New York: This is the story in first person of Kaci Hickox, an undergrad from the University of Texas at Arlington having degrees from John Hopkins University and UTA, who worked as a health care worker for Ebola patients on behalf of the Nobel peace prize winning Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone, Africa.
When she returned to the US on October 24, she was immediately placed under quarantine at a New Jersey hospital. Kaci was tested negative in a preliminary test for Ebola, but the hospital has decided to keep her under mandatory quarantine for three weeks, where her health would be monitored by senior officials.
In a first-person piece for the newspaper Dallas Morning News, Kaci, with the help of staff writer Dr Seema Yasmin, describes her harrowing experience on her return to the US:
"I am a nurse who has just returned to the U.S. after working with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone - an Ebola-affected country. I have been quarantined in New Jersey. This is not a situation I would wish on anyone, and I am scared for those who will follow me.
"I am scared about how health care workers will be treated at airports when they declare that they have been fighting Ebola in West Africa. I am scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine.
"I arrived at the Newark Liberty International Airport around 1 p.m. on Friday, after a grueling two-day journey from Sierra Leone. I walked up to the immigration official at the airport and was greeted with a big smile and a “hello.”
"I told him that I have traveled from Sierra Leone and he replied, a little less enthusiastically: “No problem. They are probably going to ask you a few questions.”
"He put on gloves and a mask and called someone. Then he escorted me to the quarantine office a few yards away. I was told to sit down. Everyone that came out of the offices was hurrying from room to room in white protective coveralls, gloves, masks, and a disposable face shield.
"One after another, people asked me questions. Some introduced themselves, some didn't. One man who must have been an immigration officer because he was wearing a weapon belt that I could see protruding from his white coveralls barked questions at me as if I was a criminal.
"Two other officials asked about my work in Sierra Leone. One of them was from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They scribbled notes in the margins of their form, a form that appeared to be inadequate for the many details they are collecting.
"I was tired, hungry and confused, but I tried to remain calm. My temperature was taken using a forehead scanner and it read a temperature of 98. I was feeling physically healthy but emotionally exhausted.
"Three hours passed. No one seemed to be in charge. No one would tell me what was going on or what would happen to me.
"I called my family to let them know that I was OK. I was hungry and thirsty and asked for something to eat and drink. I was given a granola bar and some water. I wondered what I had done wrong.
"Four hours after I landed at the airport, an official approached me with a forehead scanner. My cheeks were flushed, I was upset at being held with no explanation. The scanner recorded my temperature as 101.
"The female officer looked smug. “You have a fever now,” she said.
"I explained that an oral thermometer would be more accurate and that the forehead scanner was recording an elevated temperature because I was flushed and upset.
"I was left alone in the room for another three hours. At around 7 p.m., I was told that I must go to a local hospital. I asked for the name and address of the facility. I realized that information was only shared with me if I asked.
"Eight police cars escorted me to the University Hospital in Newark. Sirens blared, lights flashed. Again, I wondered what I had done wrong.
"I had spent a month watching children die, alone. I had witnessed human tragedy unfold before my eyes. I had tried to help when much of the world has looked on and done nothing.
"At the hospital, I was escorted to a tent that sat outside of the building. The infectious disease and emergency department doctors took my temperature and other vitals and looked puzzled. “Your temperature is 98.6,” they said. “You don't have a fever but we were told you had a fever.”
"After my temperature was recorded as 98.6 on the oral thermometer, the doctor decided to see what the forehead scanner records. It read 101. The doctor felts my neck and looked at the temperature again. “There's no way you have a fever,” he said. “Your face is just flushed.”
"My blood was taken and tested for Ebola. It came back negative.
"I sat alone in the isolation tent and thought of many colleagues who will return home to America and face the same ordeal. Will they be made to feel like criminals and prisoners?
"I recalled my last night at the Ebola management center in Sierra Leone. I was called in at midnight because a 10-year-old girl was having seizures. I coaxed crushed tablets of Tylenol and an anti-seizure medicine into her mouth as her body jolted in the bed.
"It was the hardest night of my life. I watched a young girl die in a tent, away from her family.
"With few resources and no treatment for Ebola, we tried to offer our patients dignity and humanity in the face of their immense suffering.
"The epidemic continues to ravage West Africa. Recently, the World Health Organization announced that as many as 15,000 people have died from Ebola. We need more health care workers to help fight the epidemic in West Africa. The U.S. must treat returning health care workers with dignity and humanity."