I’ve just come back from another, mostly fruitless attempt to surf here in Liberia. I was outside in the car by 5:50AM, waiting for the curfew to lift before racing through the streets of Monrovia to Oddny Beach. The surf was still big and rough and I couldn’t even get past the break. After finally succumbing to exhaustion, I caught some white water in which formed back up and allowed me a few brief seconds of actual stand up surfing before I was back on the beach. I got a call from the nursing station just after getting out saying that our patient with Alcohol withdrawal syndrome just passed. Their way of phrasing it is “There’s no vital signs.”
So, I’ve just pulled up in front of the gate to the hospital compound. I turn off the car and walk towards the main entrance so I can go through and open the gate from inside. I see the young man who’s been staying with our administrator, Mrs. Carter's husband while he’s been hospitalized the last week.
“Morning, how are things?” I ask.
“Fine,” he says with a half smile.
I walk past but here another voice behind me.
“Doctor…” I turn and see another relative of Mrs. Carter’s getting out of the car I just walked past.
“I jus’ wanna tank you fo’ yo’ efforts for de ol’ man.”
“Ok, no problem…” I get a sinking suspicion that I confirm in the hospital later: Mr. Carter died overnight.
I go home, take a cold bucket shower and go into the hospital. As I open the door to my office I see another young man who’s been faithfully by the side of his aging diabetic father who came in with severe anemia and cerebral malaria. We’d transfused him several times and had been treating him for several days with not much improvement. The man stops me.
“Tanks, doc, yo’ done yo’ best fo’ ma fadduh. He was jus’ his time. Tanks fo’ everyting…” And I know he would’ve shaken my hand if Ebola hadn’t made that ancient ritual suddenly obsolete.
So death continues to stalk us: not just Ebola, but those patients who wait till the last minute to come in because they are afraid of going to the hospital where they are afraid they might catch Ebola. Yet, in spite of it all, the thankful, generous spirit of the Liberians shines through.