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Friday, December 28, 2007

On being home, and on counting the cost of Ebola

I realize how much our souls have been imprinted by the geography of where we live—mid day yesterday Pat and I both experienced such tiredness.  I think that in spite of the fact that we are told to get away and take breaks . . . There is a certain amount of tension associated with displacement and transition, and real relaxation comes when we’re back home, back in familiar surroundings with familiar people, back where I know what drawer to open to find a spoon and how to use my stove, which allows a release and a wave of tiredness to wash in.  Even though this place is associated with grief and loss, those are only a small aspect of the depth of experience.  So it is good to be home, to prepare a meal, to celebrate our family (plus) around our own table together for the first time in over a month, Christmas candles burning, quiet music, all telling our “highs” and “lows” of the day (the former mostly relating to the fact of being home and the thrill of our mountain pass plane ride; the latter mostly related to the illness and decline of our beloved dog Angie).

We came home because we wanted to be here, and wanted to spend a few more days in the fight.  But an unexpected side effect has been the confidence boost to the community.  I did not anticipate people stopping us and telling us with great sincerity, thank you for coming back, for brining the family, for loving us.  I’m glad for that, the simple act of being present translates into the message that we are still part of this place, that we have not given up, that children can still live here too.  Public opinion is fickle but we’ll enjoy this little surge of connection and community while it lasts.

This morning I went back to Nyhauka Health Center with Scott Will.  We found a half dozen inpatients on most wards (Paeds, maternity, male, and female) and about 30 outpatients.  Though many nursing shifts are remaining uncovered there are a core of faithful people at work.  We learned that six children have died there this week—of anemia, of waiting too long to come for treatment.  The Ebola impact is so much greater than the 36 deaths recorded in the official toll.  The fear that keeps people from coming to the hospital, the fear that keeps staff from working, the isolation that impacts our blood bank supply, these things are more difficult to measure.  Another child left against medical advice in the night, and will die at home, with signs of meningitis according to the clinical officer.  There is no system to track non-hospital deaths, so no way for us to know the true cost of Ebola.  The loss of medical staff, the reluctance of those remaining to work, the loss of confidence in the medical care system, these will have an enduring and devastating effect upon the health of Bundibugyo long after the last case of Ebola.

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