“I’ve heard this is the place to come for handcream.”
Until the week before I left for Freetown I had never uttered that sentence, but my imminent deployment changed some of my priorities. Ebola is like that: it kinda focuses the mind on things that you previously hadn’t worried too much about, like not touching people, making sure you have gloves in your pocket when you’re out, and paying particularly close attention to the health of the skin on your hands.
Thus my hands, despite being trapped daily or twice-daily in an hour long double-gloved sauna, and washed assiduously in 0.05% chlorine solution on entering or exiting almost every room, are now softer and better kempt than at any time since I was about 2. My nails are not bitten, and more importantly, the skin next to my nails is pristine. They are clean and soft. That annoying little flap of skin that you’re sure you can nibble away easily without tearing it up to your elbow? Healed.
Last week I found myself working in an outdoor (and non-PPE) part of the treatment centre later than anticipated. As dusk fell, the queue of people waiting to be seen distracted us from the mosquito armies emerging from their layers to feast on unsuspecting victims, and before to long we had all provided them with dinner. Idly I scratched a tiny bite on my left middle finger, and in the process just scraped the top off. That brief second of thoughtless scratching cost me 2 days out of the red zone. No skin breaches on hands: that’s the rule.
So Ebola has stopped me scratching my bites, biting my nails and rubbing my eyes. No one in the group squeezes their spots, no one picks their nose, and no one ever steals another’s beer.
And that is how I came to spend some of the last day or so before I left Melbourne in a huge, impersonal, fluorescent-lit shopping mall looking for a cosmetics shop that everyone who I knew who knew about these things assured me sold the best products.
“Yes, we do make quite famous handcreams,” the shop assistant replied. “Are you after a cream for fragrance or skin care?”
“Skin care. It’s definitely all about the skin care.”