MY REFLECTIONS: Darkest, Longest & Most Terrifying 21 days: my 2014-EVD reflections – With Dr. James F. Kollie, Jr.
I will complete my 14-day “self isolation” on tomorrow, Monday, March 30. As I do so, I am constrained to reflect on my 21-day “quarantine” in 2014 during the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). I have noticed the difference between the 21-day quarantine and the 14-day isolation: and it is not the 7 days difference. It is also not the geography of where the quarantine or isolation took place.
On that faithful Friday morning (July 25, 2014), I woke up around 5 am to check my phone and then later at 6 am to get ready for work. At 5 am when I checked my phone, I saw a missed call from my friend, PO Sawyer, with whom I had spoken around 11 pm that Thursday night. When I tried to return the call, his phone was off. I thought to myself, he must be on the flight to Monrovia as he had told me during our Thursday night’s call.
But then at 6 am, my boss, AMK, called me to inform me that our Ambassador from Nigeria had just called to inform him that PO Sawyer didn’t make it. I was in totally disbelief because the PO Sawyer that I spoke with that Thursday night didn’t sound like someone that was dying from EVD. The news of PO’s death was unbelievable because given everything we had been told about the EVD and how it treated and killed people, PO’s death was different. (I have witnessed the movie called 93-days and in another essay, I will give my view on what I think happened to PO. However, may his soul rest in peace while his memories live with us, forever.)
With the devastating news that we had just received, I still decided to go to the office and compare notes with other colleagues. AMK had already called the Minister of Health who send someone to speak with the staff at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. It was Thomas Nagbe, a very smart young man, who came to the MFDP to explain to us what our options and next course of actions would be.
Thomas asked a question about all those who had contact with PO before his departure for Nigeria. I was the first to put my hand up because I always had contact with PO. He was my best friend. Once I did, other staff took the courage to place their names on the list. And then Thomas informed us that we would have to do 21-day self quarantine. Boy old boy, it turned out to be very dark, long, and terrifying 21 days.
First thing, we didn’t know from whence to start counting. PO left Monrovia on the morning of July 20 (Sunday). On Friday, July 18, PO Sawyer, Dtweah, and some other colleagues had gone to the office to see me but I wasn’t there and had no plan of returning for the rest of the day. Dtweah, though he and PO were in the office, never interacted with him. So I didn’t see them that day. However, I had seen PO Sawyer on Thursday, July 10 in Buchanan when I went there to attend an ArcelorMittal board’s meeting. This was a day or two after his sister (the person he is presumed to have contracted the EVD from) had passed away. As usual, I did shake his hands and interact with him. And then later in the week, around July 14 or 15, PO did stop at the office to see me as I had some assignment that I wanted him to assist with. I have no reason to believe that we didn’t shake hands.
Based on the scattered plots of the days between July 10 and July 15, I didn’t know where to begin my 21-day quarantine. At that point, the most pronounced date was July 25th, the PO Sawyer passed away. Do we start counting from July 25th (the day he passed on) or July 20th (the day he left Monrovia)?
Once we received the medical advice from Thomas Nagbe, I proceeded to my residence to begin my self-quarantine. Counting from Sunday, July 20 to Sunday, August 9, those 21 days were the longest and darkest that I have ever experienced in my life.
During this period, I bought about 3 thermometers; several dozen ORS; different types of malaria pills; and host of drugs and medications. I wanted 3 thermometers so that I would be able to compare the readings or just in case there was any factory malfunction, I would be able to rely on the others.
I took my body temperature nearly every 15 minutes. The nights appeared to consist of 26 hours. I lost all appetite and was unable to eat for days. In fact, many days, I gave up and thought to myself, just go into the treatment center. I think I am infected. I think the sooner that I go in, the better my chances of survival will be. Many nights I would lay awake even after taking several different types of sleeping pills. It seems like the sleeping pills were intended to keep me awake.
If I am able to stood, I think then I have the virus. If I go to the bathroom too much, I think I have the virus. Every moment I think that my temperature is too high but when I take the thermometer and measure my temperature, the reading is normal. I want to think that the thermometer is broken because I can feel that I am running very high temperature. I had three so I would use all at once.
Those 21 days in 2014, I will never forget. I can compare that to going to hell and returning. Those days were very terrifying. But I had a friend, Amadu Neckles (MC) who had a vacation planned with his wife and son to travel to US but he decided that he would stay with me in Liberia until the 21 days were over before he traveled. His wife and son went ahead and he stayed with me. I remain grateful to him. He demonstrated that he is a true friend and brother. He visited me nearly every day and tried to cheer me up even though my spirit was dead.
On the other hand, I had some folks that I thought were friends because we referred to one another as “comrades” who inbox me to find out if I was dead. It was unbelievable that some comrades were wising me death. I have still have the messages in my messenger inbox.
With all of these things going on, AMK would call and request that we meet at the Royal Hotel to discuss the possibility of negotiating with the National Legislature for emergency spending power since the 2014/2015 National Budget had not being approved and the Government needed to combat the EVD. It was the call to national duty: that in spite of having no life in me, I had to join him in meeting with Representative Nuquay and Senator Gaye to discuss the possibility of giving the President emergency spending power for the purpose of setting up the National Ebola Response Fund. The plan was that if we moved our own US$5 million into an account to begin the process of combating the epidemic, then partners might see the need to scale up their support.
After that meeting with the legislators, when AMK saw my “lifeless” body, he decided that we will only work remotely until the quarantine was over.
Immediately after those dark, long and terrifying 21 days, we began meeting at the Ministry of Health to craft the response to the epidemic and also the economic recovery plan. Those efforts started around August 10, 2014 and with the help of God, we barreled through that crisis and we are here today. And so doing a 14-day isolation which ends tomorrow hasn’t been too difficult because I did 21-day under very terrifying and traumatic circumstances.