My son is in West Africa. As his mother I am very concerned for his well-being. In late July he was given an opportunity to do an Ag internship there teaching agriculture. I had been watching the existence of Ebola in West Africa since March. I am a retired nurse and as such I like to stay informed of medical news. My son asked me if he should take the opportunity. I told him to let me think on it for a day. At the time WHO (World Health Organization) was reporting that there were 982 suspected cases and 613 deaths from Ebola in West Africa. The next day I said to him, “If this is what you would like to do then I support you in your decision but you must know how to protect yourself from the Ebola Virus.”
In August my son prepared to go to Africa. As his mother I taught him all that I knew about Ebola and how to prevent his getting it. I bought him a supply of gloves and masks and a hazard suit to take with him just in case. Hand sanitizer, hand disinfectant wipes, and Clorox wipes were added to his items that he would be taking with him. He received all the necessary immunization shots and began taking the Malaria medication that he would have to take once a week for 19 weeks.
The night before he left I helped him pack. I work for the Idaho Falls Area Humanitarian Center and he has often volunteered there, so from this fine organization he filled a suitcase with hygiene kits, educational toys, and other items to give the people of Africa where he would be living. Then he and I sat down and watched the movie “Contagion” together. It was his idea and I thought it a wise one.
On the 1st of September I watched my son board a plane for West Africa. He is 21 years old and young and brave, he cares about the world and those in the world who are less fortunate than himself and he wants to help make the world a better place. On that day the Ebola Virus had increased to 3,707 suspected cases with 1,808 deaths. I have to admit that after I told him goodbye, I shed a few tears as a worried mother.
In 1979 when I was 21 and young and brave I too boarded a plane for a third world country. Before leaving I received all the necessary immunizations. I was a new nurse and serving the people living in a third world country was important to me. I was given a vaccine for Typhoid Fever before I left the States yet while in South America I came down with a different strain of Typhoid and became very sick with Typhoid Fever. So I understand the risk of traveling abroad.
My having worked in the medical field for many years now and having worked on the medical floor of several hospitals and having worked with isolation patients and having been educated on the correct protocol of isolation procedures, it does not surprise me that there are now two nurses who have become ill with Ebola, one in Spain and one in Texas. I’ve see it happen with other diseases.
Years ago I taught my children to wash their hands before they eat and after using the restroom. I taught them this not because I am a nurse but because my mother taught me to do as such. She was taught this by her mother, my grandmother, who learned it from her mother. I remember my grandmother. She was a very clean person. She told me about when she was a child in 1918 and how one day her school was closed because the Spanish Flu was sweeping the country. In her small community where she lived there was not a single family who did not become ill with it except for my grandmother’s family. Her family, a family with nine children who had been to school, never became ill, not a single one of them. She always gave credit to the fact that her mother had them all drink yarrow tea every morning. However, now that I am educated and experienced, it has occurred to me that it perhaps wasn’t so much the tea that they drank which kept them well, but more likely their staying well was due to the fact that they were accustomed to washing their hands.
Another thing that I taught my children and I reminded them of it when H1N1 was sweeping the country in 2009, was that they were to use their left hand for everything personal and their right hand for dealing with people, opening doors, and touching things. (No I am not a germophobe and I am not like “Monk” with his fear of germs.) There are a few things a person can do to help prevent spreading illnesses and that is one of them.
Before my son left for West Africa I told him to not shake hands with people there. As I said goodbye to him at the airport, I said to him, “Remember… no shaking hands.” Then when I finally heard from him a few days later, one of the first things I asked him was, “Have you remembered to not shake hands?” He told me that his first day there he had met an important official and he had shook hands. So I thought I would do an experiment and see how hard it is to not shake hands when it is our custom to do so. So began my attempt to not shake hands. To be honest, it is a difficult thing to do, to change ones custom of behavior. I failed several times and did shake hands. However today as I entered my place of worship, when the greeter at the door offered to shake my hand, I declined and said to him, “I don’t shake hands anymore.” I fear that I may have offended him. However, as a mother, I can’t expect one of my children to do something that I myself am not willing to do, and so I did not shake hands with anyone today.
I have told my son that he needs to take his temperature often and that before he comes home he should take it twice a day for a week to make sure he has no fever prior to traveling. Before he left, I told him that when he returns I will be putting him into quarantine for three weeks at home (mostly due to the fact that traveling through the major cities of Africa as he travels home increases his risk of coming in contact with the Ebola virus). He understands this and it was part of his decision as he prepared to leave. Today there are 8399 suspected cases and there have been 4,033 deaths. By the time he returns home the numbers will be much higher. I probably won’t hug him when he gets off the plane. However I will welcome him home. For three weeks (21 days) he will voluntarily stay home. As a family we will probably use disposable utensils and he will be assigned his own bathroom and he will take his temperature twice a day just as a precaution. As his mother I will pray that he stays well until he returns home and that he will be well after coming home. However, faith without works is dead and so I will see to it that we do our share. That means he will miss attending Christmas parties and family get-together’s and he may feel a little confined. Still the 21 days will pass quickly and then it will be time for him to go off to school for his winter semester and he will know that he did his part to not spread any illness.
So with Ebola and Enterovirus 68 along with the flu what can a person do to stay healthy?
(292 North Americans died from the influenza in 2013-2014 flu season.)
- Keep your body in good physical condition so that your immune system is at its best.
- Wash your hands often with soap, after using the restroom, being in public, and before eating.
- Avoid touching your face. Especially your eyes. The eye is a portal for illnesses to enter.
- Stay away from crowds and avoid people who look to be sick.
- If you have a fever stay home. Rushing to the ER with every little fever will only increase the spread of disease.
- Cover your face when you cough or sneeze.
- In your family, break the habit of sharing food and drinks. If one member of your family becomes ill and it is your custom to drink out of the same glass or to eat off of the same plate or to share bites or to kiss your children on the mouth, then any illness will spread throughout your whole family and you are all going to be sick.
- Don’t share hand towels.
- Use a tablespoon of Clorox in your dish water to kill germs.
- If a member of your family comes down with something, isolate them to their rooms.
I had a son who was terminally ill. The doctors gave him only six months to live. He lived 13 years. Any small illness could have ended his life. I had to keep him from catching things from other family members whenever they were sick. I used the above guidelines and we never had sickness spread from person to person in my family. It can be done.
My son in West Africa, he is not in a country with Ebola, he is in one next to it. We however are in a country with Ebola. Face it… we have Ebola now and so our customs may need to change. I may avoid public salad bars for a while just as a precaution.