Ebola Patient Families Wait for Info 09/30 06:11
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) -- First the ring tone echoed outside the
barbed-wire-topped walls of the Ebola clinic. Then came the wails of grief, as
news spread that 31-year-old Rose Johnson was dead just days after she was
brought here unconscious by relatives.
Soon her mother's sorrow became so unbearable, her body so limp and heavy,
that even her two other daughters could no longer help her stand.
There had been no official confirmation of Rose's death from hospital
officials, no time for someone to explain her final moments, just word from a
family acquaintance inside who said her bed had been cleared that morning to
make way for a new patient.
Her grieving husband stood in a daze outside the hospital, scratching air
time cards so he could use his mobile phone to notify other family members.
"I've been here every day, every day, every day," says David Johnson, 31,
now left with the couple's 18-month-old daughter Divine. "Up till now there has
been no information. How can I believe she is dead?"
As the death toll from Ebola soars, crowded clinics are turning over beds as
quickly as patients are dying. This leaves social workers and psychologists
struggling to keep pace and notify families, who must wait outside for fear of
contagion. Also, under a government decree, all Ebola victims must be cremated,
leaving families in unbearable pain with no chance for goodbye, no body to bury.
"People are standing around for weeks. Nobody is coming to them. There
should be a system in place for disseminating information but there is
nothing," says Kanyean Molton Farley, a 39-year-old community leader in one of
Monrovia's hardest-hit neighborhoods.
At least 1,830 people are believed to have died from the disease here in
Liberia, and many fear the actual toll is far higher and rising fast. A recent
update from the World Health Organization showed that more than half the cases
in Liberia happened in the preceding 21 days.
Doctors Without Borders in Monrovia has three phone lines to answer calls
from worried families. The group asks relatives to come in person for updates
on their loved ones inside the 160-bed facility, but sometimes they get news
from friends or family inside instead, says Athena Viscusi, a clinical social
"We encourage them to come and meet with a counselor," says Viscusi. She
notes that Doctors Without Borders hopes eventually to photograph the dead
before cremation to help with identification.
Dozens of family members show up each day at the gates of the city's Ebola
clinics, anxiously clutching cell phones and desperate for any update on their
loved ones inside. They pace back and forth, leaving only to buy more phone
credit. All the while, they keep a safe distance from those stricken with Ebola
who huddle by the gates in hopes of gaining a coveted bed inside and a chance
Linda Barlea, 32, is desperate to know what has become of her boyfriend of
13 years. One by one his family has been decimated by Ebola: First his brother,
then his mother, then a sister, then another brother. Only the 7-year-old niece
Miamu has survived, and then was chased from Barlea's home by fearful neighbors.
Barlea's mother called the clinic's official hotline for patient information
and was told his name appeared on the list of the dead. Barlea says she needs
to hear it for herself. But every time she calls now, she gets a busy signal.
So she has shown up here, demanding answers before she will leave.
The lack of official confirmation has led to disastrous misinformation in
some cases: Julius Prout's family held two wakes for him after being told by a
security guard at the clinic that he was dead. Family members gathered first
for several days at his parents' home, then at his uncle's.
Instead, health workers had merely moved him to another section of the
hospital and burned his cell phone along with his belongings for fear of
When the 32-year-old nurse regained his strength almost a week later, the
first thing he saw was a Bible given to him by a nurse. He says it is no
coincidence that he opened it randomly to John 11, when Jesus raises Lazarus
from the dead.
Prout then borrowed a phone to call the family. All he could hear was the
deafening sound of loved ones yelling and cheering in the background.
"We rejoiced and were so grateful that he was alive," says his uncle,
Alexander Howard, 57.
Rumors only intensify the hellish wait for those like Alieu Kenneh, who took
his 24-year-old pregnant wife to four different hospitals before they finally
found a place for her at Island Clinic, the capital's latest Ebola treatment
Several days after Mandou was admitted, word spread that a pregnant women
inside had died. Surely, though, there was more than one. Could it be her?
The last image he has of her, replaying in his mind, is as they slammed the
ambulance door shut, telling him there wasn't enough room for him to join her
on the ride. Then a disinfection team sprayed the bewildered man left watching
it drive away.
Kenneh held vigil outside her clinic for seven days.. One week after she was
admitted, the phone finally rang. The doctor said she had died five days
earlier after going into labor. The baby had not made it.
Kenneh, who met his wife when the two were teenagers living in a refugee
camp in neighboring Guinea, now can't bear to go back to the apartment they
shared. Her photos and clothes are everywhere, along with the blankets they had
bought for the baby.
On top of it, Monday was her birthday. She should have turned 25, he says in
tears. She was so excited to become a mother, and didn't know the sex of the
child she was carrying. A nurse told her husband it was a boy.
"We give them to God and we cannot say anything more than that," he says.
The tiny baby's body was cremated before Kenneh even knew his son had been