A local nurse is on her way to the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Patrice Gordon, a Rossland resident and nurse practitioner in the Chilcotin, left for Ottawa last Thursday and is en route to the Kenema, Sierra Leone treatment centre as a member of the Emergency Response Unit with the Canadian Red Cross.
She will be sharing her knowledge and expertise in medicine to treat patients in a place where 1,200 people have already died of the viral disease.
She is worried about the trip, but not about what awaits her in Africa.
Her concerns lie back at home in Rossland.
“I don’t have any reservations (about the trip),” she said, adding that she will be spending Christmas in Africa with no snow and 40 C temperatures.
“My biggest concern is the worrying that my partner, my kids, and my family will be doing while I am gone. It is going to be far harder for the ones that are left behind, than it is going to be for me who is going. My worry is around my family, my partner and my dog – they are going to miss me.”
The reason Gordon isn’t worried about her time in West Africa? Training and education.
“I am fully confident that we will have everything we need to provide the care safely and I am fully confident in my own skills,” she said before hopping a flight to Ottawa for a Red Cross briefing.
“There is a lot of unknown, because I haven’t been in an environment like this before, but right now, I am not terribly anxious.”
Gordon also has previous education dealing specifically with diseases in poverty.
“I have done a lot of research and I have a diploma in International Medicine and Public Health and a lot of that was diseases in poverty, which included viral hemorrhagic fevers,” she said.
“That takes some of the pressure away. I know more that I would have had I not done that area of study.”
The Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations currently working against the spread of Ebola in West Africa have instilled a bit of extra confidence in Gordon and the work she will be doing. Mostly because of the high-level safety precautions taken while treating infected patients.
“I think that the Public Health Agency in Canada, they are looking at this very scientifically and they are being really careful, as they should be,” she said. “It is important that it is taken seriously. The Red Cross has been superb about making sure that we are absolutely informed prior to going, as far as what we will be encountering and what to expect when I come back.”
When Gordon does return to B.C., she wants to assure residents in the area that, by working with Interior Health and communicable disease officers, she will be taking every precaution.
“There hasn’t been a case in Canada and I don’t want to be the first,” she said. “If, heaven forbid, I contracted it, I would most definitely not want it to go any further than me.”
Regardless of infection, Gordon will be isolating herself for three weeks once she gets home.
“I won’t be coming back straight to the heart of any community,” she said. “I won’t be going into huge groups of people and I won’t be going to my place of employ for 21 days. I am taking all precautions. I can’t even travel within BC when I am home. I am going to be in one place and if I want to travel, I have to discuss it with them even if I am going to be driving in my own truck.”
“Everyone should feel very safe because we are paying very close attention to these things,” she said.
When Gordon gets into the thick of it on the ground in Sierra Leone, she will be administering direct patient care to people infected with Ebola. Preparation training is taking place in Madrid before she makes the final flight to West Africa.
“There is no cure right now, so the treatment is directed at symptoms,” she said. “The symptoms are vast, so there is going to be a lot of providing intravenous fluids, pain medications and treating each of the specific symptoms, whether it is gastrointestinal stuff like vomiting and diarrhea or bleeding.”
While treating patients, Gordon will be sealed into a water tight suit in extremely hot weather to prevent health care workers from contracting the hemorrhagic disease. This includes a trained observer who watches the process of entering and exiting the isolation area, just to make sure no procedures are missed or forgotten.
“You are pretty much in a roaster out there,” she said, adding that medical professionals have limited time with patients every day because it is so hot. “When you go into the isolation area where the infected patients are and decontaminate when you come out, those steps have to be so meticulous.”
Prevention is a large part of the fight against Ebola in West Africa and although she won’t be involved in that aspect of treatment, Gordon says she understands how important it is and the support it provides
patients and the work she does.
“As you can imagine, when someone comes to the treatment centre and is admitted, you’ve got family members who are watching their loved one go into the isolation area where they can’t go and just figuring out what to do with kids who have a parent that is sick,” she said. “There are just so many facets to it aside from the direct patient care. Everyone works together and does whatever they can to help everyone else.”
Being able to contribute to the treatment of the Ebola virus is something that Gordon sees as a privilege and it wasn’t the first time she was set to help out in West Africa.
“I know it sounds hokey, but it really is,” she laughed, adding that it feels good to know that will be making a difference in people’s lives. “I feel so fortunate to have anything to offer to help. There are so many bad things in the world that we can’t touch and we can’t have any affect on. It feels really good to know that there is something I can do that will be helpful.”
Gordon was originally scheduled to head to Guinea last April, but the trip was cancelled because it seemed that the outbreak was on its way to be contained. The call came for her to join another trip to the disease-ridden region back in July.