SHE quit her job at Basingstoke hospital to help victims of the Ebola crisis in Africa – and this week Natalie Mounter has sent The Gazette her latest report from the frontline of the fight against the killer disease that has already claimed thousands of lives.
Isolation ward nurse Natalie travelled to Sierra Leone on October 4 to join the medical team battling the deadly epidemic.
Natalie has been working in an isolation ward in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. More than 5,400 people have now died in the Ebola outbreak, with Sierra Leone the worst-affected of all the countries where the disease has taken hold.
Natalie, who is 32, is one of about 160 British volunteers, who are taking part in combating the world’s worst Ebola virus outbreak as part of partnership between King’s College Hospital Trust in London and Connaught Hospital, in Freetown.
Natalie's latest report reveals in stark, and harrowing, fashion how the battle to combat the Ebola outbreak is still raging, and it shows little sign of abating.
"It's been over seven weeks since I started working as a volunteer nurse on the Ebola Isolation Unit at Connaught Hospital with King’s Sierra Leone Partnership.
During that time, the number of suspect Ebola cases arriving at the hospital has notably increased, and at the moment it is difficult to say when that will change.
Our 17-bed unit is always at capacity and when we do have an available bed there are usually between five and 10 people waiting to fill it.
We have a screening booth outside the main entrance of the hospital and anyone who turns up must be seen and assessed there.
If we suspect they have Ebola, they are moved to the tent opposite the booth, and when there is an available bed in the unit, I or one of my colleagues will go to the tent and decide who to bring in.
We try to encourage the less sick patients to go home, taking their details so they can be contacted when a bed is available. Understandably some don’t want to, or are simply too unwell to leave.
It’s not uncommon for people to wait three, four or five days for a bed, all the time just sitting in that tent. It is a regular occurrence that people die there waiting to be admitted.
The fact that so many people die just waiting for a hospital bed is indicative of what an absolutely desperate situation this is.
People are working very hard to get this crisis under control, but at the moment things can’t happen fast enough.
More labs opening up has meant an increase in the speed in which blood samples are processed, and I am often meeting and training both local and foreign healthcare workers who are planning to work in treatment centres.
Despite this, it feels like we are struggling to stay ahead of the curve. The statistics say that for every 10 people with Ebola, another 17 people will become infected as a result. This is why it is essential to isolate people, and why not doing so makes it so difficult to reduce the numbers of people infected.
We simply don’t have anywhere near enough isolation beds to keep things under control at the moment. More help is most definitely still needed.
The level of human suffering involved in this outbreak is immense. Ebola victims die in an horrific and undignified way – pain, panic and severe confusion are almost always present in the final stages of the disease. We try our best to treat the symptoms but, without a cure, it often feels like any treatment we give is just a drop in the ocean.
The deaths here are relentless. We sometimes deal with eight or 10 corpses in a shift. Many people catch Ebola from caring for their relatives and so it is not uncommon to see whole families wiped out.
Witnessing this has made me realise that we are no longer dealing with a disease epidemic. This is a humanitarian disaster, and it has been for a while.
Having been a nurse for several years, I came here already having learned how to deal with death and suffering in my work life, and those coping mechanisms have been invaluable.
The things I am seeing on the ward are no doubt traumatic, but in order to be effective, it’s essential for me and my colleagues not to get too involved emotionally, and to look at what we’re doing as a job.
However, it would be naive to say that it’s not going to have an effect on me, but I’m as yet unsure as to how this will manifest itself. It may be that when I stop and have a chance to process everything that it will all catch up with me.
For the moment I am happy to be here and grateful for the opportunity to help. This is an amazing experience for so many reasons and I am most definitely not a martyr.
I do miss home a little, and I am looking forward to heading to England for a short break in early December. After that I’ll come back to Sierra Leone to continue what I’m doing.
I originally planned to stay for three months, but now I am certain I would like to carry on working out here until the end of Ebola. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else."