The health care worker who had been in contact with Ebola patients in West Africa and became the first person to be placed under mandatory quarantine in Newark has written a first person piece detailing her treatment there.
Nurse Kaci Hickox had been caring for Ebola patients in recent weeks while on assignment with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone up until Friday. In her piece for Dallas News, she describes her grueling time at Newark Airport, and her fears that the mandatory quarantine will discourage other health care workers from heading to Ebola-ravaged countries (a sentiment shared by other health care experts): "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."
Hickox describes the rush of people examining and questioning her after finding out where she was traveling from; the immigration officer who asks if she's a criminal; and her mounting frustration as she waited around for hours: "No one seemed to be in charge. No one would tell me what was going on or what would happen to me." Although she had a temp of 98 when she first was taken into custody, they took it again several hours later:
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.
Hickox’s mother, Karen Hickox, told the Times that her daughter was crying on the phone this morning; she said she was being held in a tent at the hospital without being told when she could leave. "She’s lived in Burma, Sudan, Uganda and Nigeria, and she’s worked for Doctors Without Borders many times,” Karen Hickox told the Times. "I think the frustration is that she went and did her good deed and her passion and her serving spirit, and she comes back to America and I just don’t feel they were very welcoming. She felt like you would treat a dog better than she’s been treated."
Unless there is some change to the mandatory quarantine policy, Hickox will remain under quarantine at University Hospital in Newark for the next 20 days.