|The kid with the glasses kills me|
|Kids of Bopolu|
|Off to Bopolu|
|The mess tent|
|Meal rations for the trip|
|My morning latte|
I’ve spent New Year’s Eve in fancier places and more elegant surroundings but never before in a place more filled with wonder. I am in a village called Bopolu. Say it out loud and smile. The ETU in Bopolu is slated to be open for business starting January 4th. I am here to make sure my clinical team is ready to take care of patients. That means we go through patient care scenarios, know how to triage and test, confirm we have the necessary supplies and drugs, know where everything is, know how to put on and take off the personal protective gear known as PPE, know how to enter and exit the red zone, know how to document. The list is endless. Just a quick aside on documentation. No electronic medical records here. Paper charts return. And no charts in the red zone. We keep a record on a white board and then through fogged goggles read, shout actually, any data back to colleagues several yards away back in the green zone. Old school rules.
The classroom lectures are over thank God. Our training teams are true stars. The instructors are all ETU veterans and a mix of locals and expats. Power point is kept to a minimum. Classroom size is not. Yesterday there were 144 students by my count. Some 30 or 40 true clinical staff, 30 or 40 local support staff and the rest I think were just there for the show. It was ungodly hot and by midafternoon the funk quite simply burned your eyelashes off. Today the students are run through all the PPE on and off rituals or more correctly called donning and doffing. Sounds like two of Santa’s reindeer actually. We keep them in the suits throughout the patient care training – up to two hours at a time – and I promise you it is NOT comfortable. Critical yes, comfortable no.
We had a new teammate join us yesterday. His name is Eric Dieudonne. There’s a picture below. He’s from Chad and an expert in water and sanitation and has already built and worked in a number of successful ETUs. He’s just a young kid but a wealth of knowledge and experience. His formal training is in civil engineering. He went to school in Tunisia, lives in Chad but travels the world for causes like this. His flight itinerary here was the stuff TSA nightmares are made of - Chad to Mali to Casablanca to Dakar to Monrovia. Within a few hours of landing in Monrovia we had him in a helicopter to Bopolu. Let’s talk about the helicopter. Pictures below. There is no more essential piece of equipment given the terrain and timeline. We have two repurposed Russian MI-17 aircraft from Afghanistan I think. They are ugly, noisy and smelly but get people and stuff from point A to point B with a degree of safety. The flight to Bopolu took only about 45 minutes but it was 45 minutes at high speed straight into the middle of nowhere. We passed over countless miles of untouched jungle and yes I know it’s a cliché but the shades of green seemed too numerous to name. The pictures just do not capture the electric shimmer some of the green presents.
Once landed, offloaded and officially welcomed by all the kids we settled into our new digs for the next couple of weeks. Comfortable enough with a tent, floor cushion, pillow and blanket but someone forgot food. Oops. Flights are dedicated to essential medications and materials so food will wait. Dinner last night for a group of 30 or so was 4 tins of sardines, a few pieces of flat bread, 2 cans of mackerel (no can opener) and a jar of jam. Believe me, I saw some very interesting deconstructed cuisine. The Jenny Craig plan has nothing on the Liberia weight loss plan – less in up top and more out below. And speaking of below, the toilets are actually pretty good for field toilets but they look a lot like the little shower tent. As such, a lot of the locals mistake the shower tent for the toilet tent. Again, oops.
While we weren’t able to conjure up a miracle with the fish and loaves of bread I do see evidence of amazing things everyday. Team members continue to pour in from all around the globe. Heavier than air machines bring them to sites carved out of virgin forest. Local villages step up with everything they have and more. We’re only missing a soundtrack. For now, I can’t get the old Paul Simon album Graceland out of my head. Looking up at the stars last night I kept hearing the verse from one of the songs…the way we look to a distant constellation that’s dying in the corner of the sky…these are the days of miracles and wonder so don’t cry baby don’t cry don’t cry.
POSTSCRIPT – I did not have internet access the last few days – so much for miracles and wonder – but do now that I’m back in Monrovia for a bit. I’ll send this off and post again in another few days before I head to Zor Zor.
|These signs are everywhere in the country|
|Learning to put PPE gear on correctly|
|More PPE instruction|
|Eric from Chad|