A Lonely Death in the ETU
This morning there were 26 patients, 15 in the Confirmed Ward and 11 in the Suspected Ward; many in the suspected ward would be discharged as they were tested negative yesterday. The local nursing staff work a six-hour shift while the expats work a twelve-hour shift. Today I would round for the first time in both Suspect and Confirmed Wards. The suspect patients are all isolated in individual rooms but the patients in the Confirmed Ward are cohorted.
John, the patient we helped into the Suspected Ward last evening, lived through the night but still seriously ill. His IV line had stopped working. I sat him up after I made a straw out of an IV tubing so he could sip ORS before a new line was placed. He eagerly drank in between gasps and had about 300 ml. of fluid but eventually slumped down in bed exhausted. As much as I could I stuck around, rubbed his back and squeezed his shoulders to convey the message that he was not alone. I felt the need for human touch and kindness when I was sick. I could not imagine the profound loneliness and tremendous fear this man had to face by himself to fight for his life without any of the family members by his side, in a totally alien place. On more than one occasion, I had hugged my very distraught patients in the US. I wished we had morphine or IV valium to ease his feeling of air hunger and anxiety but there are no such medications here currently.
My scrubs were soaked, sweats literally poured down the N-95 mask and sleeves and gloves of my partner, he looked faint, dazed. Several times I asked whether he was alright and suggested that perhaps we should make our exit. But he insisted he still had a few minutes left in him. Sluggishness stole its way into our studied movement in this stultifying heat.
It was said that one loses a pound and half of bodyweight (all fluid) after exiting. We stayed for close to an hour and half inside. My partner declared defeat by a petite Malaysian.
In the afternoon, we learned that John passed away, his Ebola sample still sat in the fridge, missed by the morning delivery. He was 42 years old.
The patients of the ETU sat outside as the sun set with hues of yellow, orange, red blue and purple in the distance.
The life of the first patient I helped into the Suspected Ward of the ETU was snuffed out forever by the deadly Ebola virus, gone from the surface of this earth.
In his dying hours, he was all alone.