Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A New Normal

I don't think I need to explain the title of this blog.  For many of us here at SP Liberia our lives have changed in ways we never could have imagined.  We have gone through literally world changing experiences and all of us are trying to find our new normal. 

After my last post in June, I was training for the Liberia marathon...then Ebola came back in force-and many of you reading this know the rest of the story.  Apart from the daily exhausting emotional grind of fighting Ebola there was a new part of our life that became second nature.  No touching.  Nothing. In July, I would come home after working in the Ebola unit and walk straight to the bathroom and shower.  My boys would give me "air hugs" a hugging motion three feet apart from each other. I moved out of our bedroom to the guest room-I was taking no chances. 

Washing our hands everywhere you go...

When we got back to North America we would give the odd punch in the arm or a pat on the back but no real hug and I hadn't kissed my boys' cheeks for weeks.  On day 21after leaving Liberia-I finally was able to give my mom a big hug and kiss on the cheek-and my boys' too!  Praise God! 

And now I am back in Liberia...

I have been here since Oct. 12th as the Liberia Ebola response team lead.  We have ramped up our Ebola response and we have over 300 Liberian staff and 17 international staff working hard to stop the spread of Ebola. It's been great to be back and I see God opening new doors for us to fight Ebola. Being here also means "no touch" is part of my life again.  It's been almost 3 weeks and apart from accidentally nudging someone ( and then quickly apologizing and dosing myself with hand sanitizer)-I have not touched, hugged, shaken someone's hand or given a high five.  Nothing. 

So what is that like-to live in this "new normal" in a world of no touching?  Ironically, for many of us who have lived in an Ebola infected area, it has become second nature. You feel isolated even though there are people all around you-an arm's length away.  Your words are more important when you console someone as you can't let a hug speak for you.  There is a loss of connection, the first time meeting someone and you can't shake their hand- a lot can be told by someone's hand shake!  For those who know me I like a firm confident handshake - it sets the stage for the rest of our encounter. Now, I have no idea if the person is a limp wrist :)!  

One of that hardest experiences of the no touch lifestyle for me came at different times and under two very different circumstances. The first was during those dark days back in July, already raw with emotional, mental and physical exhaustion we grappled with our friends Kent and Nancy being sick.  Tears flowed like water out of a tap, constantly. I mean we couldn't even look at each other without breaking down-and that's all we could do -was look at each other.  To look at your husband and friends and watch tears run down their cheeks and not be able to feel the strong arms of your friends or my husband around me added insult to injury.  To watch a father not be able to hug his sons as we left-broke my heart.

However, there is also another side to no touch. When I returned to Liberia -some of our staff came out to the airport to meet me-my heart was so FULL of JOY! Tears of joy flowed down as we yelled and cried three feet away from each other yelling " we can't hug, we can't hug-I am so happy to see you!!"  All I wanted to do was wrap my arms around Weemor and Dorothy, two of our amazing staff-who are like family to me-but we couldn't.  Not being able to touch in times of sorrow and pain-but also in joy is something you can't describe.  It makes everything feel incomplete-it's why we hug when we see each other and when we say goodbye.  

Many times since being back here I have wanted to hug a staff or team member after a long frustrating day-or give a big high five when we finally get an impossible task accomplished. But we can't.  Something is lost, something seems incomplete and this is our new normal.  You are self-isolated in the midst of everything and everyone-each of you walking around in your own little "no touch bubble".  In a while I will go back to North American and for another 21 days I will not touch anyone. A total of almost 2 months with no physical contact. I wonder how long it will take me to get used to contact again-or maybe I will just be running around "Hey HUG ME!"  Not sure, it's weird to even think about being allowed to.

God made us to physically connect with each other in times of sorrow and joy, fear and pain, and to encourage during discouraging times. When that is taken away-it's like a part of who we are is lost for a while.  Ebola has taken so much away from us-not just touch.  But God is still here, really He is-I see Him guiding us despite our new normal.  He is never changing, His normal is all the attributes that make Him our Lord and Savior. I can feel His "touch" in everything we do.

All of us often talk about when Ebola is over we will dance, sing praises to God for His faithfulness -and we will definitely give HUGS of joy!