Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Hot Zone

Dear Family and Friends,

I send this note with love and thankfulness for you. I appreciate you taking the time to read my updates and write correspondence in return. It is always great to read notes from home.

I understand and appreciate your concern for the work I am doing here, in Bundibugyo, Uganda. It is not a ‘safe’ place, but neither is Baltimore, MD. They are very different from one another, but each has it potential hazards.

I am not sure why exactly I ended up in Uganda in the first place, but here I am. I did not ask to be put in the very middle of an Ebola outbreak, or have snakes in my house, or numerous other things, but still, they have and are happening. I do, however, ask that God lead me and direct me all the days of my life, and He has done just that.

Ebola is a very scary disease, and I was very hesitant to tell you of the outbreak, but you needed to know and it’s been publicized all over the world (though very little coverage, I did read a small article in the New York Times about the outbreak).

Most people are not at risk here, but health care workers that have been exposed are at risk of developing the disease. I have been exposed, but I am still doing very well and no signs of the disease in my own body. I could pack up and leave this place, but I am not going to, not yet. Even if I wanted to leave tomorrow I think I would need to quarantine myself for a few weeks to make sure that I don’t develop it and spread the disease to others. The worst imaginable scenario would be to develop the disease and infect people in America - that would be a true international crisis affecting all humanity. The health of a global population is more important than my individual health.

I do the work that I do so that others may live healthy, abundant lives. I pray and actively work to develop a better future for Steph, Chloe, Ellie, Jacob, Ally, Lydia, Owen, and Alexandria, as well as children everywhere.

In all I do I take great caution, I think you know me well enough to know that I am not a reckless person. I will do all I can to protect myself from physical danger, but I think the people here greatly need help. I truly believe that I have been and can be a big asset to many people here. Like any war, I don’t think people are real excited about fighting, but they know they must, in order to develop peace, save lives, and protect our future. Right now I am choosing to fight this battle.

Please don’t worry too much about me. God has protected me thus far, and no doubt will continue to be by me no matter what the future holds in store.

I love you, deeply,
Bundibugyo, Uganda
Volume 2, Issue 14
November 30, 2007

-The Hot Zone-
…when fiction is more believable than reality…

As I was riding home today on the back of Scott Myhre’s motorcycle I thought to myself, “My friends and family will never believe what all I was involved with today.” In fact, it may a take me a while to believe and understand it all.

Scott and I spent the entire day traveling around with the director/representative from the World Health Organization Uganda, UNICEF Uganda, Ministry of Health Uganda, and the director of the Swiss branch of MSF/Doctors Without Borders. At one point I was sitting in the office of the Regional Director (governor) for this entire area of Uganda along with the people above, once again thinking to myself, “How did I ever end up here?”

Less than 48 hours ago it was announced that Ebola had reared its ugly head in Bundibugyo. A few hours after the announcement was made there was a large meeting of governmental heads and NGOs in Kampala, and less than 24 hours the above mentioned team flew into “ground zero” where Scott and I joined them for an exploratory expedition to scope out the extent of the problem and lay plans for a much larger team that is scheduled to arrive today – an international team of Ebola and infectious disease experts, bringing with them 35 tons of supplies. It was an intense filled day that is difficult for me to try to verbalize or write in written word, and much of it I can not explain now, but will try to write down and publish at a later date.

The disease has affected relatively small numbers thus far, but a significant amount of people affected have been health workers, some of whom I know and have worked alongside. The biggest blow of the day was to hear that Dr. Jonah, one of only two Ugandan doctors in this district, had just voluntarily admitted himself to an isolation unit after he began experiencing many of the signs and symptoms of the disease, including fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. I’ve come to know Dr. Jonah well over the past two months and during my first trip to Uganda. He has been a big advocate on my part and very encouraging. In addition we learned that the other physician, who I also know, has fallen ill.

At the end of the day we were about to head back with the visiting team to the air strip when the regional director called Scott M. aside and asked him to assist in a delivery in which the baby was presenting arm first. “Assist” may not quite by the right term, as we found the mother lying on a dirty brown plastic stretcher with the baby’s hand hanging out. The mother was pregnant with twins and the first baby had been delivered several hours ago. Luckily, Scott just happened to have his small portable ultrasound machine with him, so we were able to visualize the child – he was dead. Now we had to try to get the deceased child out of the mother, but no matter how much we pulled and she pushed, the baby was not coming. At one point we had to consider cutting the deceased child’s arm off to get him out so the mother could survive, but even then the presentation of the child would probably not allow him to descend. So we had to do a C-section, with little supplies, minimal training, and just the two of us, a nurse, and a surgical technician.

Scott had some training during his family practice residency in performing C-sections, but it’s been nearly 20 years since then. He has, however, recently assisted Dr. Jonah in a few C-sections and has done one or two on his own, but has always had some sort of back up nearby, available if needed. Not today. Since the other two physicians are both ill, Scott had now become the chief medical officer, in fact, the only medical officer. So with a prayer, an explicative or two, and God by our side we did the surgery, and the mother survived. We’ll check on her later today to see how she is doing, hopefully alive and recovering well.

The above recollections are just a minor preview of the events of the day, a non-stop action adventure filled with sobering moments, excitement, shock, and ending with exhaustion. When we finally sat down to eat at 8 pm both Scott and I were visibly drained, emotionally spent, and needing food and rest. I was almost too tired to even eat.

At this moment I have never felt so emotionally spent, yet so completely alive. My own mortality has never been so palpable, and the need for faith in God so real.

Please join me in earnestly praying for those already affected by the Ebola virus, including Dr. Jonah, and that those exposed to the disease will remain healthy and strong, including me, Scott and Jennifer Myhre. Please ask for recovery for the mother that we performed the surgery on, and most importantly, please join me in thanking God that He is in control even when chaos surrounds.

I love you,

-Scott J. Will

1 comment:

jane. said...

* we prayed for you and the team tonight.