This Is What It Feels Like To Survive Ebola

Dr. Kent Brantly hugs his wife Amber after being discharged from Emory University HospitalDavid Morrison—© 2014 Samaritan’s Purse

After two more negative malaria tests, I knew I would be in isolation for at least three more days. Often the blood test for Ebola will remain negative for the first three days of illness, so we had to wait a few days for an accurate result. In the meantime, I grew sicker. My fever hit 104.9. I felt nauseated and began having diarrhea. Eventually the team started an IV in my arm and gave me fluids. We all hoped it could be dengue fever.On the fourth day the team leader came to my bedroom window with news. “Kent, buddy, we have your test results. I am really sorry to tell you that it’s positive for Ebola.” I didn’t know what to think. I just asked, “So what’s our plan?”In the middle of October 2013, I had moved to Monrovia with my wife Amber and two children. We planned to serve as medical missionaries with Samaritan’s Purse for two years. The first time I heard about the Ebola outbreak was at the end of March, at a picnic for expatriates living in the area. Someone asked if I had heard about the Ebola outbreak in Guinea. I had not, but within a couple of months I was one of only two doctors in Monrovia treating Ebola patients.

Samaritan’s PurseDr. Kent Brantly and his wife Amber and their children in Liberia before Dr. Brantly was infected with Ebola

On June 11 our hospital, called ELWA (Eternal Love Winning Africa), received a call from the Ministry of Health. They were bringing two Ebola patients to our isolation unit. In the two hours it took for us to prepare everything, one of the patients died in the ambulance. Over the next month and a half the number of patients grew exponentially. We were overwhelmed.

On July 20, we opened a larger isolation unit and consolidated our smaller facility with the patients from another nearby hospital. That’s the same day I dropped off Amber and the kids at the airport to return to Texas for a family wedding. I was supposed to meet them a week later. But just three days after their departure, I got sick.
Even with the bad news, I felt calm. I never shed a tear when I called my wife and said, “Amber, my test is positive. I have Ebola.” Though the rest of my family wept, I felt strangely at peace. God blessed me with that peace that surpasses understanding. Since we had started treating patients with Ebola in Monrovia, we had only had one survivor. I had watched too many people die from this disease. Amber and I were both at the disadvantage of knowing how this illness ends.
At some point, I was told about an experimental drug. It had worked on monkeys, but had never been tested in humans. I agreed to receive it, but then decided that Nancy Writebol should get it first, since she was sicker. I was not trying to be a hero; I was making a rational decision as a doctor.Over the next couple of days, though, my condition worsened. My body began shaking, my heart was racing. Nothing would bring down my temperature, and I had fluid in my lungs. I felt hot, nauseated, weak–everything was a blur. I had friends and colleagues praying outside my house–and all over the world. The doctor decided to give me the drug, and within an hour my body stabilized a bit. It was enough improvement for me to be safely evacuated to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
During my own care, I often thought about the patients I had treated. Ebola is a humiliating disease that strips you of your dignity. You are removed from family and put into isolation where you cannot even see the faces of those caring for you due to the protective suits–you can only see their eyes. You have uncontrollable diarrhea and it is embarrassing. You have to rely on others to clean you up. That is why we tried our best to treat patients like our own family. Through our protective gear we spoke to each patient, calling them by name and touching them. We wanted them to know they were valuable, that they were loved, and that we were there to serve them.
At Emory the doctors were able to see that my potassium level was low and replenish it–something that could not be done in Liberia and could have killed me. I finally cried for the first time when I saw my family members through a window and spoke to them over the intercom. I had not been sure I would ever see them again. When I finally recovered, the nurses excitedly helped me leave the isolation room, and I held my wife in my arms for the first time in a month.Even when I was facing death, I remained full of faith. I did not want to be faithful to God all the way up to serving in Liberia for ten months, only to give up at the end because I was sick. Though we cannot return to Liberia right now, it is clear we have been given a new platform for helping the people of Liberia.
Ebola has changed everything in West Africa. We cannot sit back and say, “Oh, those poor people.” We must think outside the box and find ways to help. People are fearful of isolation units because “that is where you go to die.” They stay home instead and infect their families. Perhaps we need to find a way to provide safe home care that protects the caregivers. The national governments of West Africa are overwhelmed. They are not capable of handling this outbreak with simply a little help from some NGOs. This is a global problem and it requires the action of national governments around the world. We must take action to stop it–now.
Dr. Kent Brantly is a missionary doctor with the organizationSamaritan’s Purse. He recently survived Ebola after treating patients in Liberia.
Sep 5, 2014 by Time

Runaway Ebola Patient Is Bundled Into Back Of Monrovia Ambulance After He Turned Up Looking For Food At Local Market

Original post by .

