Yesterday we were enrolled in the CDC study of health care workers in Bundibugyo, giving blood samples and filling out questionnaires about our exposure. It was a privilege to be able to assist these capable and dedicated people as they endeavor to sort through the messy data and glean patterns of truth. After admitting on the survey that we don’t always wear gloves or wash our hands we felt a bit sheepish, but science can not be useful if we pretend to be better than we are. Post-ebola I’m more aware, occasionally as I’m touching a patient it still strikes me that such an act of mercy and grace could have led to death a couple of months ago. Sobering.
All along the 37 deaths in the official toll excluded Dr. Jonah, because he died in Kampala and not in Bundibugyo. This seemed absurd to us. Though it was understandable at the beginning to separate the cases geographically when it seemed possible that Ebola was going to spread all over the country, it is a useless distinction now. Jonah clearly became infected in Bundibugyo and it was a coincidence of his personal business travel that he happened to fall ill while in Kampala, and he’s the only case like that. The CDC agreed, and so part of our task yesterday was to posthumously fill out a survey form for Jonah, answering all the questions to the best of our collective memory about what day he became ill and what his symptoms were and who he contacted. A bit therapeutic, really, to recount that to interested ears and see it turned into fact by the marks on the form. I still have to remind myself that he’s not coming back, and my heart resists thinking too deeply about him yet. Melen returned to Bundibugyo with us and has re-opened her nursery school. Amazing that she is functioning so well. I don’t think I would be nearly as brave.
Meanwhile life is full of the usual richness and sadness that constitutes the atmosphere of Bundibugyo. A baby died of meningitis last night, still waiting on lab confirmation but the fluid from the lumbar puncture was very cloudy. Two six year old kids on the ward with severe malnutrition, peeling skin and puffy eyes and the listless faces of the hungry. But there are joys too, a few improving kids, others starting on TB or ARV medicines which offer hope, the indomitable good spirits of Scott Will persevering at work, a new Ugandan nurse showing up for work today. And on the team two milestones: Stephanie returned just in time to celebrate her birthday with us, we made home made ice cream and set out candles on our patio for a Toby Mac dance party in the dark, sheer fun. And Heidi joined us, landing directly into the wildness of life here. It has been interesting to watch peoples’ faces as they encounter yet one more foreigner (there have been many related to ebola) and they glaze over as I say her name . . . Then come alive when I add “and she’s staying for two years”. It will fly by too fast, but right now two years sounds pretty good to all of us who are goodbye weary.