Words of witness

Today’s training ran us through some very specific medical algorithms about treating patients infected with Ebola.

And, then, in the afternoon, we heard from a panel of 6 survivors of EVD (Ebola virus disease). It triggered, for me, memories of the panels of AIDS patients who spoke to us in medical school, and who we bring in every year to talk to our current medical students. In fact, the Ugandan facilitator of the discussion began the session by talking about the stigma that previously faced those infected with HIV/AIDS, and that now looms over anyone who has been so fortunate as to survive EVD (don’t you love all these acronyms we use?).

“The day I was given the news that my Ebola test was positive was the worst day of my life, and the day that I found out that my test was negative was the best day of my life.”

“It is by God’s grace that I am alive.”

But for one gentleman, the day that he found out that his convalescent Ebola test was negative was both the best day of his life, and also the worst day of his life, because that very same day, he learned that his wife died.  The stories were heart-wrenching, and the descriptions that they gave of their experience of being in the Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) in the peak of the epidemic, when staffing was poor, fear was so high, knowledge was low, and the conditions were hellish (one man described dead bodies left lying on the floor for up to four days).  And, as in the days of HIV/AIDS, the stigma for the survivors is an every day battle now.

They also described lingering symptoms – joint pain, weakness, vision loss – which is now being described in the survivors, termed post-Ebola syndrome.  The devastating effects of this virus will haVe repercussions in these three countries for a long time to come.

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