An American doctor describes his experiences in Liberia during the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic.
Hatch (Infectious Disease and Immunology/Univ. of Massachusetts Medical School; Snowball in a Blizzard: A Physician's Notes on Uncertainty in Medicine, 2016; etc.) first went to Liberia in November 2013, months before the Ebola outbreak began in earnest, to volunteer at the John F. Kennedy Hospital in Monrovia. By the time the first confirmed cases of Ebola were registered in West Africa, Hatch had returned to his life and work in the United States. But he felt such obligation that eventually, after overcoming various bureaucratic hurdles, he returned to Liberia, to volunteer in an Ebola Treatment Unit in Bong County. His deployment lasted six weeks. Hatch narrates those experiences in detail, from the day-to-day problems of shaving, dressing in personal protective equipment in extreme heat, and dehydration to the horrors experienced by his patients, which he witnessed daily. Hatch is a capable writer; his descriptions are fluid, and his voice is engaging. However, he has a tendency to extrapolate at length on issues that are likely to be of less interest to readers—those bureaucratic hurdles, for example. Nor is Hatch entirely successful in achieving the outsized ambitions he lists at the beginning of the book, which include not only analyzing the causes, extent, and impact of the Ebola outbreak, but also the intent to “rob the virus of its metaphorical power, which requires calling attention to the institution of sub–Saharan African slavery and the changes it wrought on at least three continents.” Still, Hatch’s testimony is a useful addition to the popular literature about the Ebola outbreak.
Despite occasional long-windedness, Hatch’s analysis is intelligent, nuanced, and tempered, a necessary departure from the panicked response of most American media outlets.