My Christmas Wish....

23 December 2014

As some of you know, I'm working on an Ebola project over the holidays, so this is sort of an unusual Christmas. And as anyone who has been to my home can attest, I already have way too much stuff, so I have a different Christmas wish this year. 

A few days ago, a mother from near our Transit Center was out of town for a few days, and her husband died of Ebola while she was gone. In the house, there were 5 children, ranging in age from 4-18. They stayed in the house with the body until their mother came home, not unusual in a country where the funeral home doesn't typically come and whisk you away, and during an Ebola epidemic, body disposal is an enormous issue in itself. Anyway, the mother soon came home and the father was taken away. 

Then a few days after that, the first child fell sick and was brought to our Transit Unit by her mother, who quickly recognized the Ebola symptoms. She was taken away to the Treatment Center with Ebola. Then the second. Then the third. Then the fourth. The fifth and oldest son came in with a fever, and was tested as well, but soon fortunately released after proving negative. So, with her husband dead and four of her five children confirmed as having Ebola, the mother waits, as do we. Astonishingly, after over a week, all four are still alive. Three are doing well, and as of today, the fourth is struggling but alive and fighting for his life also. 

It is easy to get your hopes up when you see improvement like this, but Ebola will break your heart in a second. Patients can have "pseudoremission", and lose their fever and symptoms, then suddenly relapse and be gone before you can blink. There is much we still don't understand about Ebola. Do these children have something genetically different and special about their immune systems? Are they just incredibly lucky? Are they waiting until we fall in love with them even more, just to die and break our hearts? As a dispassionate researcher and statistician, I know that for one of them to live would be expected. Two would be within the norm for this epidemic. Three would exceed any reasonable expectations, and be a great outcome. For all four of four to live, 100% survival, would defy any fathomable odds, and be nothing less than incredible. 

But right now, it is hard for me to be a statistician and accept those odds. These are children who have already lost their father, and they have a mother who loves them and a brother at home waiting for them and I have seen them all get sick and afraid and be taken away, one after the other. I have seen the fear and anguish in their mother's eyes as each of her children was taken away, perhaps not likely to return. And right now I wish that I was not a statistician and did not understand what is likely to happen. So instead, I am choosing not to be a professor who teaches probabilities or a mathmatician who analyzes data and predicts epidemiological outcomes in tables and charts. I am choosing instead to put all of that aside. I am simply going to ignore it. 

On nothing but hope, I am going to ask for a Christmas miracle instead. As I said, I have plenty of stuff already. This year, I only really want one thing. Just one. I want more than anything for these four sweet and beautiful children to live, and for this family to be reunited. Ebola has broken uncountable hearts here this year, and it may this time too. It is far from done. 

But it never hurts to put your trust in Christmas, and Santa too. And just maybe this is the time of year for a miracle. So, that's my Christmas wish. The only one this year. We'll know by Christmas if it is going to come true...... 

George has written an update on the family here.