The long road back to Baltimore after living amid Liberia's Ebola outbreak

Baltimore photographer M. Holden Warren recently wrote a piece for City Paper about his experiences volunteering amid Liberia's ebola outbreak. Here's his second piece, with more stories from Liberia and about returning to Baltimore via New York. See his photos from Liberia here and here.

Monrovia, Liberia—With Ebola in town, the hospitals jammed with people, an ambulance is the key of entry for the hospitals in the city. The drivers are connected to a central dispatch that is monitoring the availability of hospital beds. More Than Me had an ambulance and everyone in the neighborhood knew it. At 12:30 on a Tuesday night, the security guard tells me there is a sick child. Sitting on her mother's lap is a 7-year-old, Tracy, vomiting blood.

The ambulance is called. When it arrives, they dress her mother in full personal protective equipment (PPE). The father says it is a tooth problem. The mother say the child has been sick for days. No fever. Maybe it's not Ebola. The fear of cross contamination makes triage a life and death affair. Either way, the hospital is clearly needed. Everyone was right. Not Ebola but oral infection and measles; two days later Tracy died.

Another time, a neighbor stopped us to tell us about her brother in Monrovia's JFK hospital. She told us he was visible from the fence lying in the mud with no pants on. The woman sobbed that the hospital will not let her enter. She doesn't care about the risk, having to watch her brother die like this was too painful.

"If I dies so be it."

At the U.S. border, when they scan your passport, they look at you and ask you to step back a little and follow them. Down past all the other kiosks, into a room where everyone except the high-ranking personnel is wearing a facemask and gloves. One of the border patrol agents tells you the masks are just for the brass on the first day of the screening.

They take your temperature. You sit with everyone else from your flight coming from Liberia who say no, no, no, no to all of the questions about their proximity to the virus.

You answer yes to question three about having been in a hospital or lab. Questioning stops, papers are shuffled. You are taken into another room. They take your temperature again. They call the state of New York, let them know you are here. They take all your contact info, want to know your travel plans. This is all reassuring. Good to see they are tracking this. It's not hard to contain if you monitor your health.

A woman calls me every morning to ask my temperature reading. Am I traveling? It would be better if I didn't travel for the moment. If I got a fever, I would call this woman, get my blood tested and would be quarantined till the results came back. It's that simple. If I had Ebola, I would be sent somewhere for treatment. I don't have Ebola because I did nothing to contract it. You don't hear a lot of stories about third-hand transmission—it might be happening, but mostly it is high risk contacts contracting Ebola.

Being back in Baltimore, the distance from people here—family, friends and professional colleagues—has been strange. Everyone says not to take it personally: all media interviews by Skype, uninvited from a film festival, and my yoga shala asked me to not come back until the 21 days passed, though offered free online classes.

"We just want a zero-risk environment."

That is the unicorn that make this whole thing hard to stomach: "The Zero-Risk Environment"

Life is risk. Violent gun crime in Baltimore is real. Not the world is too small. We all share the risk.

Ebola just plays well as the American media leaps into fear mode, talking about shutting off travel, isolation from the risk. People should be scared, but not of Ebola. Ebola is spreading in Africa due to a number of cultural factors Americans don't have. Your chances of getting in a car accident or contracting diabetes are much higher. People should be scared that such inhumane suffering exists in a country the United States created and supported. Those are Americans being left to die in front of hospitals. Distant relatives being scooped up, sprayed down, and burned with no mark on the Earth to remember them.

Come find out more at Face of Ebola, a multimedia presentation on the virus. There will be light refreshments, no touching, chlorine buckets, and temperatures takes at the door, full Ebola rules in effect: 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 23rd at Baltimore Free Farm, 1515 Ash St.

 

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