Blood, Sweat, and Tears

July 12, 2014 • Liberia
David Torres, the logistics officer for the disaster response team. helps unload medical supplies for the Ebola response.

God is using the team in Liberia to combat Ebola and share His message

David Torres is the logistics officer for the disaster assistance relief team in the Liberia

I don’t do well around blood. Truth be known, hospitals make me queasy. It’s my weak constitution. When my kids were born, I even had trouble changing their diapers without gagging and stumbling out of their rooms gasping for air. (Thank you again to my wife.) But here I am in hospital (a critical care facility actually) in the remote jungles of northern Liberia at an Ebola outbreak—the worst in history.

Ebola, perhaps popularized by Hollywood’s “Outbreak” with Dustin Hoffman, is a dreaded disease. I expected blood everywhere, but I’ve seen little to date. In fact, it’s not what I expected at all. The medical outpost looks fairly innocuous at first glance: a tarp lined wooden structure roofed with rusting sheet metal, surrounded by orange snow fencing with one entrance and manned by someone with a hand sprayer that would I use around my house.

BATTLING AN EBOLA OUTBREAK: Samaritan’s Purse is providing direct care to patients suffering from the deadly disease.

Ebola Outbreak

These staff members have been working tirelessly since April at the center to help patients.

To enter the yard, you must first get your shoes sprayed down with a chlorine solution. You continue on and walk into the Case Management Center and into the isolation unit where all the patients are housed. There they await the return of their blood samples that will either confirm their worst fears or renew their lease on life.

If confirmed positive with the Ebola virus, the statistics are not at all encouraging. There’s only slightly higher than a 10 percent survival rate—worse if you’re pregnant or under the age of 7. I have the misfortune of attending to one of the little ones, only 3 months young, who died this morning.

Only people with protective suits can enter the Ebola isolation unit.

Only people with protective suits can enter the Ebola isolation unit.

“I’m not a doctor!” I think to myself. “I don’t like funeral homes either! I’m sure someone else is eminently more qualified to do this. I signed up to be a logistician for this response. I can do that. I’m tidy and somewhat good with numbers.” My reasoning to myself continues for more than 10 minutes.

I reluctantly come to the conclusion that the team is small, and everyone is tasked to capacity: one doctor and two nurses attending to patients, a hygiene team of four managing the decontamination of equipment and facility, and a burial team. This role seems to be vacant, but sadly it’s becoming more and more needed as the virus continues to take its toll.

Ebola Outbreak

“Save yourselves, save one another” is written as a reminder on the wall at the center to assist each other in putting on and taking off of the personal protective equipment.

“How bad can it be?” I thought with a cavalier attitude when I accepted the assignment from home. Although I’m an engineer by training, the methodical and reflective approach to decisions sometimes abandons me suddenly and inexplicably with the allure of a new adventure. That decision seems so long ago as I enter the preparation room where I start getting into my protective equipment: a yellow Tyvek suit, double layer of gloves, rubber boots, hood, mask, and goggles.

After about 20 minutes of struggling, checking, and re-checking, I’m in my suit. I can hear my heart and feel my breath in the suit; it crackles as I walk towards the section of the facility that has the “suspected” cases. My radar is up and furiously scanning my path for sharp objects formerly considered benign. They’re now considered lethal if they pierce my suit and let the virus in.

Once I cross the threshold, there is no turning back because it would contaminate the dressing area. This is a one-way trip, and I begin to wonder about all the things that can go insidiously wrong as I cross the point of no return.

Baby Timothy

My job, along with three other people, is to remove the baby’s body and take it to the morgue. It was once fresh and innocent, full of promise and hope; now it has become a boiling cauldron of the virus. I have been told that the virus is most infectious at this point. But as I walk in to the room, my fear is supplanted with sorrow as I see the baby there lying on its back; I see my own children there. My boy slept the same way with his little arms up.

Tears immediately well up in my eyes and begin to silently run down my cheeks and pool at the bottom of my goggles. My chest tightens, and every fiber in my body wants to leave. By this point my goggles have begun to fog, and sweat has soaked through my scrubs.

I can’t see anything; I tilt my head this way and that until find a small area in the lower right corner of my goggles that is still clear. I feel like I’m in a fog, not so much because of my goggles but because of how surreal everything is. It’s like some apocalyptical science fiction move that can’t be real.

But this is real—too real. This baby has a name (Timothy). His mother died of the virus earlier in the week and his father, still in the isolation unit, was seen holding him tightly in his arms the night before. His father was warned that he would be contaminated, but he responded that he didn’t care if he died. After his son’s death this morning, he is being reclassified as a “probable” contaminee. As a father, I know that at this point, that is inconsequential to him as he probably has already died on the inside.

David Torres, left, and other disaster response team members meet with doctors at the Foya Case Management Center.

David Torres, left, and other disaster response team members meet with doctors at the Foya Case Management Center.

Two of us lift the baby off the bed and gingerly put him in the tiny child’s body bag. We put his little cup in there, his little blanket, and a small supply of baby clothes. The virus triumphantly claimed the baby, everything he had, and everything he could have been in life.

I ponder the sadness of it all as we carry this little body to the morgue where it will lay alone, silent and still; it will be buried without any family in attendance and eventually be reclaimed by the earth. We return for the mattress to spray it down with chlorine solution and place it outside where the UV rays from the sun will make it clean again.

Life Redeemed

It seems like an unceremonious end to a life, but as Christians, we know that this is not so. A body was ravaged by this world and claimed by death, our enemy. But in the end, that enemy will be destroyed, and the natural body will be raised a spiritual body.

Baby Timothy was made clean by the Son and now has a sinless, perfect, disease-free body. He was accepted into the open, loving arms of the Father who is in heaven this morning, where he is being held tight and comforted as never before.

I lay in bed reflecting on the day. Forevermore, the cliché “blood, sweat, and tears” will have a new meaning for me. It will remind me of a tiny baby boy; it will remind me of my first days at a unique hospital (where I didn’t get queasy and race for the exit, stumbling and gasping for air).

It will remind me that despite my less than pure motives for coming, despite my weak constitution and fear, and despite all of my other shortcomings, I was used here today. It was in a way that I never would have imagined because He used me in my weakness. I made it through the blood, sweat, and tears for today, but tomorrow is another day. I fall asleep comforted, though, because I know His mercies for me will be new again in the morning.

“[The body] is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power,” (1 Corinthians 15:43, NKJV).