It all started with a severe headache and a fever. Then, later, I began to vomit and I got diarrhoea. My father was ill and my mother too. My niece, my fiancé and my sister had also all fallen sick. We all felt helpless.
It was my uncle who first contracted the virus in our family. He contracted it from a woman he helped take to hospital. He got sick and called our father for help, and our father went to him to bring him to a hospital for treatment. A few days after our father came back, he too got sick. We all cared for him and got infected too. This is the way the virus works, person by person, cutting through families.
On 21 August, my whole family and I made our way to an Ebola treatment centre in Monrovia. When we arrived at the unit, the nurses took my mother and me to the same tent. My fiancé, my sister, my father and my niece were taken to separate tents. My sister was pregnant and had a miscarriage.
They took our blood and we waited for them to announce the results. After the lab test, I was confirmed positive. Your first thought is that this is the end of the world. I was afraid, because we had heard people say that if you catch Ebola, you die. The rest of my family also tested positive for the virus.
After a few days in the isolation ward, my condition became worse. My mother was also fighting for her life. She was in a terrible state. At that point, the nurses made the decision to move me to another tent. By then, I barely understood what was going on around me. I was unconscious. I was helpless. The nurses had to bathe me, change my clothes and feed me. I was vomiting constantly and I was very weak.
Severe pains were shooting inside my body. The feeling was overpowering: Ebola is like a sickness from a different planet. It comes with so much pain, and it causes so much pain that you can feel it deep in your bones.
While I was battling for my life, my mother died though I didn’t know at the time. It was only one week later, when I had started recovering, that the nurses told me that she had passed away. I was sad, but I had to accept that it had happened. A few days later, my father passed away too. I was shocked that I had lost both my parents. But God spared my life from the disease, as well as the lives of my sister, my niece and my fiancé.
God could not have allowed the entire family to perish. He kept us alive for a purpose. I am grateful to the workers here for their care. They are very good people. The care, the medication and self-encouragement can also help a patient to survive. When you’re sick with Ebola, there’s always a need for encouragement. Take your medication; drink enough fluids – whether it’s oral rehydration solution, or water or juices – but don’t keep your system empty. Even if they bring you food and you don’t have any appetite to eat, just eat the soup.
After 18 days in the treatment centre, the nurses came in one morning and took my blood and carried it to the laboratory for testing. Later that evening, around 5pm, I saw them return. They came and announced that I was ready to go home because I had tested negative. Then I felt that my life had begun again.
I arrived back home feeling happy, but my neighbours were still afraid of me. A few of them welcomed me back; others are still afraid to be around me – they say that I still have Ebola. There was a particular group that kept calling our house “Ebola home”. But, to my surprise, I saw one of the ladies in the group come to my house to ask me to take her mother to the treatment centre. I did it, and I felt happy that at least she knows now that someone cannot go to a supermarket to buy Ebola. It’s a disease that anyone, any family, can get. If someone has Ebola, it isn’t good to stigmatise them, because you don’t know who is next in line to contract the virus.
Now I am back at the treatment centre, helping people who are suffering from the virus to recover, working as a mental health counsellor. Helping people brings pleasure, and that is what brought me here. My efforts here may help other people to survive. When I am on a shift, I counsel my patients. If a patient doesn’t want to eat, I encourage them to eat. If they are weak and are unable to bathe on their own, I help to bathe them. I help them with all my might because I understand the experience – I’ve been through the very same thing.
I feel happy in my new role. I treat my patients as if they are my children. I talk to them about my own experiences. I tell them my story to inspire them and to let them know that they too can survive. My elder brother and my sister are happy for me to work here. They support me in this 100%. Even though our parents didn’t survive the virus, we can help other people to recover.
Salomé Karwah is an Ebola survivor turned carer at Médecins sans Frontières’ Ebola Treatment Centre in Monrovia.