RN in Ebola outbreak points out disturbing similarities to COVID-19 crisis

Cheedy Jaja admitted that before an interview with Nurse.com he felt overwhelming anxiety.

The interview would delve into his experience and lessons learned while Jaja volunteered in Africa during the Ebola outbreak.

At first, he thought recalling the experience would be a piece of cake. After all, it’s over. But what he has found as he tries to prepare nurses for the mental health toll of such a crisis is that years later, the memories remain troubling.

Cheedy Jaja, APRN

“Very raw,” he said.

They come out of nowhere and send Jaja into a depression, even today.

Jaja worries about nurses in the COVID-19 pandemic, who like him were woefully unprepared to care for the onslaught of patients, lacked personal protective equipment and were helpless to adequately treat patients as scientists tried to find answers. His goal is to help better prepare nurses for the front lines during this and future crises and pandemics so they remain physically and mentally healthier along with their patients.

Ebola outbreak shakes Jaja to the core

Jaja, PhD, MPH, MSN, PMHNP-BC, APRN, an associate professor of nursing at University of South Carolina, in Columbia, S.C., felt compelled to do something to help during the 2013-2016 West African Ebola outbreak. Jaja was born in Sierra Leone, which was one of the countries affected, along with Guinea and Liberia.

The countries had experienced civil war and already had dilapidated healthcare infrastructures.

“I felt like I had to do something,” he said. “You see all these negative images of people dying on the street. I just felt like, ‘I’m a healthcare worker. This is one of those situations where you have to stand up and be counted. I cannot look at myself in the mirror if I don’t do anything.’”

Jaja, who is trained in psychiatry and mental health, wasn’t sure what he could offer.

“All I knew was I was a nurse and that counted for something,” he said.

Jaja’s first deployment was with a humanitarian organization to Sierra Leone, where he cared for Ebola patients for 6 1/2 weeks. The 14 clinicians from different parts of the U.S. who embarked on the mission were totally unprepared for what they encountered, according to Jaja.

“I remember vividly the first day I donned my personal protective equipment — hooded Tyvek bodysuit, N-95 face mask, boots, theater cap, three pairs of gloves, face shield and apron — to enter the Ebola isolation unit at Port Loko Hospital early Christmas Day 2014, only to encounter a young patient who had died overnight, lying on the cold concrete floor,” Jaja wrote in an article in The Conversation. “The cacophony of emotions I felt — panic, fear and dread — were palpable. I thought to myself, ‘God, I am no hero. Please get me out of here.’”

He said the fears started to fade as his clinical skills kicked in, and he did what he could with what he had.

Interestingly, many of the same problems occurred in Africa as have happened in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Basic PPE to …read more

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