Diary Day 14 - Wednesday

09 October 2007

Today was rather long and tiring. Barbara and I went to Luebo to continue training the staff in the isolation unit there. The first thing was to show them how to put someone in a body bag. Then we trained them on disinfection procedures.

I thought that this had been well and truly understood: there are two main solutions, one for washing gloved hands and the other for washing patients, soaking clothes and washing un-gloved hands. The latter solution is about ten times weaker than the former. Unfortunately, after the training I walked into the laundry area and found the staff about to dip all their scrub suits into the strong disinfection solution. That would have resulted in white, not green, scrub suits! This clearly required more clarification before we were finished.

After the training session, the car didn’t come and get us. We had been forgotten. I had visions of no one noticing until the evening meeting and us having to sleep on one of our nice new mattresses in the isolation unit. We tried phoning the team mobile but that didn’t work and it wasn’t possible to get the satellite phone either. In the end we had to phone the headquarters and ask them to Kampungu for us!

The road to Kampungu is much better since Martin worked on it. Before it was almost a motorbike track but now it is much smoother. Along the road there are lots of ‘buyanda’ (porters) pushing bicycles loaded with sacks of maize. They often have two 50 kg sacks, one over the cross bar and one stuffed through, above the pedals. They have any number of other things – chairs, chickens, goats – all tied on top.

They are only going in one direction – from Mweka to Koni. It takes them seven days to make the journey, struggling through the sand all the way and pushing the bikes up impossible hills. They are taking maize from the area where it is grown to the more densely populated diamond mining area. Here they can get seven times the price for the crop as they can at home.

When Barbara and I got back to Kampungu, we had to take yesterday’s patient for burial. There was no coffin so we put the patient in her body bag in the back of the pickup and headed north to Baka Tombi. It took about an hour to get there.

All the family were there outside their houses and when the car approached they started wailing. The coffin was the biggest I have ever seen, but luckily it was made of matting and bamboo so it was light enough for the family to carry to the grave yard.

The grave had probably taken all afternoon to dig. It seemed like half the village were standing around while we waiting for the grave to be finished. Lots of them had their t-shirts tied over their noses to protect them from the disease.

When we finished, we passed by the family to say goodbye and to give the husband a bucket filled with the blanket, mosquito net, soap and other items. It was very sad. He said to Hilde, the doctor with me, “What about me? Now I am a contact.”

Protective clothing
Photo : P. Zintzen, MSF | Googles and protective gear during Ebola intervention in the DRC.