Sometimes the weird stuff is unexpected. For example, I often wonder before a major life event or trip, which piece of music will remind me of it after my return. Other than when I cocooned myself in my headphones at the beach a couple of times, there hasn’t been much music listened to on this trip, at least that was until I decided to do those videos. So now it looks like I will forever be reminded of 6 weeks working in an Ebola Treatment Centre by the dulcet tones of the great Taylor Swift encouraging me to Shake It Off. That tune is really catchy isn’t it? I have had it stuck in my head for days.
Even before I left for Sierra Leone, however, there was one thing I knew would be weird: the no touch rule. Because Ebola is spread by direct contact, a major public health intervention across the three countries affected has been to tell people not to touch each other. That means no holding hands, no kissing, and no hugging. It means no shaking hands, no high-fives, no fist-bumps and no tapping to get attention.
Meeting new people is a little odd as the natural urge to hold out your hand has to be suppressed and there is a brief moment when you fail to shake hands (knowing that the other person thought it appropriate were it not for Ebola) that feels a bit like the awkward moment when you fail to hold out your hand to be shaken and the other person starts to then realizes then stops.
Then there’s the no hugging bit. Hugs are natural and common. When dealing with stress and death all the time, hugs are necessary, but in the ETC hugs are all but non-existent. I did see a hug given over here once. For a few seconds one evening the rules were bent slightly and someone who really needed a hug got one, but most of the time there are no hugs.
One place where we can hug, though, is the donning area. In the minute or so we are fully clad in PPE but haven’t yet entered the red zone we are invincible, and can dole out and receive all the hugs we want. We look like big, happy Minions trotting off to work, and if you listen carefully one of us is probably humming Taylor Swift.