What’s on the minds of those heading for Ebola’s front lines?

ANNISTON, Ala. — The steps look straightforward enough: Put on protective suit. Put on mask. Draw blood. Transport patient. Take off suit. Take off mask.

Certainly straightforward enough for each of the 36 health care professionals being trained by the Centers for Disease Control in a mock Ebola Treatment Unit in northeast Alabama this week. But each knows that when they deploy to West Africa in the coming days, a single slip-up in these routines steps — perhaps in a moment when goggles fog up or a protective suit is removed carelessly — could result in a deadly infection. So they practice, then repeat.

These are the first of many health workers from hospitals, nonprofits and government agencies who will travel to the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston in the coming weeks to receive “the training and the knowledge that they need to take care of patients in West Africa safely,” said Dr. Michael Jhung, a medical officer for the CDC. “We intend to run a course every week until the demand goes away. And if that takes a year or two, we’ll run it for a year or two.”

Jhung, who developed the curriculum and leads the three-day marathon of “practical exercises,” asks trainees to pretend they’re already in Liberia or Sierra Leone. “Which means no unnecessary touching, no handshakes, no hugging. Nothing like that,” he said.

Tune in to the PBS NewsHour on Wednesday for our full report on the CDC’s response and training activities in both Anniston and CDC headquarters in Atlanta.

In the meantime, here are a few of the thoughts shared by those training to fight Ebola — some preparing to leave for West Africa as early as this weekend.

Cpt. Paul Reed
Physician, U.S. Public Health Service

“My family is used to me traveling, and being deployed for a number of different reasons over a 20-year career. This one has a little bit different flavor, obviously, and there’s some expressed anxiety on the part of my wife and kids. As you can imagine. But I think generally they know I’m going to be smart about what needs to be done, and I’ll make sure that I’m safe, as well as the folks that I’m taking care of are safe. So there’s a confidence there.”

Heather Bedlion
Volunteer Nurse, Partners in Health

“I’m deploying [to Liberia] this weekend, and I feel good about that. I’m anxious to get there, and to train in-country, and then to take care of patients. I have a very, very supportive family. I have grandparents and parents that are always supportive in these situations. Are they scared? Sure, I’m an only child. So I think that I try to educate them the best I can. I remind them that I’m trained … that I’m with good health care practitioners that will keep me safe. And I ask them, ‘Don’t hold me back from what you taught me so well, to take good care of people — no matter where they are in the world.’”

Health workers learn the proper protocols for treating Ebola. Photo by Emily Carpeaux

Health workers learn the proper protocols for treating Ebola. Photo by Emily Carpeaux

Kayla Enriquez
International emergency medicine fellow, Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital

“I don’t think there will be reservations in the back of my mind. I mean I think there’s always a situation that you go into, even here in the states, where you’re uncomfortable, or you’ve never been confronted with it, and you don’t know exactly how to address it. I think in terms of the training that we’re getting here with the personal protective equipment, I’m very confident that I can do the basics. But it’s not until you actually enter the ETU what you’re faced with — the state of the patients, the mentality, how sick they are — I think that will be what I won’t really be prepared for. Because you really don’t know until you get there.”

Dr. Miriam Aschkenasy
Deputy director, Global Disaster Response Department
Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Global Health

“I think that the fear that people have, while understandable, is really hurting our ability to take care of people. When you go through this exercise and you realize how protected you are with the personal protective equipment on, you understand that you can safely take care of people. If you follow the protocols, and you don the proper protective gear, you’re going to be able to help take care of people. And it’s really difficult to see people who don’t want to get involved because they’re so afraid. I think it’s made things very difficult. And there are people out there who really need us to get over that fear so we can help them.”