Emails from the front lines of the Ebola outbreak

Dr. Fischer in the village of Kissdougou.

“If you don’t get me on that plane soon I’m going to think my way out of this.”

This was Dr. William Fischer II’s response when asked to join a Doctors Without Borders team working in Guinea to contain the Ebola virus. Fischer, an associate program director at the University of North Carolina’s Department of Medicine, later said his decision to go to Guinea was one of the best he’s ever made.

Recruited for his expertise in critical care medicine, Fischer traveled in May to an Ebola isolation area in Guéckédou, Guinea, where the outbreak began. He returned home in June.

During his time in Guinea, Fischer captured his day-to-day experiences in a detailed series of e-mails to his family. His correspondence, snippets of which are posted below courtesy of UNC, provides an intimate look at the front lines of the Ebola outbreak.

June 2, 2014

It’s pretty emotional to bathe a 27-year- old man who was incredibly strong and rendered completely helpless. His sister is next door and will likely die in the next hour. This is all in front of the other patients in the room, many of whom are family members or neighbors. The despair is suffocating. My computer is running out of batteries. Sorry, more to come. Love y’all.

June 4, 2014

Despite all this suffering there are moments of hope.  There is one older man, who, as soon as I walk in, starts doing calisthenics to demonstrate his clinical improvement.  I can’t help but smile and he has started doing them when he sits outside and we walk by – he is the first person I look for when I arrive at the isolation center.

Dr. Fischer (third from left) and the clinical team.

June 8, 2014

As the reality of my departure nears I can’t help but feel some sense of guilt—guilt for not having done more, faster, and better. But I think this feeling emanates from the fact that I can leave and the patients in this epidemic can’t…

…I am troubled that I’m not better at this – that I haven’t figured out a way to implement more advanced healthcare infrastructure that would allow us to save more. When this epidemic is over I am sure there will be more time for reflection but now there are more patients and more chances to help.

Miss and love y’all,
Billy

June 10, 2014

The fear of Ebola is almost as dangerous as the virus itself. I truly believe this is a significant barrier to improving the clinical care of patients infected with Ebola… Fear is incredibly inhibiting to both healthcare provider recruitment and with contact tracing – two critical pieces in the struggle to control an outbreak…

…I’m leaving with both hope that critical care support can improve outcomes of Ebola infection and some sadness that I’m leaving before the end of the epidemic.

Miss and love you all,
Billy

As of August 8th, this isolation center in Guéckédou has treated over 150 patients, 46 of whom have recovered and returned home. Doctors Without Borders also operates facilities in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and has over 600 international and local staff working to contain the outbreak.

You can read the entire collection of Dr. Fischer’s e-mails on the UNC Health Care website.