Nurse quarantined in NJ: "The US must treat returning health care workers with dignity and humanity"

Dallas News: (Editor’s note: Kaci Hickox, a nurse with degrees from the University of Texas at Arlington and the Johns Hopkins University, has been caring for Ebola patients while on assignment with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone. Upon her return to the U.S. on Friday, she was placed in quarantine at a New Jersey hospital. She has tested negative in a preliminary test for Ebola, but the hospital says she will remain under mandatory quarantine for 21 days and will be monitored by public health officials. Dr. Seema Yasmin, a Dallas Morning News staff writer, worked with Hickox as a disease detective with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With Yasmin’s help, Hickox wrote this first-person piece exclusively for the News.)
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.
Well you are dealing with the government, since when do they care about dignity and humanity? The nurse should be thankful for the treatment she is receiving while being monitored for carrying a potentially-deadly virus. At least she’s not at a VA facility.
P.S. Guess where the nurse works at (not once mentioned in the article)?  From her LinkedIn page:
“Epidemic Intelligence Service fellow based in Las Vegas (Southern Nevada Health District). The Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) is a two year fellowship in applied epidemiology with the US Center for Disease Control (CDC). Instruction focus includes applied epidemiology, biostatistics, public health surveillance, scientific writing, and working with the media, as well as emerging public health issues.”
h/t Weasel Zippers

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6 years ago

While I respect the fact that she’s been caring for sick people in Africa I still am glad she was stopped and put in quarentine. Her feelings on it do not trump public safety. We do not want Ebola spreading in this country and if people are allowed to pass in and out of the U.S. from Africa undeterred, we are soon going to have a huge problem. As it is she is lucky to have made it back home because if it were up to most Americans the planes would not be carrying people from Ebola infected countries.

Auntie Lulu
Auntie Lulu
6 years ago

I think her attitude could use an adjustment. I agree, Americans who choose to go to Ebola affected areas should not be coming back to the US, until they have done the 21 day quarantine in Africa. Perhaps a lesson to those who follow–bring some food with you, so you don’t starve before you find out where you are going to be placed. Yes, there are those who are grateful for your efforts on behalf of the dying in Africa–but we need you to have some modicum of concern for the living here in the United States. We do not… Read more »

Untamed Blogger
6 years ago

Reblogged this on 3rdeyeviZion.

6 years ago

I would hope people meriting quarantine and testing before streaming freely into the public would be treated kindly. (OTOH…I’ve lived through a TON of humorless professors and service -providers, the way they delivered their skills to the job……and I had to PAY out the nose for it….somehow, I lived without damage through their rude & rough demeanor—and I never griped to the press about it….). However, I can NOT believe that she didn’t know or understand why she was being detained…as she claimed. In her own words, ” I had spent a month watching children die, alone. I had watched… Read more »

6 years ago I remembered something from history to pass on to those who think that a quarantine…or a travel ban “will not work.” The link above tells the story of Eyam in England that voluntarily isolated itself from the rest of the world once the Plague broke out inside it’s village. What did they know then that we “don’t” know now? Why did it work then—with the villagers devising a method to not only get supplies…but pay for them AND disenfect even the money that they transferred to the suppliers—but Obama & like-thinkers somehow think there’s no way to even ban… Read more »

Dr. Eowyn
6 years ago

During a House hearing on the federal government’s response to Ebola on Friday, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) asked Rabih Torbay, the Vice President of International Operations for International Medical Corps., and Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Dr. Nicole Lurie if somebody on a bus could catch Ebola from an infected passenger. Torbay said he is not a medical professional and tried to skirt the issue. Dr. Lurie said Ebola is present in perspiration but did not concede it may be spread on a bus. She also conceded that Ebola can live outside the body on inert surfaces. Rep. Massie’s… Read more »

mike cdiamond
6 years ago

she needs to be quarantined for 21 days.its not about her! its about keeping the rest of us safe. that means no bowling,bus rides or cruse ships if she doesnt under stand that then she doesnt need to work with ebola patients.!!!!!!!!!!

6 years ago

Sorry, my sympathy meter just stopped. If this is the worst thing to happen to her…..

6 years ago

What is there here in the US that couldn’t be sent,in multiples,to infected Countries to treat and/or research Ebola? Could the experts here not train to use the equipment,instruct,analyze tests and otherwise assist the Ebola-trained people in those Countries by tele-conference? Why can’t we stop any and all flights from leaving infected Countries unless all passengers with ANY Ebola exposure at all (Americans included) have finished the 21 days (I’D go with the worst case that I’ve read from more than one source,which states that the incubation period COULD run as long as 2 Months.) of quarantine,had necessary tests and… Read more »

Karmas A Bltch
Karmas A Bltch
5 years ago

Boo hoo! He had a gun under her belt. He works as a law enforcement officer in an area like an import that could be a target for terrorists. This is the world she lives in. Wow. What a space case. My 3 year old daughter sees that all the time even in Canada and it’s no big deal. As far as isolating her, what did she expect. That’s why she notified them where she came from. It’s not like she didn’t know airport procedure for returning from Africa affected by Ebola. She works with the CDC or at least… Read more »

Karmas A Bltch
Karmas A Bltch
5 years ago
Reply to  Karmas A Bltch

I meant works with a doctor from the CDC not as one. Typo sorry.