it is a dangerous illness. I could die. I could spread it to others.
So, the most important thing is that I keep myself safe. My second priority is to keep my team safe. My third priority is to care for the patients.
“Ebola can be beaten”
While Ebola is a challenging disease, it is not the scariest disease humanity has faced. With several vaccines in the works and a number of possibly effective drug, this may be the first and last great Ebola outbreak. Those drug and vaccines are months to years away, but once we have them in our arsenal, we should have the upper hand.
Even without them, we can take on Ebola now. If the success of the ETUs in Liberia has taught us anything, it is that with a concerted effort, Ebola can be pushed back. We need to keep up those efforts.