Amazing Kids! Magazine

Stories From the Frontlines

By Naomi Jeanpierre


Cameras flickered like lightning as the crowd hummed a low roar. I was caught in the storm of reporters. Microphones hovered around my face incessantly like an annoying bug.

“Dr. Fischer? You’re on in 5.” Amber, the associate responsible for making sure I didn’t look a disaster, straightened my collar.

A camera flashed once more, the light blinding my eyes as white spots danced in my vision. If I could imagine heat on my skin, I could pretend I was back in Liberia.

The overbearing sun casted a humid spell in the village, and sweat trickled it’s way around the crease of my eyelids. Customers used to pool around rough stalls, and the chatter of bargaining voices and lilted accents filled the room.

The damp air now smells like coalfire smoke and spices and rotting garbage. A dog’s corpse is laid in a puddle, bloated, stained by heavy rain.

“I don’t believe it’s my meat, Ms. Khlea once said, as behind her stood a table of smoked monkey and bushmeat, the smell tantalizing.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I haven’t gotten Ebola.”

“You’re tempting fate.” I warned her.

“Dr. Fisher? You’re on.”

It’s a funny thing being the celebrity of the hour. People who have never known my name now swarmed like a pack of vultures over a scrap of meat.

A man whose hair could supply enough oil to cook an egg stepped forward, his pale grey suit contrasting with the fire in his eyes.

“I couldn’t imagine going to a third-world country. So was it like living without internet?”

That earns some scattering laughter while others looked insulted.

Remember, people just really want some hero to look at, Amber said while adjusting my collar.

You know, just smile and look like some white hero on a horse and carriage that saved people.  Her smile looked more like a grimace. You’ll be fine.

“Uh, well, it was rather busy, with treating patients and whatnot. I never had time to spend on silly games. The experience was stressful at times, but very rewarding. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

A female reporter stepped up, her hair in neat cornrows.

“As a reporter from one of those third-world countries, I wanted to say thank you forcontributing for the welfare of our people. What did the locals think?”

Once, when the marketplace was still lively and congested with people, there was a hurricane warning issued. It was promised to uproot the houses from the ground, and throw the people around like rag dolls. Newscasters were all but begging people to leave before the disaster landed. The day before the hurricane was supposed to hit, the entire street was silent. The trees shuddered; the only movement was a lone car probably looking for gas. Right now, I could pretend that I was back in that moment. The few people caught outside have fast, frantic footsteps. The snippets of conversation that I can hear are laced with worry.

“It’s scary; you never know when it’ll sneak up on you. One day you’re coughing, the next and then you’re under the ground.”

“Try salt water! Make it boiling hot, then drink it in one go. That’s what I heard.”

I approach the two women talking to each other. One looks as if she was once stocky but had to lose a large amount of weight rapidly. Her eyes look frightened.

“Don’t you patronize me! Your medicine doesn’t work anyway. What happened to Afamefuna? People go the hospital and never come back.  We have our own medicine as well.”

“There were many rumors floating around about how to cure Ebola. Some thought that drinking boiling salt water would help. Or others would go to a soothsayer to cleanse themselves of an evil spirit causing the illness.

“That’s not to say they were primitive!” I rushed to say. “Just that many people would enter the hospital and never return. I suppose when everything else fails, you rely on your culture.”

The crease between her eyebrows seemed to soften like fresh linen left out to dry.

Whatever test she had given me, I felt like I passed. Her eyes never lost her sharpness.

“Do you have any stories from the frontlines of the Ebola outbreak?”

“There was one. While I was working in Guinea, a little boy arrived into the clinic with his sick mother. Both had contracted Ebola -she died on the way to the clinic- but he managed to make it to the medical tent where doctors started treating him with antibiotics and fluid.”

I put on the suit caked with dirt; it may have been yellow at one point. Blue goggles covered my eyes and concealed my face.

“Hey little man, are you okay? My voice sounded gargled, as if I had my head underwater.

“Where’s my mom?”

There was a strained pause, and as it went on I felt panic fester in my stomach. I’m glad he can’t see my face through the mask.

“We’re uh..” I swallowed through the ball in my throat. “We’re treating her. Let’s focus on you right now.”

“Why are you wearing a spacesuit?”

This question was easier to answer. “It protects me from the disease, so I can help more people from getting sick.”

“Naa told me to stop hugging people at school. She said that you didn’t know where their hands had been. I thought she was just being silly.” His eyes began to shine with unshed tears, that unguarded way children do before they learn shame.

“I want to see Naa.”

“We’re going to give you some fluids. It’s going to make you feel better, and Naa would not like you feeling bad, right?”

“Do I have to get a shot?”

“Yes, but if you can squeeze my hand if it hurts. It’s okay if cry, I won’t tell anyone.”

His small brown eyes contrast with the bulky gloves that I wore. He squeezes just a little and I wonder if he can feel warmth through them.

“You’re treating patients through two layers of latex gloves. A lot of the things you normally do to convey empathy is impossible to do under all these things,” I said as I described the special suit we wore to protect us from the disease.

“I assume they don’t know how much we care about them.”

“We’re managing to keep the pressure up by giving the kid some fluids. He’s still pretty shaky right now,” said one of my colleagues whose name I couldn’t remember. James? John?

Everything happens so quickly, I couldn’t keep track of everyone.

“Hey, kid.” I passed the pack of cookies I’d managed to nick from the supplied over to him. “You’ve been pretty brave. Braver than most adults I know.”

He did a small smile, and dimples appeared from tear-stained cheeks.

“I got a little bit of a smile out of him but he was in a tough spot. Then we had to leave.  The amount of time we could stay in the isolation ward was limited.  We left with this sliver of hope, or sliver of chance for the boy.”

“Where is he now?”

“The boy died later that night.”

The chatter dies down as the news sinks in.

“It portrayed how isolating Ebola can be,” I said. “He died without his family. You sit

there and you tell yourself, you’re making a difference, and then… The chances of us getting him

through this is pretty low, but, man, it’s miserable.”

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