There is a small room between the green and red zones that you barely notice. It is never used by clinical staff, and sits, door closed, next to the doffing tent. It is a shower room with an entry on the red side and exit to the green, and when it gets used people smile.
Just like the 50 other times each day, the team meet in the donning tent at the barrier to the red zone. They are fully kitted up in their PPE with names written across their hoods, and they pause for a brief buddy check and to ensure everyone knows what the are tasks for the entry. Then one of them bends down, picks up the sprayer, cleans the latch to the barrier, opens it and the three people walk in.
A red zone visit like this, however, is different. As the entry team disappear into the ward, a buzz comes over the people left back in the green zone. It is happening again and as always, a fuss has to be made. It’s an event. Something that’s happened several times before, but is still very special: an opportunity to celebrate.
Days are not generally full of celebration. On most days, before seeing this kind of an event, staff will have been exposed to death and to suffering. They will have ensured the deceased are passed with respect to the burial team, helped people who are desperately unwell, heard stories of families torn apart, and had held children separated from their parents. But like a switch flicked to instantly change the colour in the room, smiles now appear on faces, fingers start to click, and hands start to clap. People emerge from their work tents and for a fantastic 10minutes, it’s carnival time.
Small groups form and the congregated nurses and hygienists quickly begin to compete for the best, most enthusiastic singing. They sing songs of celebration and songs of praise and faith, sung with smiles and laughter and joy. Amongst the ex-pat staff there is barely a dry eye.
Within the red zone the team has found their target. Other recovering but still infectious patients, realising what is happening, move to the end of the ward where they can see out into the green zone. They quickly join in the merriment, waving their hands and enjoying the cheers that everyone in the green zone showers them with when they start to dance along.
The survivor is led down to the shower room. She steps in alone (the PPE clad nurse who showed her the way has more Ebola on them that we don’t want to escape) and is instructed to have a good shower with plenty of soap then dry themselves off with the towel on the floor (placed there from the green zone), dress in the new clothes also provided from the green zone, and step out through the other door.
As she cleans herself the singing grows. Excitement and noise builds. Then the door slowly opens. There is cheering and more singing. There is hugging (you can touch an Ebola survivor!) and there is happiness and pride. Each survivior is asked to place their hand-print onto a wall to show that despite the horror of this illness, plenty return home. Then, hands washed, it is time to walk to the edge of the Treatment Centre and step out into the waiting arms of their family.
For the staff left inside, it is back to work; back to the emotional white-water ride of Ebola treatment. There will no doubt be more distress to deal with in that shift, probably in that hour, but that doesn’t detract from the wonder of a discharge. In fact I think it adds to it.