Wrestling with Ebola

July 11, 2014

by Dr. Lance Plyler, leader of the Samaritan’s Purse disaster response team battling the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa

A Samaritan's Purse doctor heading up our response to the deadly Ebola outbreak sees the hope of Christ even in the midst of death and despair.

For more information about how Samaritan's Purse is responding to the latest outbreak of Ebola, click here.

This morning I went through the painstaking and meticulous ritual of properly donning multiple pieces of personal protective equipment in order to care for patients who have been stricken with the deadly Ebola virus and admitted to the Foya Case Management Center (CMC).

The center lies in Lofa County, Liberia, in close proximity to the borders of Guinea and Sierra Leone. Lofa County is located within the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak.

My mind raced with a multitude of conflicting emotions as I prepared once again to enter the doors of the center. A keen sense of my own mortality and vulnerability was fortunately trumped by a tremendous sense of urgency to minister and to nurture these innocent victims of circumstance.

After making sure that no mistakes were made in putting on the equipment that would prevent my personal exposure to this deadly virus that so indiscriminately destroys lives, I entered into the maze of corridors of the center.

As we walked into a room on the “suspected” side of the CMC (dedicated to patients awaiting confirmation of infection via laboratory analysis of blood samples), we saw a 12-year-old girl, lifeless and still. She was quite obviously dead, another fatality in this unfathomable and unprecedented outbreak.

There are honestly no words to describe how agonizing it is to witness these innocent and quarantined children succumb to death seemingly alone. Mothers, fathers, and familiar faces of family are glaringly absent from the room, and the only flimsy contact with the outside world are the “strangers in space suits.”

I am a doctor and have confronted the loss of life many, many times, but this dimension of death is one I have never before experienced. It robs the patient of their social dignity as well as their physical health. It marginalizes and isolates like no other sickness I know.

Dr Kent BrantlyIn the sweltering heat, fully robed in my protective gear within the labyrinth of the Ebola care center, I wrestled with these daunting thoughts of despair. These emotions were penetrating and strong, and for the moment were truly overwhelming. It seemed as though there was literally no way out for these people. My heart was broken for them.

Pictured left, Dr. Kent Brantly gives orders for medication to administer to the Ebola patients through the doorway of the isolation unit. Dr. Brantly spent almost four hours in the Tyvek suit in order to care for the three patients in the unit.

In these somber moments, however, an almost audible voice quietly from within reminded me of God’s Holy Word, and His promises began to slowly but steadily resonate. I cannot explain this earthly suffering of His people and children, but I know that God alone is indeed sovereign and that He loves them dearly.

In fact, He gave his only Son for them. “For God so loved the World that He gave his only begotten Son that who so ever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). I also know that He has prepared a home for them. “Let the children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

I cannot pretend I have rationalized or fully come to terms with so many unanswered questions and unsettled emotions from encountering Ebola. Ultimately though, I find great refuge and trust in my faith and God’s Holy and inerrant Word, the Bible. I trust that indeed God does love us unconditionally, and He will never fail us.

As I work diligently to help bring this raging epidemic to a close, I pray that I will do so as an ambassador of hope. Indeed I believe there is hope in this epidemic. It is the hope that comes through faith in God’s only Son.