Friday, 12 December 2014

What to pack?

I've arrived safely, settling in and everything's fine so far! This is a blog that I wrote the day before yesterday that I can upload with the wifi at the office :) ... more updates to come soon.

So I'm sat in my living room and the day of departure is finally here.  In front of me are piles of clothing, a few pairs of shoes, 20-something pairs of socks (they recommend bringing plenty as you sweat through 2 or 3 in every 6 hour shift wearing PPE), a lantern, a UV water filter, my bikini, and various other things that I hope will be useful. I'm also taking a suitcase full of important equipment for the charity e.g. thermometers, printer toner, a couple of laptops. Finally, my parents are on their way to my house to bring me a 3rd suitcase which is stocked with yummy Christmas treats for the staff at Connaught Hospital!

(My mum has a sneaky habit of winning raffles and other such prizes. Sure enough, at the Missenden Christmas Fete last Saturday... mum not only won the main prize of a luxury Marks&Spencer's Christmas hamper and a 4.5kg fully iced Christmas cake but also the 'guess the number of sweets in the jar' (521 chocolate eclairs!). Combine that with the 4 packets of mince pies that Kings SLP sneaked into their suitcase, and the volunteers at Connaught might begin to feel a bit spoilt.)

So having had 6 weeks since my interview to prepare and get my head in gear, how do I feel?The main emotion, at the moment, is definitely excitement. That might come as a surprise and obviously there is a healthy amount of fear and anxiety mixed in there too.

In fact, I had a real nervous period a few weeks ago. Initially, it was fear of contacting ebola via a needle stick, slipping in my PPE or even an unknown exposure in a public space. I even had an unnerving dream I was inside the Royal Free Hospital my parents encouragingly waving back at me through the plastic sheeting.  But actually fears of contracting ebola have been somewhat alleviated by the few returning volunteers I’ve spoken to and general communications with Kings who know their protocols are tried and tested and are safe.

A but of an ‘eek’ moment was when I found out the accommodation facilities were fairly basic; external water supply, generator electricity for the lights and fridge only, meaning there would be no getting home from a tough day at work, having a normal shower and settling down to a good DVD, and certainly no wifi. This made me doubt my ability to mentally cope outside of work. Once again, however, having spoken to a few returning volunteers, they report conditions are not too tough. They reassured me that the team of volunteers is so friendly everyone makes sure there is sufficient ‘down time’. Hopefully I'll be able to send an update in a few days... So ultimately now all those fears have been replaced with excitement and eagerness to get out there.

However, if you've been watching the same news programmes and media sources as me then you'd be forgiven in thinking ebola is no longer much of a problem. It's certainly not half as prominent a news story as a month ago. I’m beginning to kick myself that I hadn't gone earlier and worried that there wouldn't be much for me to do when I arrived. And yet my daily HealthMap ebola email last night told me otherwise, it's 3 main alerts related to Sierra Leone: 1) More ebola cases recorded in SL than Liberia... 2) Junior doctors in ebola-plagued SL stage strike... 3) Ebola still spreading fast in western SL. So the demand for help on the ground is still very acute and it's with slightly anxious anticipation but lots of excitement that I pack my bags, hoping I've also packed my courage!

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