I’m a Hazmat-Trained Hospital Worker: Here’s What No One Is Telling You About Ebola


Photo Credit: DmitriMaruta/Shutterstock.com/bearb.:BB
Photo Credit: DmitriMaruta/Shutterstock.com/bearb.:BB
It is a superior virus that has evolved and fine-tuned its mechanism of transmission to be near-perfect. That’s why we’re all so terrified. We know we can’t destroy it. All we can do is try to divert it, outrun it.

By Abby NormanAlternet

I’ve worked in health care for a few years now. One of the first things I took advantage of was training to become FEMA-certified for hazmat ops in a hospital setting. My rationale for this was that, in my home state of Maine, natural disasters are almost a given. We’re also, though you may not know it, a state that has many major ports that receive hazardous liquids from ships and transport them inland. In the back of my mind, of course, I was aware that any hospital in the world could potentially find itself at the epicenter of a scene from The Hot Zone. That was several years ago. Today I’m thinking, by God, I might actually have to use this training. Mostly, though, I’m aware of just that — that I did receive training. Lots of it. Because you can’t just expect any nurse or any doctor or any health care worker or layperson to understand the deconning procedures by way of some kind of pamphlet or 10-minute training video. Not only is it mentally rigorous, but it’s physically exhausting.

PPE, or, personal protective equipment, is sort of a catch-all phrase for the suits, booties, gloves, hoods and in many cases respirators worn by individuals who are entering a hot zone. These suits are incredibly difficult to move in. You are wearing several layers of gloves, which limits your dexterity to basically nil, the hoods limit the scope of your vision — especially your peripheral vision, which all but disappears. The suits are hot – almost unbearably so. The respirator gives you clean air, but not cool air. These suits are for protection, not comfort. Before you even suit up, your vitals need to be taken. You can’t perform in the suit for more than about a half hour at a time — if you make it that long. Heat stroke is almost a given at that point. You have to be fully hydrated and calm before you even step into the suit. By the time you come out of it, and your vitals are taken again, you’re likely to be feeling the impact — you may not have taken more than a few steps in the suit, but you’ll feel like you’ve run a marathon on a 90-degree day.

Getting the suit on is easy enough, but it requires team work. Your gloves, all layers of them, are taped to your suit. This provides an extra layer of protection and also limits your movement. There is a very specific way to tape all the way around so that there are no gaps or „tenting“ of the tape. If you don’t do this properly, there ends up being more than enough open pockets for contamination to seep in.

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