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Ebola: What it's like to be a nurse treating patients in Liberia




A seller of bananas walks past a slogan painted on a wall reading 'Ebola' in Monrovia on August 31, 2014. Liberia on August 30, 2014 said it would deny permission for any crew to disembark from ships at the country's four seaports until the Ebola epidemic ravaging west Africa was under control.
A seller of bananas walks past a slogan painted on a wall reading 'Ebola' in Monrovia on August 31, 2014. Liberia on August 30, 2014 said it would deny permission for any crew to disembark from ships at the country's four seaports until the Ebola epidemic ravaging west Africa was under control.
DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images

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If you got an email asking if you would fly to West Africa to help treat Ebola patients, would you go?

Nurse Bridget Mulrooney did and then didn't think twice about committing to the mission. She packed her bag and travelled to Liberia to work with the International Medical Corps.

Ben Bergman talks to her about what it's like in the town of Suakoko, which is where he reached her, right before her shift at a medical camp there.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

 

I've done a lot of international travel nursing before and got the email from International Medical Corps and I couldn’t go at the time. I got it, put it aside, and then almost thought Ebola would be squashed before my four more weeks of work was over.

In my heart I just wanted to go. I needed to help. And I didn't know a lot of people who were going to help. I felt a drive.

Did your family try to stop you?

No, I've been doing this for years. They're always a little afraid. My mom was a little more afraid this time because of the high mortality rate but they knew I was going to go.

How does what you're seeing there compare with other places you’ve worked over the years like Haiti?

It's kind of like a cholera unit would be except for the nurses and medical healthcare workers wear a lot of PPE (personal protective equipment). We wear boots, gloves, a full-body zip-up suit, masks, hood, another pair of gloves on top of all that. A waterproof apron that ties all the way up to our neck and around our backs.

How long does it take to get ready to go to work?

About 8 or 9 minutes now. I've been doing it every day for a month.

You can take precautions but we did hear about this doctor Craig Spencer who was in Guinea and he was diagnosed with Ebola last week in New York and the Dallas nurse who got it as well. How safe do you feel you are?

I feel absolutely safe. The Dallas-ers got it because they were wearing improper PPE, as everybody knows. If you use things according to protocol and have proper PPEs and there's not a user mistake, you're not going to get contaminated with body fluids.

What is the condition of the patients that you are dealing with? What are you seeing in these clinics?

Our patients range. You can have very mild symptoms—a headache and be walking around. You can be super sick, basically in a coma. You can get Ebola encephalitis and you turn a bit crazy and don't know which end is up and nothing's quite right and those patients usually die. Run-of-the-mill Ebola patients are not like 'The Hot Zone'; people are not streaming blood out of their eyes. Not with this strain, anyways. We would see a fever, stomach aches, body pains, muscle aches, diarrhea. It's for the most part unremarkable. The amount of blood that's coming with this strain is not a lot unless it's poop or throw up. So when you walk through the ward, people that are sick just lay in bed.

How long do you plan to stay?

I'm extended so I'm here to the end of the year right now. If there's a need, which it seems likely there will be, I'll probably extend again. After that, hopefully Ebola will be at a calm or there will be enough national staff that are trained and ready and eager to sustain.