UBSSL 2016 Goodwill Award Recipient

Dr. Matthew Waxman

Dr. Matthew Waxman

Dr. Matthew Waxman returned to Los Angeles in March 2015 from Sierra Leone, West Africa, where he spent two months in Lunsar clinic treating patients with Ebola. Waxman is an assistant clinical professor of emergency medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and an attending physician in emergency medicine at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center. His expertise in emergency medicine and his specialized training in tropical medicine and hygiene have taken him to work and lecture in Southeast Asia, Africa and South America. In the world of Ebola, experience is everything. You may be a professor and perhaps have written hundreds of papers about Ebola, but if you’ve never worn the suit that was pictured on the cover of Time magazine or taken care of an Ebola patient in 104-degree heat, then you are not very useful here. Kelly, a volunteer ER nurse from the East Coast, was in Liberia at the height of the epidemic. An Ebola expert, Kelly says, is someone who has been taking care of patients for a week. Kelly is the expert, and she commands respect. Waxman (second from right) and other volunteers broke a strict ‘no-touch’ rule in a show of team unity before starting rounds on a colleague’ s last day at the Lunsar Ebola treatment unit. Inside the treatment unit, Waxman learned how to put on the suit: rubber boots first, then scrubs, chemical suit, hood, gloves, face mask, ski goggles, another pair of gloves. This is called donning, the opposite of doffing: taking off our suits in a precise order and washing our hands 15 times in the process. Four days since arriving in Africa, I was ready to go inside.” “Inside” is the fenced ward where patients with Ebola are taken care of. Look but don’t touch, Kelly tells me on my first trip beyond the fence. It is quiet inside. After donning, Dr. Joel, an expert at the end of his six-week tour, and I enter the unit and come to the bed of a small child, the same age as my son at home in Los Angeles. Matthew Waxman. Handing Dr. Joel a needle to start an IV, I am apprehensive as all of my considerations of safety and anxiety about contracting Ebola hit me at once. Dr. Joel asks me if I am scared. “Yes,” I tell him. He offers me his own take on the famous quote by World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker: “Courage is doing what you are afraid of because it is the right thing to do.” I feel better. Now that I am home, I am asked how many people we saved in Sierra Leone. My answer is that we saved very few. But in saving those we could, I came away from the experience with much more than I expected: deep gratitude to have played a role in helping to curb a historic epidemic, appreciation for the opportunity to live with and learn from such dedicated volunteers at the clinic and thankfulness for the camaraderie of my colleagues, which I shall not ever forget.

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