A man suffering from Ebola was bundled into the back of an ambulance after he caused mass panic at a market in Liberia when he wandered in looking for food.

The unidentified man walked into a market in the capital Monrovia only to be chased from the area by panicked shoppers. Attempting to make off with loaves of bread, the man is then chased down the road by men wearing yellow protection suits, who eventually catch him and bundle him into the back of a UNICEF vehicle.

Fear: The hungry Ebola patient (red shirt) wandered into the market to get food, causing shoppers to panic

The hungry Ebola patient (red shirt) wandered into the market to get food, causing shoppers to panic.

Threat: The unidentified man walked into a market in the capital Monrovia - which has been badly hit by the worst ever outbreak of the disease - in order to find something to eat

By any means necessary: With locals panicking at the thought of a highly contagious Ebola patient on the loose, the health workers use force to bundle him into the UNICEF vehicle 

With locals panicking at the thought of a highly contagious Ebola patient on the loose, the health workers use force to bundle him into the UNICEF vehicle.

The footage emerged as it was revealed that food in countries hit by the West African Ebola outbreak is becoming increasingly expensive and difficult to find, as farmers are barred from accessing their fields in order to prevent the disease spreading, a UN food agency has warned. Those countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone all rely on grain from abroad to feed their people, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Making off with loaves of bread, the man is then chased down the road by men wearing yellow protection suits

Making off with loaves of bread, the man is then chased down the road by men wearing yellowprotection suits.

Taking no chances: The heavily protected health workers eventually catch up with the runaway Ebola patient

The heavily protected health workers eventually catch up with the runaway Ebola patient.

In one market in the Liberian capital of Monrovia, the price of cassava root, a staple in many West African diets, was up 150%. ‘Even prior to the Ebola outbreak, households in some of the affected areas were spending up to 80% of their incomes on food,’ said Vincent Martin, who is co-ordinating the agency’s response to the crisis. ‘Now these latest price spikes are effectively putting food completely out of their reach.’

The UN has said 1.3 million people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will need help feeding themselves in coming months. The situation looks likely worsen, FAO said, because restrictions on movement are preventing labourers from accessing farms, and the harvest of rice and corn is set to begin in a few weeks. The World Health Organisation is asking countries to lift border closures because they are preventing supplies from reaching people in desperate need.

Ivory Coast decided last night to keep its borders with Guinea and Liberia closed but said it would open a humanitarian corridor to allow supplies in. The news comes as Ivory Coast’s football association said it will host the country’s African Nations Cup qualifier against Sierra Leone this weekend following a special national security council meeting. The decision, announced in a government statement published in local media today, comes one week after the government said it would not allow the match to go ahead, citing health concerns.

As of August 29, the World Health Organization had confirmed 935 cases of the deadly virus in Sierra Leone – including 380 deaths – though that number is likely to have since risen.

outbreak map


No escape: The medics cling on to the back of the vehicle as it pulls away to stop the man climbing back out

The medics cling on to the back of the vehicle as it pulls away to stop the man climbing back out.

Anger: Furious Monrovia residents chase the vehicle down the road as a warning to the man not to return

 Furious Monrovia residents chase the vehicle down the road as a warning to the man not to return.

Western and African ebola reporters not treated the same

The West African countries which are being plagued by Ebola, such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, are typically economically underdeveloped, and as a consequence their media outlets can’t invest in protective equipment or other pandemic-reporting resources as much as their Western counterparts can.

Additionally, the accountability function of media is less entrenched in many African countries, making access to information in more challenging. In a recent op-ed for The New York Times, Liberia-based journalist Wade C. L. Williams described how she was forced to insist on access to a clinic in Monrovia to carry out her duties. “Fear, misinformation and flat-out denial have been far too common since March, when West Africa’s Ebola outbreak reached Liberia,” she wrote. “Among the government’s first reactions was to limit journalists’ coverage of it. That, in my view, is a major reason the virus has spread as fast as it has.”

Williams told the World Editors Forum that there is not a single journalist who has died as a result of reporting Ebola. “We’ve been lucky,” she said. Her description of the health and safety measures she has in place for reporting Ebola stands in stark contrast to the full protective armour that non-African journalists have access to. “Except for what I read online about the safety measures that are being implemented by everyone here on the ground, I have no particular protective equipment that I use,” she said. “If I go into quarantined areas I normally wash my hands when I come from there in chlorinated water. That is the only protection that I have.”

