“Death is always difficult,” said Elizabeth Stevens, a nurse from Freetown, Sierra Leone.
At her new job, Stevens is forced to confront this stark reality every day, and in a way that she never has before.
“The first day, when I entered the [medical] ward, I was frightened,” said Stevens. “But now it’s getting better.”
It’s been just a week since a new Ebola treatment unit (ETU) opened on December 1 in the town of Lunsar in Sierra Leone’s Port Loko district—an area with one of the highest rates of Ebola in the country. On its first day of operation, four patients were admitted to the facility being run by International Medical Corps (IMC) with USAID support. USAID provided more than $5 million for the staffing and management of the 50-bed ETU.
According to the ETU’s medical director, some of the facility’s 150 staff members were nervous to start caring for Ebola patients in spite of all the training they received. But by day three, things started coming together.
“For the first two days, you could see people’s anxiety…more of the fear of it being real,” said IMC medical director Vanessa Wolfman. “But we have a great psychosocial team to talk to staff about their fears. Now we’re getting into a routine. Everyone’s much more comfortable and can rely on each other.”
This reliance and teamwork is evident even before the first patient is seen. On one end of the medical complex, there’s a small group of people around emergency room nurse Lisa Woods, helping her get into the protective suit, gloves, apron, boots, and goggles that will keep her safe while treating Ebola patients.
“You don’t have any touch with the patients,” said Woods, her voice slightly muffled from the mask covering half her face; giant red goggles cover the other half. “I think that’s the hardest part, not being able to connect with my patients in a human way. Like right now there’s a 14-year-old in there, and boy, that’s hard.”
On the other end of the treatment complex, groups of men and women are washing hundreds of articles of clothing, boots, goggles, and gloves by hand. Right next to them, several people are hooking up a washing machine that was recently delivered—just in time to speed up the laundering process before more patients arrive and the ETU gets busier.
“We are really sympathetic with the patients,” said Idrissa Kamara, a nurse at the ETU. “These people are our people. So we take great care of them because we don’t want to see them missing.”
Just then, the medical director announces that another ambulance is on its way with a confirmed Ebola patient. Idrissa and the other nurses walk out of the staff rest area, to suit up and take care of another one of their own.
A look into the hot zone: This is one of the few places where water and food could be passed from the safe zone to the patient areas. Orange fencing indicates the areas where staff must be wearing protective clothing. / Carol Han, USAID
An ambulance brings a patient to the newly opened Ebola treatment unit (ETU) in Sierra Leone’s Port Loko district, one of the areas hardest hit by the epidemic. / Carol Han, USAID
USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance provided $5 million dollars to staff and manage the ETU. USAID partner International Medical Corps (IMC) is running the facility. / Carol Han, USAID
Lisa Woods is an emergency room nurse from San Francisco who came to Sierra Leone to work at the USAID-supported ETU. “To give to somebody, what greater gift is that?” said Woods. Photo credit: / Carol Han, USAID
Most of the 150 people working at the ETU are Sierra Leonean. “All of us are working in unity,” said nurse Elizabeth Stevens (far left). / Carol Han, USAID
Hundreds of articles of clothing, goggles, boots, and gloves are washed every single day by hand. A newly installed washing machine will speed up the laundering process. / Carol Han, USAID
Dream Team: A group of nurses suit up to go into the patient ward during their six-hour shift. It takes teamwork not only to work with patients, but to get dressed for duty. “It’s really been a great experience,” said Lisa Woods (right). / Carol Han, USAID
“These people are our people,” said Idrissa Kamara, a nurse at the ETU. “So we take great care of them because we don’t want to see them missing.” / Carol Han, USAID