Alpren Care Transcript


Alpren Care Transcript


The one thing, the thing that I think I would want to--the message I would want to convey most of all about what it was like working in the red zone, is not how impersonal the PPE made it, but actually how personal it made it. Because Ebola is very isolating illness. The moment the Ebola box is opened, you leave your kids. You don't touch your children. You don't touch a dead body. You cannot touch, you cannot go near a sick person. One of the most instinctive things is to care for someone who's really sick. Just to even hold the hand, or to mop their brow, all that, you cannot do. Someone's got Ebola, you cannot go near them. And PPE, the only people in the world who could crouch down and clean up someone who was having profuse, like, ten liters of diarrhea every day, uncontrollable water coming out of them, the only people who could crouch down and clean the sheets and change their clothes and wipe them down and wipe their brow and give them a sip of water were the people wearing the PPE. So actually, it felt really privileged, and it felt really close. It was the most intimate patient care experience I've ever had. It was crouching down with a--this fantastic Sierra Leonean hygienist called Princess who--she did not take any shit. [laughter] If she wanted to spray your shoes, even if someone's like, "Why are you spraying my shoes here, Princess?" She's like, "No, Charles, stop! Shoes!" It's like, okay, whatever, whatever. But because she cared about the people she was in there with, she cared about keeping things clean, she cared about doing things right. We did a ward round together, and we did it efficiently, we did it well, and we were going well. I think the second- or third-last patient we had was a fourteen-year-old girl who was dying, and she had just been cleaned like half an hour earlier, and she was already horrendously soiled. She was lying on her mattress on the floor, that she'd put her mattress onto the floor as many of our patients did. We saw her, we did the kind of clinical bit, and then I wanted to move on. And Princess was like, "Are you leaving her?" I was like, "No, we're going to see our next two, and then we'll come back, because we've got enough time." You're only meant to be in the red zone for an hour, but we had probably been there for forty-five minutes at that point. It's like, we've got two more people--no, it must have been one, because we would have been about the forty-five minute--we had one more person who needed a proper review. Then we had three or four people in the convalescent tent. They were all well. They were getting better, their blood tests were just still positive. I said, "What we're going to do is we're going to see this one more person, we're going to sack it off, convalescent tank can wait for another time, and then we're going to come back and clean this girl up." Princess was very happy about that. We did that, came back, and together, Princess on one side of the mattress, me the other side, we crouched down. You're wearing this big PPE with these heavy aprons and gumboots and the hood, and your goggles are steaming up, you've been there an hour. It's really, really hot. Your clothes, the scrubs you've got on under your PPE is absolutely saturated, like you have jumped in a swimming pool, saturated with water. I have one photo of me, before-and-after photos getting on scales. I'd gotten on scales before I went in, and then when I came out, I didn't drink any water, I just went and changed my scrubs into dry scrubs and got back on the scales before I had water. I'd lost 1.3 kilos [kilograms] in an hour. And you hear stories of people losing more. Anyway, so we were crouching down, sopping wet, and got new bedsheets, got new clothes, cleaned her up, made her comfortable, gave her some water. She would have only been clean until the next people came past, I'm sure, and they would have done the same. But that was the most intimate patient care experience I've ever had in my career. No question about it.


“Alpren Care Transcript,” CDC Museum Digital Exhibits, accessed June 14, 2024,