Home > diary, ebola, nursing, personal, Things that make me happy, travel > Finally spoke to MSF about going to volunteer to help with Ebola (personal, not really about ebola, but more for my own processing and to reflect back on later)

Finally spoke to MSF about going to volunteer to help with Ebola (personal, not really about ebola, but more for my own processing and to reflect back on later)

Yesterday was a very positive day. As well as it being submission day for our essay (all over!), and socialising with coursemates, and a proper conversation with someone’s who’s an army nurse, there was a careers fair on at uni. So I had good chance to chat with different NGO’s who I might want to volunteer for. Top of the list for me is MSF, but I hadn’t thought that my nursing experience would be sufficient for them as, though I’ve been nursing for 6 years my specialty is being a bank nurse rather than A&E or ITU which is what they prefer. Anyway, actually they were really positive when I said I wanted to go and help with Ebola.

As seems to be the norm, they’re sending volunteers out for 4-5 weeks. There’s a induction/training/acclimatising bit beforehand, and then a 3 week quarantine afterwards as well. I’m thinking of going for April, though that feels weird/uncomfortable because my course finished end of January, so I could go in February, but had been planning for months to go back to India for 6 weeks straight after the course for a holiday and to catch up with people there. Going to India later is not feasible. Seems really selfish to be not going as soon as I could, and at odds with my strong desire to go over and help rightaway. It will mean the heat in Sierra Leone won’t hit me as hard though!

What are my fears/hopes?

Stupidly, I’m actually most worried about how I’ll cope in the PPE suit! I seem to be more sensitive than a lot of folks to physical irritants. Wearing the suits makes you very hot and sweaty – described as being in a sauna fully dressed. I don’t want to be a wuss, as we’ll all be going through the same thing, and I want to be strong and cope.

The prolonged time without physical touch, especially hugs, sounds rough. I already know that I don’t do well without that. Even after just a few days in solitary confinement (pre deportation from Israel for being a human rights volunteer in Gaza) meant that I broke down when I got a hug from a supportive stranger when I got moved to a main prison. And its always the hardest thing for me about travelling too. I really felt that in Malawi. Impossible to feel that in India though as the women there often gave me affectionate touch :) However this is only for 5 weeks. It will be tough, but obviously so much easier for me to go through than someone living there who has that all the time right now :(

My hopes are that I’ll be able to make a concrete contribution to some humans that are going through hell just now. I hope I’ll use the skills and knowledge that I was able to acquire through virtue of having the privilege to be born in UK, as this is exactly why I did my nurse training. I feel incredibly lucky to be in a position to be able to potentially do something about such a horrific situation.

I’m not afraid of dying. I mean, I don’t want to! Partly I picked MSF because I trust their experience and will to have the on-the-ground organisation in place that will minimise the risks we will face. But, what is my life for if not for this? What’s the point of being so careful to protect my life that my life is without meaning? I’m definitely not talking about taking uncalculated risks. I’m talking about using this one shot I get at existing, this single most precious gift I’ve been given, and making the most of it. I was talking with a loved one about going and he said “you’ll make a very direct and positive impact on people’s lives” and I felt it through my whole being that this is what my life is for, and to not use it for that, because I’m frightened of dying, is like keeping special food until past its edible lifespan so as to keep it for a special occasion, and in the process wasting it. Or not riding your fancy bike because you’re afraid of damage. Don’t do something stupid with it, but at least enjoy it and make the most of it, otherwise what’s the point in it?

A couple of times I’ve been in situations where I had to concretely look at possibility that I might be killed. And I’ve thought about it, and sometimes have decided that if I am killed doing this thing, that’s ok because that thing is so important. I don’t know if that sounds horrible, but the thing is that the only thing I can be damn sure of is that in 100 years I’ll be dead anyway. I don’t want that to come quickly – there’s so much I still want to see and do. My life is mostly very sweet, filled with incredibly wonderful people and experiences and I don’t want it to ever end! One of the frightening things about ageing for me is losing the ability to live a life as full as mine is. No longer able to go to new places, or learn, or feel the wind or waves throw themselves at me, or challenge myself on a mountain and feel my body stretch and overcome it. Having older friends who do all those things too reduces that fear :)

But anyway, perhaps that explains why death isn’t top of my fears. I don’t think its very likely, but if I do catch ebola, and don’t survive, well, I’d still rather that was the story of my life than that I spent so long protecting my life that it was empty and meaningless and not worth protecting.



Other stuff about yesterday

It was submission day for the DTN essay – ended up pulling an allnighter as Thus-Sun had been a right-off, characterised by sleepness nights and panicky dreadfilled days, and so only actually started writing on Monday! I’m sure there’s a pun to be made with “instead of a write-on” or something, but anyway. Got the bloody thing done in the end, and though its def not the best essay I’ve written, I’m confident it will pass, which is all that really matters. Other good things that happened – had the longest, most personal conversation I’ve ever had with a current military person (an army medic), who’s on the course. I want to get over my kneejerk distress at being around folks in the army, as what I object to is the militarisation of society and the war machine. So taking advantage of being in a setting where I have army reservists as my peers to connect as humans.  Then in the evening a bunch of us from the course went to the pub to celebrate handing our essays in. Really enjoyed socialising with my classmates, and chatted with a few who I’ve not had much contact with before. We’ll all be in different places after the course, many heading to volunteer around the world, and it will be great to have this friendship network of others who are doing same sorts of things as me, and who I can keep up with, and maybe meet up with if we happen to be on the field in the same country. Feels very bonding to be going through this course together – most nurses I meet have very different lifestyles and priorities than me, whereas with these guys I feel very connected. I enjoyed how easy we all found it to slip into the familiar nurse camaraderie and black humour and mutual support and gruesome tales, which seems to be international! Several are also looking to volunteer in West Africa after the course, so they may be a valuable source of (phone) support during the inevitable homecoming crash.

  1. November 27, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    You are awesome,Alice. I’m sorry I was less positive when you to had me you were going. I take my hat off to you, wish you strength for your work and a safe return. Love ❤

  2. November 28, 2014 at 10:04 am

    As one of your (much) older friends, I appreciate all your thoughts and points well made. I am sure that whatever you do and whenever you do it, that you will do it with 100% energy and dedication from your heart, and that is what is important. People often ask me about my work in Bhopal and I respond that all I do is use my hands and experience to help a few people – that is enough. (Deeper effects may happen and other opportunities present, but that is not my prime focus.)
    Don’t get too caught up in what you had planned to do – however loose or firm that was. Live in today and keep an eye open to the future. I am sure it will unfold in the best way for you especially if you give it an Alice type nudge.

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