Friday March 17, 2017

An American doctor's journey into the inferno of the Ebola crisis

Dr. Steve Hatch shares his story in his new book Inferno: A Doctor's Ebola Story.

Dr. Steve Hatch shares his story in his new book Inferno: A Doctor's Ebola Story. ( Marianne Karmel)

Listen 26:57

Read story transcript

In 2014, West Africa was in the grips of an Ebola outbreak — and the world was in a panic.

But Dr. Steven Hatch, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of  Massachusetts Medical School, suited up and headed right in.

He's written about his experience in Inferno: A Doctor's Ebola Story.

"Some of my colleagues asked me in a direct manner if I was completely out of my mind for wanting to go there," Hatch tells The Current's guest host Marcia Young.

courtesy of Steven Hatch

Steven Hatch (courtesy of Steven Hatch)

"I was a little surprised that there was not a similar sense among some of my colleagues that this is an infectious outbreak, we should want to go."

The Ebola outbreak had a death rate of up to 90 per cent, leaving 11,000 dead — more than half of those in Liberia, where Hatch was working.

He had visited the country before and knew some of the people infected.

"It was really important for me to return to Liberia because I feel a sense of a special relationship with them as my brothers and sisters," says Hatch.

And though his decades of hospital experience in the United States helped him get to work quickly, some elements of the job were jarringly different.

'You can have surprises come at you in ways you couldn't possibly anticipate.' - Steven Hatch

Hatch was astonished by everything his colleagues who ran the Ebola treatment unit had to take into consideration. 

"They had to think about what would happen if supply lines got stressed, what would happen if the workers decided to go on strike, what would happen if the unit was attacked."

The vital protection equipment health care workers wore also meant a change in approach.

"Doctors and nurses are trained to react quickly when a person's life is in danger," says Hatch. "If someone had a seizure in an Ebola treatment unit, which is a life threatening moment ... we would not come running. We would slowly, carefully put on protective gear, which can take up to 10 minutes."

Not doing so could have severe consequences.

"You just didn't risk your own infection and you didn't want to put other people at risk as well," says Hatch.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal and Pacinthe Mattar.