Everything about this assignment was different for me; from the no-touching policy to the multitude of safety protocols to the savageness of the disease. But I adjusted as well as I could to most of it.
No handshakes, no hugs, no pats on the back. Not touching anyone became the norm, so much so that when someone did accidentally touched you, you couldn’t help but flinch in horror. The safety protocols also became standard. My favorite cargo pants are completely ruined from the barrage of chlorine that is mandatorily sprayed on your feet every time you enter a new area; be it the office compound, the Ebola Management Center (EMC), or the staff housing. And while there’s no way to grow accustomed to the disease, fortunately as soon as I arrived in Foya, the number of confirmed Ebola cases began decreasing significantly. By the time I left we had a daily average of less than 15 patients for two consecutive weeks!
For nearly a month and a half, I toiled away to complete the Ebola Management Center compound. The work was complicated, arduous, heartbreaking and rewarding. It was actually one of my most gratifying assignments, until I returned to the United States.
Up to that point, I had only been casually monitoring the US’s perception of Ebola and I was shocked to learn the extent of the hysteria in my office debriefings. But the worse part had yet to occurred. Three days after I landed, Dr. Spencer tested positive for Ebola and the other shoe dropped. Even though I had absolutely no contact with any patients at the EMC nor did I have any symptoms, I was then part of the potential plague.
And then Kaci Wilcox arrived at Newark airport. I followed the stories and waited anxiously my state declared a mandatory quarantine for all returned volunteers. Even though the quarantine was revoked days later, my 34th birthday was spent indoors, for fear that the media would discover I was in town and declare me a biohazard.
In comparison to my co-workers, my 21 day incubation period was a breeze, a minor inconvenience. While I wasn’t physically quarantined, the psychological and social effects of having worked in an EMC reverberated around my life daily for 21 days.
So my heart filled thanks goes out to champions like Kaci Wilcox and our office staff, who fought against the ridiculously non-medically justifiable based reactions to returned volunteers. While I see the cause for concern in some matters, it’s a horrible feeling to be treated like a bio-hazardous terrorist just for going on a bike ride or catching a subway after returning from preforming some of the most fulfilling work in your life.