No Playing Doctor in the Isolation Ward

I don’t know the details of what my eldest son, Armand, is doing today in Guinea, but I remember well the details of his assignment in Uganda ten years ago. He presented in that East African country as a physician, representing Doctors Without Borders, to assist the numerous Ebola patients in the isolation ward. Since that time, he has become a world expert on viral hemorrhagic fever.

Writing this blog is therapeutic for me, since I want to deeply explore what my feelings are after receiving the following email.

“Hi y’all, I am off to Guinea for ten days to help out with the Ebola outbreak. I will be doing medical coordination, so no playing doctor in the isolation ward.”

What Armand was referring to was having played doctor in the isolation ward in Uganda, which I remember as one of the most difficult times in my life. My emotional roller coaster began when he wrote:

“On my way out (of the isolation ward), I was unable to get a fingernail under the edge of the plastic Japanese electrical tape that secured my outer gloves to my gown, a not infrequent occurrence when one is wearing two pairs of rubber gloves. The standard approach was to use one blade of the scissors, kept there to cut the same tape on entering, to lift up the edge. This I did. The problem occurred when I put the scissors down. My gloves were still wet with the bleach solution with which I had just washed them, and the scissors slipped from my hands en route to the table. Why a dropped pair of scissors should choose to stand upright on their handles escapes me. I suppose that when one lies horizontally all day long, the opportunity for a brief vertical moment might seem too attractive to resist. Perhaps the scissors had not read one of the current popular books on chaos theory, wherein objects balancing with their center of gravity above their point of contact are clearly informed that they are examples of an unstable equilibrium and are obliged to topple over, however carefully poised. But as my hand continued on its way to the table unaware that its passenger had prematurely disembarked the scissors perversely refused to fall over, and the tips made clear their point, or rather points. It was not until I had made my way out of the ward and removed all of the protective gear that I realized the scissors had bitten into me.”

What happened next was all about protocol. Though Armand was absolutely sure that he had not been contaminated by the Ebola virus, the project manager, Catherine Bachy, was obliged to evacuate him. To share this very well-documented event briefly, I will say that my son ended up spending a month in isolation in Amsterdam. Each day of that month, my heart was yearning for the time to pass quickly and for news of the “all clear” signal.

The memory that comes back to me today is that I felt alone. When I would try to share the experience, the listener had few words for me, as if they were in shock. Armand continued to comfort me by writing that the epidemic was nearly under control when he had his accident, that the sanitation procedure, when exiting the ward, was rigorous, and that he knew that his gloves had gone through the sterilization process and were clean. None of his words made me feel any better.

So why am I writing about his trip to Guinea? Well, now that I am the “Fascinated Observer” of my life experiences, I want to explore how I feel about his trip to Guinea? Perhaps the impact of my son’s isolation period might have been different for me, if I had known about being the “Fascinated Observer” ten years ago. At that time, I was filled with thoughts that began with, “What if…..,” “What if he….,” “What if it…,”.

Today, I intend to remove “What if….” from my mind and to be fascinated by the present moment, to have no expectation of outcome. I am not saying that I have removed all emotion from my life, only that I am intending to not let the suffering from the past and the fear of the future color my present experience.

How do I honestly feel, therefore, about Armand being in Guinea? Let me look deeply. Enormous pride is the first emotion that wells up. What a rare human being to have chosen or allowed himself to be immersed in a field that many people have a hard time even reading about. Honor (not sure that is an emotion) to be the mother of someone who brings such value to so many. Joy for the richness of his life, which is filled with experiences that very few choose to have. Most importantly, I feel calm. My intention that Armand be safe and that he return home to his family with ease and grace has been placed in the field of all possibilities. I have surrendered my intention and trust and allow that the perfect outcome will be received – the S.T.A.R. philosophy.

Let me share with you what I received from the outcome of the Uganda experience. The team returned to Brussels at the end of the outbreak, which was the time that Armand’s isolation terminated. They all gathered to celebrate. Since it was a time of play and fun, professional barriers were let down. Armand and Catherine, his project manager, fell in love and now live in Brussels with three of my grandchildren. How can I now be anything but grateful for the amazing experience we all had, in our unique ways, ten years ago!


  1. sometimes words dont impart the hugee emotionally charged feelings we have for the profound, indeed an honorable courageous human… thanks armand for putting yourself out there…

  2. Nina Pruitt says

    As a life long friend of the Sprecher clan I am quite confident that our world is far better with A.G. serving selflessly as he does with a superior support “team” – his family. My chance encounter with the fantastic Catherine was wonderful – a genuine person who clearly adores AG and his family. Definitely live in the present and feel every moment. While none of us can identically relate to the fears we each experience, know that you are not alone! I am always here!!

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