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A Good Death?
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A Good Death?

Donn Gaede, Assistant Professor of Global Health and Health Administration and Secretary for Adventist Health International, he works closely with the hospitals in West Africa. 

September 12, 2014

A new article that just came out in the New England Journal of Medicine, A Good Death- Ebola and Sacrafice  pushed at my thoughts from recent discussions that are taking place here at Loma Linda regarding our work at two of our hospitals.  As many of you know there is a terrible Ebola outbreak going on in West Africa and two of the hospitals that AHI works with are located in the middle of this crisis.  Waterloo Hospital in Sierra Leone and Cooper Hospital in Liberia.  Many know about our graduates at Cooper, Gillian Seton and James Appel, who are working long hours with the dedicated staff to provide medical care to non-Ebola cases in Monrovia where most of the health care system has collapsed (see for reports).  As some have pointed out, more are dying from non-Ebola cases because either people can’t access medical care now because of the closed hospitals or are afraid to go because of fear of exposure.  But the fear of Ebola is real.  Inadequate facilities and practices, often because of the limited supplies, are the norm so when cases of Ebola show up it is not uncommon to be vulnerable to infection.  And then there is the almost 50% death rate.  Lack of transportation to Ebola treatments centers, lack of sufficient beds and medical staff to treat the disease, stigma of family members, different beliefs in causes of disease and therefore methods of disease transmission are pushing this historical outbreak to unprecedented levels.  Fear is rampant and social and economic structures are breaking down.  As our Business Manager explained “it is very quiet on the streets as people are afraid to come out and associate with one another.”  A recent NPR report explained that transportation systems are broken so crops are left in the field because they can’t be transported to market, supplies and market goods can’t be replaced in the stores so people are having a hard time finding enough food and household goods.  It is a dismal picture.

Almost two weeks ago we found out that an Ebola patient came to our hospital at Waterloo.  Our staff screens patients and in the process discovered that this patient was a likely case.  We contacted the authorities quickly but it took time to transport the patient.  While in our care approximately 7 staff members were exposed in some way to this patient.  While we had tried to set up appropriate precautions and procedures some of our staff were non-the-less exposed.  The government decided to close the hospital and put our entire staff in quarantine at the hospital.  We have a guard stationed to keep patients away and staff members in the hospital.  Daily our Doctor checks each member to see if any symptoms exist.  During the course of the last week, three members were discovered to be positive for symptoms and subsequent testing has confirmed they are positive for the Ebola virus.  The authorities were immediately notified and they were transferred to an Ebola treatment center.  Yesterday we learned that one of our employees has died.  You can imagine the sadness and fear that has descended on our staff as they sit waiting for their 21 days to pass.  Twice a day they have worship, asking for God’s protection and seeking His will for their lives.  What questions does this raise?  I might add that in both of our hospitals our staff have chosen to continue to come to work when many other hospitals have been closed because the staff have been afraid.  Did our staff make the wrong decision?  Is God with them?  What do they do now? 

As many of us know, these are some of the hardest questions to answer.  It takes a deep faith in God to be able to walk through the “valley of the shadow of death” without fear, trusting fully in our Heavenly Shepherd and Heavenly Father.  What the right decision is I will not say.  I believe these decisions must be made in private communication directly with our heavenly Father.  Everyone will receive their own specific answer.

What about those that have died?  Was there death in vain?  I would like to point out that in the time they have stayed open there have been many cases that have come to the hospital where the patients would have likely died if they were not there.  Because people have been hesitant to seek help, some have died on our doorstep.  For those we have had to provide comfort to the grieving families.  There is a profound mission work that has been taking place each day at these hospitals.  The communities have come to our hospital looking for hope and our staff, from housekeepers, to maintenance support, to business people, to nurses and health personnel, to our doctors, all have been there to provide it.  God has found ready hands made available for His work to be done through them.  They have offered themselves willingly and readily to be there in the place of danger to provide comfort, hope and healing to our brothers and sisters in desperate need.  Because yes, these are our brothers and sisters.  These neighbors are fellow children of our heavenly Father and He has poured out the best of heaven to reach out to them to draw them to Him.  And in this time of terror, we need people who are willing to give a clear picture of what God is really like, who are willing to offer themselves to demonstrate the truth about our Heavenly Father in the face of the lies that the Devil is spreading throughout this world.   We need people to walk the footsteps of Jesus.  We are in the middle of a very Great Controversy and these people are on the front lines.  I want to honor them for their sacrifice and honor God for what He has done through them and what he continues to do through the memory of their lives of sacrifice.  I pray that the staff members have not died in vain.  I pray that their families will experience the presence of God in their lives even as their beloved family members have gone to sleep.  I pray that we as a church family will support them during and after this crisis.  And most of all I pray that people will see God for who He really is and that this Controversy can be settled once and for all so we can go home with Jesus very soon. 

Was their death a good death?  I believe that God will record a wonderful testimony in the Book of Life.  I look forward to reading His version when it is opened to us and we will see the beautiful story of redemption that they are now part of.

Father, please come quickly.