Ebola diaries: My days in S. Leone

Monday March 23 2015

Loveness Isojick soon after arrival from Sierra

Loveness Isojick soon after arrival from Sierra Leone. The 28-year-old nurse from Korogwe District Hospital in Tanga Region, went against the odds and risked all to join the caravan as the world rushed to confront and halt the Ebola spread. PHOTO| ANTHONY SIAME 

By Syriacus Buguzi

Dar es Salaam. When Loveness Isojick made the decision to go to West Africa as an aid worker in the Ebola-ravaged countries, it was a love and scare story, so to speak.

Her husband, a clinical officer, gave the idea a quick nod but the rest of her family thought it was a big joke and a risky adventure.

The 28-year-old nurse from Korogwe District Hospital in Tanga Region, went against the odds and risked all to join the caravan as the world rushed to confront and halt the Ebola spread.

The brave Tanzanian was in Sierra Leone for 90 days to help save lives in one of the three West African countries ravaged by the epidemic that killed thousands, health workers included.

About 10,000 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone perished over a period of one year in what has become the world’s worst Ebola outbreak in human history. Ms Isojick joined brave health workers to attempt to halt the menace.

With the number of new Ebola cases falling, Isojick is back home after spending 90 days working as a medical coordinator in the Ebola treatment camps, which were followed  by another 21 days of being quarantined in London.

As she attracts publicity for her heroic achievement, Isojick, does not regret taking the risk. ‘’I knew what kind of risk I was taking and its consequences, especially knowing I left an 18-month-old child. The mother of two has shared her story with The Citizen, from the time she made the decision to join in the fight and the struggle she faced locally and while in Sierra-Leone.

She was not in the batch of five Tanzanian doctors sent on the African Union mission in September 2014, but that did not stop her from pursuing what she felt was a one-time mission for humanity’s sake.

  Now that she has been there and back, memories in the camps linger. The scary moments - when fellow health workers contracted Ebola- were perhaps, the most burdening thing at the camp. Witnessing dying patients helplessely was another nightmare and frustration when she recalls her day-to-day-life as an aid worker under the Save the Children International.   

She had exciting moments too. It was vivid that she was passionate about her job. Hearing her story, one would learn the social gratification that comes with a calling for a typical medical personnel.

No wonder, the most exciting moments were, as she says, when she discharged Ebola-free patients  or when news came of a colleague recovering from the virus: “But above all, I have worked for almost three months without contracting Ebola.’’

Volunteerism bug

When Isojick arrived in Sierra Leone, the Ebola outbreak was at its peak. The number of people dying of the disease had mounted to more than 5,000. By that time, she could see for herself what it really meant to die from Ebola.

But before she went to West Africa, her understanding of the humanitarian crisis in the region was merely a media narrative. She had taken interest in following up every latest news on the Ebola crisis.

‘’So, every time I got a chance in my office I searched for Ebola breaking news,’’ says Isojick as she recalls the days at Korogwe District Hospital, when her plans to go and volunteer as a nurse in West Africa were still a dream.

One day, she stumbled on a story that would later mean a great inspiration to her. It was a news story in foreign media about the Sierra Leonean chief medical officer who had decided to go on the frontline in the fight against Ebola, as more and more people including health workers were dying of the disease.

 ‘’Sometimes I got scared when I heard of the number of health staff contracting Ebola and many of them dying, and the shooting number of cases every day. But I was inspired by the Sierra Leonean chief medical officer,’’ she says.

But her motivation seems to have started earlier than that.Isojick believes she had a special call ing inside her to go and save lives. ‘’I had this feeling that I had to go and volunteer but I did not know how and when to go’.’

‘’I thought I had a role to play and I immediately applied to the United Nations as a volunteer, but I did not get that chance, but something was really pushing me to apply. I was ready to go even for free,’’ she says.

‘’One day after a long tiring day I switched from what I was doing and checked on a website belonging to Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM).  Then I saw an announcement on a short course in International reproductive and child health.

That’s my area of expertise. I decided to apply for it.  But then, I saw more interesting courses from the LSTM and I kept on visiting the website as I patiently waited for a response.’’

“The following week I saw an advertisement asking medical personnel to volunteer for Ebola emergency response in West Africa’.  I was so excited and immediately applied for the post,’’ says Isojick.

However, as excitement reigned, big questions also started emerging: Isojick was now in a dilemma of how she would break the news to her family if her application to go to Sierra Leone was accepted. 

But her husband  Mr Paul Shidende, a clinical officer in Tanga was supportive. Mr Shidende then said he had no objection because what his wife wanted to do was not for herself but for the entire profession, country and the family.

The assurance gave Isojick more confidence that made her read more and more about Ebola. Below she takes over to tell her story:

“The third day, after filling my applications, I had a call from Save the children, asking me if I was interested in joining them in West Africa.  I said I was ready any time. I was indeed ready.  All I needed was time to process my permission from my employer.

Date and time for interview was set. Most important questions were: What do you know about Ebola?

What are the signs of Ebola?

What is your experience in infectious diseases?

Why do you want to volunteer for the Ebola emergency response?

What are your expectations?

How will you care for a patient with septic shock?

All these questions seemed easy but very important to me because they run again and again in my mind. The following day, I also received a call from an aid agency known as The GOAL.  They asked me similar questions and I was also asked to send my CV. In every organisation, I did two telephone interviews, which I passed. 

Tomorrow .....The shock at landing in Sierra-Leone