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Nelson Sayon: Liberian Red Cross body-management Ebola team, Liberia

                                                                             

                            Meet Time Magazine Person of the Year, Nelson Sayon, 29
                        Worker with the Liberian Red Cross body-management team, Monrovia

We pick up the bodies, the dead bodies, dead Ebola bodies in the street, from the communities, from the homes, and take them to the crematorium.
Normally we used to bury. But then the community members got upset, saying that we cannot bury. Because whenever we went to bury in... the community, they would take rocks and begin to stone our vehicles. Some were afraid that if we do bury, the body will resurface and they will contract Ebola. So the government of Liberia made a decision to cremate all bodies. So from that point in time we start picking bodies from the street and start taking them to the crematorium.

I volunteered myself to help my country, Liberia, because there were dead bodies in the houses and in the community. It would infect people. I started the job Aug. 2, 2014. Before the Red Cross, I was riding a motorbike transporting people from one point to another.

We started training with the Liberian Red Cross. They gave us personal protective equipment, the good ones. Good PPE, dressed from the head to the toe. The entire body is covered up.

My first day on the job I was afraid. Because when you start something, the very first day you will be afraid, a little bit afraid. And the job was so hectic the first day. My first day I was picking up 10, 15, 20 dead bodies. So I would really be afraid.

The first body, it was decomposed. I was afraid. Most of the bodies we pick up are all rotting bodies—some since five or six days. Really I never felt sick. But I was definitely miserable. Yeah. I almost felt like throwing up. It was my first day to see dead bodies—more especially, rotting bodies. Yeah, the first body we went for that day, we pulled the body by the arm. The feet. The flesh almost came off on the hands. Some bodies are very, very heavy. Normally we send down four persons to pick up a body. But some bodies need six persons to pick up.We spray the body, disinfect the body. And then when the body has been disinfected we take the body—wearing our protective gears—we take the body and put the body into the body bag. Spray it and then seal it and take it into the pickup truck. From the car to the crematorium.

You really sweat in the PPE. Sometimes my head aches, a severe headache. But in Liberia, as soon as you say you are suffering from a severe headache, people will move far away from you. Sometimes what I do is that when I get home, I take my ORS [oral rehydration salts], glucose and water and some antibiotics to keep me strong for the next day.
Sometimes I worried I might contract this virus. But what I would do is in the morning when I wake up, I pray to God to help me out. Because it is only God who can help you out in this process. And more especially for me, the work I do is very dangerous. Because I deal with positive cases on a daily basis.
Thank God for Liberia, none of the DBM—the dead-body team, the safe-body-removal team—none of us has ever contracted the virus. Because God is with us, and we are going through our preventive measures. We wear our protective gears.
 I felt so bad to burn the bodies. You know, we have a decoration day in Liberia, where people go to decorate their lost ones’ graves. So then, it is so frustrating to see—a brother dies, you have no grave for him. A sister, mother dies—you have no grave for her.

In the community where I live, I don’t really tell people that I am working on the dead-body-burial team. I don’t tell them because when I tell them, they are, “Oh, walk far away from him.” So they think I work for the Red Cross, that’s all.

Liberians realize to go by the preventive measures, by washing your hands, do not touch people, do not go to an area that is populated, do not go on the beach [with crowds]. Liberians already understand that.

For a while we thought they were reducing, the Ebola cases. [In November] we were picking up one, two bodies a day. But in recent weeks, we are picking up seven, eight, nine in a day. It is frustrating.

I really want for Ebola to be eradicated. If I can hear from WHO that Liberia is free from Ebola today, I will be very happy. I’m tired. I’m tired to see Liberians going to the crematorium to be burned.

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