‘No regrets’ but nurse won’t go back
Pauline’s fight for life after contracting deadly virus
The Cambuslang nurse who was the first person from the UK to contract Ebola says she will not go back to fight the disease for the sake of her family.
Nine months ago Pauline Cafferkey (39), spent 21 days fighting for her life in London’s Royal Free Hospital after catching the deadly virus while treating victims in the highly infectious “red zone” in Sierra Leone.
Speaking to the Reformer’s sister paper, the Sunday Mail, Pauline said she had no regrets about going out to fight the epidemic.
She said: “People ask me why I went to Sierra Leone in the first place and I tell them, why not? I had the skills and the training to help. There were no reasons not to go.
“The epidemic needed to be stopped and I couldn’t just sit around and watch what was happening on TV. I needed to get out there and do something.
“I have no regrets about going. I just got unlucky. I would go back to Sierra Leone or another Ebola-stricken country in a heartbeat but I wouldn’t do that to my family.
“I feel guilty every day when I think of what my friends and family must have gone through while I lay in a bed in a critical condition.
“It was touch and go for a while and the torment for them must have been unbearable. Having nursed other victims, I knew how horrific I must be looking and I didn’t want them to see me like that. I was in isolation and they could only watch helpless from behind a window.
“When I got out of hospital, they would not let me out of their sight. I think if I told them I was heading back to Sierra Leone, they would throw themselves in front of the plane. I could not put them through that worry again. It would not be fair of me.”
Pauline, who had spent a month working at Save the Children’s Kerry Town treatment centre near Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, realised she had the virus when she returned to Glasgow on December 28.
She said: “I started to feel unwell when I was back in my flat. I contacted the Brownlee Centre immediately. They did blood tests and gave me the news I was dreading – I had Ebola. I knew I’d a fight on my hands but I was ready for it.
“I was transferred to the Royal Free and put in an isolation unit. For the first while I felt OK. I texted friends to say it wasn’t any worse than a bad hangover. I thought I’d got off lightly, then suddenly the virus took a hold. I turned my phone off, which panicked all my friends.
“My organs started to fail and I was drifting in and out of consciousness. At one point I told the doctors I’d had enough. I’d watched people die from the disease and knew what was coming.”
After nine days fighting for her life, Pauline, who was treated with an experimental anti-virus drug, ZMabb and blood plasma from survivors, started to rally.
She said: “I remember feeling gradually better. I was stunned to still be alive.
“I turned on my phone, texted my friends and started to live again. I got to leave my isolation tent. At first I felt very exposed but the feeling soon wore off and, funnily enough, I haven’t had any desire to go camping.
“I owe my life to Dr Jacobs and his amazing infectious diseases team. I know I wouldn’t be here without their round-the-clock care. I went back to see them in May.
“Just being in the hospital made me feel sick and reminded me how close I came to dying.”
“I have given myself a year to get better and I’m getting there. I’ve had trouble with my thyroid, lost some of my hair and get really sore joints but I guess side-effects are to be expected.
“It was only in May that I truly started to feel psychologically and physically better. I am now drug-free and only need occasional check-ups.
“I don’t like the limelight and being in the media all over the world has been really challenging. In truth, it has been the hardest thing to deal with.”
Pauline, who turns 40 this year, is busy doing the things she loves best – working, volunteering and travelling – and says her experiences haven’t changed her outlook on life.
She said: “I don’t think having Ebola will change me.
“I’ve heard people say you should live your life to the max and that kind of thing, but I was doing a good job of living my life before I got ill.
“My outlook hasn’t changed.”
Survivor Cambuslang nurse, Pauline Cafferkey Patient Below, Pauline needed a police escort to get to hospital in London last December
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