My journey home to the US was uneventful. I miss the heat, the colors, and the sounds of Africa already. I was warned that Africa gets into your blood and it is true! I was sitting in the airport in Geneva. It was rainy, dark and gloomy. I looked around at the 100 odd travelers and noticed that every single one was wearing black! It seemed surreal after the vivid patterns and rich colors in Sierra Leone.
I flew into Detroit which is not on the list of “approved’ airports. I was somewhat concerned about this but the travel agency assured me that it would not be an issue. Not only had they purchased my ticket well before the restrictions on travel, but my flight originated from Geneva where I had spent time debriefing.
I came armed with a printed copy of the CDC “Guidance for monitoring and movement of persons with potential Ebola virus exposure” document. They have done a great job with it and have stratified the risk into the following categories: ‘high’, ‘some risk’, ‘low but not zero’ risk, and ‘ no identifiable risk’ category. They have added recommendations for specific groups and settings. Each category describes the clinical criteria and public health actions required. I fall into the “low (but not zero) risk’ category. Since I have no symptoms of Ebola, I should not have any restrictions on travel, work, public conveyances or congregate settings.
I made it quite far through the customs process before anyone thought to ask me about the countries that I had visited. My customs official actually took a step back when I told him ‘West Africa’. He carefully handed my passport back to me and told me to follow the blue line. As I continued on, I could see him speaking urgently into his walkie-talkie (and using hand sanitizer!). The blue line seemed to stretch for miles. There was no one else on the blue line. I finally reached the end of the blue line where several other agents were waiting for me anxiously. They had contacted the CDC official that was assigned to the airport and were waiting for her arrival. As you can imagine, there was pages and pages of paperwork that had to be completed. Yes, my temperature was taken (again). I was offered an Ebola Care Kit which included lots of basic info on Ebola, a thermometer, a symptom card and symptom log, a “Check and Report Ebola Card” or C.A.R.E card, and a list of state health department phone numbers. The CDC has assigned a number to me for tracking purposes.
Since I was traveling on to North Caroline for a few days before returning to Kentucky, the local health departments in each state were notified.
Once I arrived in NC, I was immediately contacted by the Forsyth County health department. They came out to the house to speak with me and of course, fill out MORE paperwork. I was the second person from West Africa that they have had to follow and apparently the first was extremely uncooperative, refused to answer questions and moved in and out of the county several times. They were very grateful that I cooperated! For the duration of my stay, they phoned me daily to check on my temps and health.
I am now being followed by the Fayette County health dept. Yes, they too had to come to the house and fill out the exact same paperwork that was filled out in Detroit and in NC. I am the only person from West Africa that they are checking. Each state has different regulations about monitoring for EVD; KY requires that the health department call me twice daily for temp and health checks. Rather inconvenient for all of us but easy enough to do. I am to notify them and must receive approval before I leave the county.
Almost everyone has been very glad to see me. One lady at my gym backed away from me and sniffed “I am surprised that you are not in quarantine!” I had to laugh. This is the same lady that told me her husband would not fly for work any more because they were worried about catching Ebola from someone on the plane.
I am still not used to the casual touching, it catches me off guard. Will I ever get used to it ever again?
My journey and blog has come to an end. Thank you for sharing it with me. If I can make it back over the West Africa, you will be the first to know!