Leading up to Liberia

I’m sitting here in our walled house in Monrovia, waiting for the training to begin on Monday. So, let me take the time here to describe how I managed to get where I am.

Growing up, I remember my mother reading The Hot Zone by Richard Preston, and discussing the outbreak in Uganda in 2003. As my life progressed towards medicine in high school and into the Military as a medic, Ebola was always joked about as the ultimate bad guy – the bogyman of diseases. It’s ranking near The Black Death of the middle ages and the worst Small Pox outbreak.

A few photos and videos were shown of bodies being dragged out of village huts, and lab workers with air hoses working in plastic suits. This was what was in my head thinking about Ebola. A fearful disease in isolated Villages in the peoples Republic of Congo, Uganda, or other countries far away. I remember doing my power point presentation in Advanced Health about Ebola, and having people in class cringe as I clicked through it, describing its effects.

Ebola itself is something to be feared. The disease has various strains ranging in lethality from the non-lethal (to humans) strain, Ebola Reston, to Ebola Zaire with an estimated 90% fatality rate. The virus itself is a single stranded piece of RNA. It has a distinctive hook shape to it under an electron microscope. It infects those through blood, and other bodily fluids. However, it is not an airborne virus.

If your loved one dies from Ebola and some of their fluid infects you, you won’t notice symptoms for up to 21 days. The classical symptoms are flu-like; fever, joint pain, maybe a sore throat. These quickly progress to vomiting, diarrhea, and severe fluid loss before ultimately, death.

However, what shouldn’t be feared is an outbreak in the United States. Liberia has been a nation that was devastated by 14 years of civil war. It’s infrastructure is poor. There are more Doctors in most US countries than were in the nation of Liberia pre-outbreak. With proper supportive care, the chances of surviving are markedly higher. Supportive care that is plentiful in the United States, but sparse in Liberia.

I was watching the Rachael Maddow show, and they had a guest come in who spoke about the outbreak. How poor the situation was becoming over here. He mentioned to go to http://www.usaid.gov/ebola to help if you can.

So, that’s what I ended up doing. I walked in the other room of my home in my small town of Elkhart Indiana – with a pool and fenced in yard and all the amenities of the western world – to sign up to head over to a developing nation stricken by the disease that I’ve known about my whole life as a terrible thing.

Why do this?

Well, I never deployed when I was in the Military. I supported some troops who were getting ready to deploy over seas. It’s not that I didn’t try to volunteer (They only wanted female medics at the time), it just never came through. I did manage to do a single stateside mission in Gary, Indiana where I helped with disaster and flood relief. It was a really fulfilling and rewarding experience. It wasn’t sitting around at the armory moving boxes, or going to the range to shoot. We were actually helping people and that felt very rewarding.

So when Heart to Heart International made the call to me this last Saturday, I jumped at the opportunity. Here was my chance to do that again. A couple years had passed and I had gone from an EMT-B to an LPN. I could actually assist in care of patients who were sick.

I accepted the position and was told that I would leave by Thursday. I would have four days in order to get my life around before Jumping across the ocean. Then, they called again on Tuesday and asked if I could leave on Wednesday.

Monday, November 3rd was spent quickly hurrying from place to place trying to get Yellow Fever shots, Anti-Malaria pills and everything I needed for a Visa application. I was running from 8am to 5pm, when I finally dropped my application into the tiny Fed-Ex packet to be sent to the Liberian Embassy. Heart to Heart was amazing in how they handled all of this, every question I had – they answered. Hell, they managed to answer questions I hadn’t thought to ask yet.

Tuesday, November 4th was all packing and press interviews. Heart to Heart had put out a press release that I was leaving and from 10am till 5pm I was getting phone calls to do interviews. I think I did four TV and two newspapers. Like the article and Rachael Maddow show and news articles had inspired me to go, maybe someone would watch these and do the same. Judging from the comments on Facebook, the results were mixed.

Friends and family were scared, shocked, surprised and various other adjectives that star with the letter S. For the most part, they were understanding. As long as I’m careful and take care of myself, I will be safe.

Wednesday, November 5th,

D day. Departure from the United States. Goodbye to the western world that I had known my whole life, and onto another continent. We left at 5:30 AM for a 9:20 flight to DC, then a connecting flight to Dakar.

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