The dirt road winds and dips, passes through a rubber plantation and arrives up a hill, near the grounds of an old leper colony. The latest scourge, Ebola, is under assault here in a cluster of cobalt-blue buildings operated by an American charity, International Medical Corps. In the newly opened treatment center, Liberian workers and volunteers from abroad identify who is infected, save those they can and try to halt the virus’s spread.
It is a place both ordinary and otherworldly. Young men who feel well enough run laps around the ward; acrid smoke wafts from a medical waste incinerator into the expansive tropical sky; doctors are unrecognizable in yellow protective suits; patients who may not have Ebola listen to a radio with those who do, separated by a fence and fresh air.
Here are the rhythms of a single day:
Soon after their arrival, about a half-dozen doctors and nurses gathered near whiteboards for the handoff from the night shift. There were 22 patients, and no deaths overnight. The center — which includes a triage area, a restricted unit for patients suspected of having Ebola infections and another for those in the grip of the disease — is not teeming like some clinics in Monrovia, more than four hours west. It is designed to accommodate up to 70 patients, but it is still scaling up after opening a few weeks ago and has just two ambulances to ferry patients.
An 8-year-old boy had been too weak to lift a liter bottle of oral rehydration solution to his mouth through the night. Bridget Anne Mulrooney, an American nurse, reported that she gave him a smaller bottle and sheets to keep warm. A woman who had lost both her baby and husband to Ebola and was suspected of having the disease herself was refusing food and medications for symptoms and other possible illnesses, such as malaria. A man in his 70s, a talkative staff favorite, was now confused, his sheet covered in blood. He had been admitted four days earlier, but laboratory tests confirming an Ebola diagnosis had not come back yet. “I think he’s positive,” said Dr. Colin Bucks, an American. “I think this will be an end-of-life event.”
Eight patients needed intravenous fluids to combat dehydration. One patient was described as happy. Another was playing cards.