“If you are going into a hospital, you don’t go into a community where isolated patients are being kept unless you have personal protective equipment, you have to take all the safety measures,” she added. Williams has an international reputation for bravery and courage in her reporting, and she seems unfazed by the dangers she faces entering quarantined areas.

Her editors were unwilling to let her enter an area of Monrovia which is particularly wracked by Ebola, but she resisted: “We had a long argument about me going into West Point, one of the quarantined areas. They were like ‘you can’t go into West Point’, there is a quarantine in there. They were absolutely scared that I was there, I might get infected. I’m like ‘You know, I’m on the ground, I’ve been doing this for the past six months and I’m still here’.”

When epidemics hit developing nations, governments do not merely struggle with the immediate health consequences: scarce resources and a heightened sense of fear mean there can be almost anarchical civil unrest as well. As a consequence, some African journalists covering Ebola have also had to navigate riots and violence, with some suffering serious consequences to their personal safety. Yewa Sandy, a reporter with the Liberian Observer, had her camera confiscated and she received threats from law enforcement while covering a story of a teenager who was shot during a riot. Similarly, the newspaper for which Williams works, FrontPageAfrica, saw another of its reporters (Henry Karmo)arrested and beaten after he took photographs of a protest condemning the Liberian government’s decision to impose a state of emergency.

Western journalists, on the other hand, often benefit from substantial support and training facilitated by their employers designed to protect them from infection. For example, the USA’s National Public Radio (NPR) issued extensive guidelines to its reporter in the field on how to avoid infection. It told him to “not enter isolation units; avoid shaking hands; avoid funerals; avoid eating bush meat; avoid any obvious gatherings/demonstrations; use alcohol-based hand sanitizers”; it also encouraged him to stay “in regular contact by phone, text and email with managers in DC about prospective daily movements”.

Other American publications have followed suit. Ben Solomon, a video journalist at The New York Times, told a question-and-answer session with Reddit that he followed a strict set of health protection protocols. “You don’t shake hands, you wash your feet when you come in and out of rooms. We keep a bottle of chlorine on us at all times and are constantly washing. We probably wash our hands and shoes about 50 times a day.”

Some Western journalists go into the field with so much protection that, ironically, they end up feeling overburdened. Journalist Stephen Douglas, reporting from Sierra Leone for the Toronto Globe and Mail, described how he was “pulling at my plastic hood and trying to get some air down the front of my slippery overalls. It’s hot standing under the sun and it’s very hot under my plastic coverings. My feet ache in the rubber boots that are two sizes too small. My shirt, under the gown, is soaked in sweat and my goggles have fogged up. I’m thankful for an auto-focus lens on my camera.”

NiemanLab, Harvard University’s journalism research centre, has produced a guide for journalists on how to cover epidemics of this kind. Although it includes the caveat that “no one guide can have all the answers to these questions”, the information provided is still extremely detailed. It consists largely of advice from journalists – and others – who have worked in environments which are challenging to health. In particular, the experiences shared by Christy Feig – a former Senior Medical Producer at CNN – support the suggestion that Western journalists are very well-equipped to stay safe when reporting global health crises on-the-ground: “We’ve got Tamiflu stockpiled in certain places and HAZMAT suits in certain places. We train teams in certain areas. We have a doctor on call who will brief anybody before they go in. They are the first people the reporters talk to when they come out. And anyone can decide at any particular time that they don’t want to go in.”

Maggie Fox, who at the time of the guide’s publication was Reuters’ Health and Science Editor, points out that Western journalists often benefit from meticulous planning before they go into the field. “I learned at these flu conferences that if you want people to have good measures to protect themselves, you have to make them make it a habit early on,” she said. “You can’t just wait until the pandemic hits and hand out a bunch of plans and apply them and give people masks and say, “Protect yourselves.” So, I got my editor to put plans in the newsroom.”

Back in Monrovia, Williams remains positive about the mission of African journalists – despite the under-resourcing, health risks and press freedom threats. “My job is to put out the story of those who are behind the quarantine lines, you know?” she says. “You have stories that need to be told.” Thus while there might be differences in the levels of protection the two groups of journalists have, they are united in their mission to report the Ebola story to as wide an audience as they can – in as much detail as they can.