I’ve just completed a 9 day course at the Royal Army Medical Training centre near York, accompanied by 35 volunteers from the NHS and another 25 Norwegian health workers. The NHS doctors, nurses and paramedics are getting ready to travel to Sierra Leone tomorrow for a 5 week secondment from their jobs, funded by the department for international development.
How did I get this far?
The UK response to Ebola is being run by UK-Media, an NGO based in Manchester. After registering my interest they interviewed me by phone and accepted me. I’m not sure how I talked them into it as I have no prior foreign working experience. They were asking about resilience, experience and expectation.
What followed was worry, about how Juliet would react, how our children, family and friends would react, how I was going to get freed from work, and would there be reimbursement?
The response has been overwhelming. Juliet is quietly calm and supportive, and would go herself if she was able, so that was the best start I could hope for. The children took a bit more adjustment but have been wonderful. Friends have been hugely generous, saying that if there is one person they know suited, it’s me. That explains why I am going, it’s about being compelled. None of the people I have come across at the course are courting praise. Many have spent months or even years of their lives working in the most difficult and dangerous places on earth, and come back for more.
The phrase from my working life that I keep coming back to is from my practice’s managing partner, Chris, “You have my total support”. He and the GP partners have been fantastic, even when I sat quietly whilst they rejigged the Christmas and
New Year rota. We will get reimbursed for locum sessions in my absence, but we all know it’s hard to find people able to fill in. My other job is as a commissioner at the NHS Sheffield CCG, being a clinical lead for acute care in the city. Ironically, it seems harder leaving behind the work there, as there is more reliance on me as an individual, but again the support has been unqualified . No doubt it would be hard to reject my request, however many others on the course had to push hard in their NHS trusts, and one had to leave the course as his trust changed their minds.
So those questions were answered and within 2 weeks, after all the goodbyes, I was sitting in a lecture theatre being told about the epidemic, about Ebola virus, and how to manage patients suffering from the infection whilst keeping safe. We’ve had talks on resilience from army “Padres” experienced in caring for the spiritual and emotional needs of soldiers, cultural awareness and an introduction to Krio, the language used by many in Sierra Leone at least in the west; it was strangely familiar to me having spent the first 5 years of my life in Trinidad. The reason is that the population of the Freetown area is derived from freed slaves and having just started listening to people talking, I can hear some of the words and intonation .

The other, crucial part of the training is about PPE, or personal protective equipment, about which I will probably bore any readers senseless. It’s how we put this on (“don”) and how we take it off (“doff”), and how we keep ourselves from becoming contaminated by body fluids, that will make all the difference between being a safe worker, and getting infected. What’s also important as I see it, prior to actually going to the ETC (Ebola treatment centre) is that by being confident about the safety makes us able to communicate more with patients who are severely ill and in pain, rather than being suited robots.

So we’ve now been through the media frenzy, about which you probably don’t need much information. I felt silly spending 10 mins being photographed, a picture attached to a so so article. I’d recommend the panorama documentary broadcast last Monday or Tuesday night 17th November . We flew yesterday evening and arrived this morning at 6 or so at the house we 11 Emergency workers will be sharing for the next 5 weeks. It’s hot and humid but we are comfortable with aircon in the bedrooms. Just getting acclimatised and will meet others working here tonight.

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