After 14 years of civil war, which cost the lives of more than 250,000 Liberians, my country is confronting yet another hardship. Our latest battle for survival is being waged against a new enemy, one just as dogged, menacing and deadly: Ebola.
As a nurse, I knew that my risk of contracting the virus was higher than most people’s. At the specific facility where I worked, we did not know we were treating patients who had contracted Ebola, because we had no laboratory testing equipment. Nurses were giving patients IVs and dressing wounds while wearing only short hand-gloves for protection.
On Aug. 27, when I began experiencing Ebola symptoms — fever, chills and severe stomach pain — I feared the worst. The thought of Ebola taking my life at 35 years of age was too grim to contemplate. I couldn’t bear to think of leaving behind my wife and two children.
I had been caring for a sick patient at the Peace Home Medical Clinic in Paynesville, a small suburb east of the capital, Monrovia, along with nine other health care workers. One by one, the telltale signs of Ebola came over all 10 of us, and we were admitted to an Ebola treatment unit in Monrovia. Unsurprisingly, all of us tested positive for the disease.
I knew my chances of getting discharged from the clinic alive were slim. Patients were dying all around me, and before long, I learned the sobering news that I was the only one of my colleagues who was still alive. I prayed constantly. I did not want to die.
I was one of the lucky ones. But my battle against Ebola is far from over. Many people are still afraid to get near me. Some think I am still infectious. Others think I am a ghost because almost no one they know has survived the infection.
Despite the fear-induced stigma, my near-death experience has prompted me to help others where I can. I have volunteered to work with some of the nearly 4,000 children who have lost parents to Ebola. Any of these children could have been my own, left behind without a father had I succumbed to the disease. I am giving thanks for my survival by being there for these children.
But, as with many of his peers, we don’t yet know what will happen to him. We may find at any time that he is carrying the disease and needs to go to an Ebola treatment clinic. That has been the case with some of the other children who came to the shelter before him. In recent days, five children have shown symptoms and been taken to the clinic, including two babies — one two weeks old, another three months. Of course, nobody knows what will become of them. I continue to pray for all of these children, as many people have done for me.
Ebola has killed nearly 5,000 people across West Africa. Out of the 4,877 reported deaths, 2,705 have been in Liberia. Liberia is a poor country. We are seeing Ebola wipe out families and break up our society at a time when the country is still trying pull itself out of the ravages of civil war. Liberia needs help to overcome this deadly outbreak, and we hope that the international community will redouble its efforts to help us help ourselves. Meanwhile, the innocent and vulnerable children at the Interim Care Center need all the love and support we can provide them.