Jerald P. Dennis contracted the deadly Ebola virus disease while attending a funeral in Liberia. After spending ten days as a patient in an Ebola treatment centre, Jerald’s tests came back negative. He had survived.
This is his story.
In August 2014, I attended the funeral of one of my colleagues. I don’t know if he had Ebola. He was one of my closest friends and workmates. I don’t remember coming into direct contact with him prior to his death.
But two days later, I started to experience severe pains at the back of my head. Then my entire body became so painful. I quickly went home to rest. The situation was so strange and I thought it was an attack from witchcraft or an evil doer and I decided to apply some religious practices to heal, but to no avail.
I started experiencing persistent headaches associated with fever, abdominal pain, sore throat, and loss of appetite. Because of Ebola, health centres were not accepting patients so I rushed to the nearest pharmacy and purchased some pain relief medication. Things quickly deteriorated. I was sweating profusely. I was afraid of my condition and told my fiancé to leave our bed and join the children on the mattress on the floor.
I was very concerned about endangering the lives of my fiancé, our other family members, and tenants in the house. My fiancé was also concerned and asked me several questions, “Why are you putting me out of the bed? Do you have Ebola?” I replied with a resounding no, although I did explain that the symptoms were similar to Ebola. There was no improvement in my health condition after taking the medication so I visited a community clinic where I was also given some medication, but my prognosis was still not improving.
My worst day came on 10 September, when I was first told that I had the deadly Ebola virus disease. I started experiencing multiple episodes of diarrhoea. I was weak, vomiting, hiccupping, coughing and had chest pain. Fear gripped me as I considered that Ebola was a death sentence. But I voluntarily took myself to the John F. Kennedy medical centre where I met a lot of patients at the gate waiting to get admitted to the Ebola treatment unit.
The situation was traumatic, seeing the large number of people struggling to get admitted. To make matters worse, it was then announced that there weren’t any beds available. I had many thoughts. Where is the hope of survival when the treatment units were not adequately equipped to absorb the number of people affected with the virus? Why can’t I stay home and treat myself until God calls me? Would I ever speak to my family again since all contact is cut off once you are in the treatment unit?
Fortunately for me, a Liberian doctor came out fully dressed in his personal protective equipment (PPE), along with the burial team carrying another body to the mortuary.
He told us that we should see if other Ebola treatment units had space, but by this point I was very weak and could not stand on my own. I remember crying out in a trembling voice, “I prefer to die here than to leave in search of another treatment unit.”
At the time, we had three ETUs operating in our country. They were all full.
It was at that moment that a staff member came out and told the doctor a bed had opened up. A patient had passed away. They quickly took me inside where my IV-line was established. They had to carry me. I was sprayed with a .05 chlorine solution which is used to disinfect and kill the Ebola virus. The vacant bed had disappeared. I was given mattresses to lie on the floor.
I was later screened by someone I never got to see. He was always fully dressed in his PPE. He gave me medicine, food, clothes, water, slippers, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and towel. He told me quite passionately, “You are 90 per cent responsible for your survival. Ten per cent is on the treatment we will give you.”
He said I had to keep myself hydrated and to keep hope alive. “If you give up, you will die. If you see life, you will live!” Lying on the floor, my IV fluid was not being absorbed properly. Another patient who seemed to be much stronger and stable offered me his bed. We switched and within a few minutes, he died. I was distressed and filled with sorrow. I saw no hope for survival as four to eight bodies were being taken out of the ward every day.
But with God and the kind effort of the unit workers, I gained more courage and strength.
A few days later I started responding to treatment, and the supportive counseling I was receiving but still suffered loss of appetite. I couldn’t eat well due to my really sore throat. I went to the bathroom a lot and drank oral rehydration solution constantly to replace lost fluids.
The Bishop from my church called me and said, “Son! You remember when I preached that everyone under my anointing will not die in this Ebola crisis, but will live to testify the goodness of God upon this nation.” I began to gain strength and started walking around, inspiring my friends who were still weak and needed assistance.
It was an incredible day for me, 20 September when the doctor told me I was now Ebola free. Two tests had come back negative. He said to me with love and care, “You are now free to reunite with your family, friends and loved ones. Take along with you the message that Ebola is real, deadly, and harmful.” It was unbelievable to know I would be reuniting with my families, friends and loved ones.
After spending ten days in an Ebola treatment centre in Monrovia, Liberia, Jerald P. Dennis tested negative and was discharged. Instead of being warm and welcoming, the world Jerald encountered on the outside, was cold and full of mistrust and hate.
This is Jerald’s story.
After being discharged from the treatment centre, free of Ebola, one key challenge I faced was stigma and discrimination. I was stigmatized and seriously abused by community members and even friends. No one wanted to shake my hand because of fear that they might get Ebola. People pointed fingers at me in the community, labeling me as an Ebola man and avoided me completely. They accused me of evil things, claiming that I wanted to kill them. When I sat, no one wanted to come close, no one wanted to take my money when I shopped.
I was seen as the most fearful and terrible man ever to live in my community. People stopped me from using public facilities like a hand pump to fetch safe drinking water. I was really distressed emotionally. I was desperate for love and community reintegration.
It was 28 September when the chairman of the Youth and Volunteer Service of the Liberia National Red Cross Society walked up to me and said, “Do you want to volunteer your service to the Red Cross and our nation?” I responded yes and joined the teams which were trying to raise awareness of Ebola in the communities.
I was accepted by the Red Cross family. This quick and timely intervention restored my lost hope and dignity. I appeared on several radio shows, including the Red Cross radio show, bringing other Ebola survivors to speak openly against this virus and the level of stigma that many were facing.
The radio shows inspired others. Even people in my own community started seeing the need to embrace me and my activities.
I was able to use my story as a testimony to convince others who were still in the denial stage to accept the fact that Ebola exists. I also started going to the Ebola treatment unit to provide counseling for both patients and employees following the deaths of some health workers, including those who cared for me.
I also started visiting people who had been discharged from the treatment units, to raise awareness among communities that Ebola survivors cannot transmit the virus to others except through unprotected sexual intercourse. I advocated on behalf of my fellow survivors for job opportunities at the community level or at the treatment units across the country. The livelihoods for survivors need to be improved. Inadequate support (financial, material and human) is a death sentence to a survivor.
I personally bought fruits and other items for patients and helped with regular prayer services to ease the high level of tension and frustration.
Since my acceptance into the Red Cross family, I have found comfort and love. I am extremely grateful to the Red Cross for it support, and hope it will continue to impact others who are struggling to reintegrate into their communities.
Ebola is still with us in Liberia but I believe that together, we can end Ebola with love, care, acceptance, courage, compassion and solidarity. Thanks to all the interveners for the level of progress which has made, but the battle must be adequately sustained and supported (technical financial ,materially etc) until Liberia is officially declared free from Ebola.
Liberia has not recorded any new confirmed cases for several weeks now (25 March will be three weeks). Following 42 days without a new confirmed infection, the country will be in a position to be officially declared Ebola-free.
From the onset of the outbreak, the Liberian Red Cross Society, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross Societies, has been helping Ebola survivors reintegrate into their communities. Teams of volunteers meet with the survivor, their family, and the community in order to reduce the stigma and discrimination being experienced by many survivors.
This story is part of the Words Against Ebola campaign – an intiative to share positive words, messages and values to create a community of global support to get to zero cases of Ebola. The campaign aims to promote knowledge, fight stigma, alleviate fear and overcome complacency through the sharing of positive words. Words can be powerful and when we share them, we share our values, and the ability to turn them into action.
For more information about the Words Against Ebola campaign visit: http://wordsagainstebola.org/