Ashoka Mukpo knew he was in trouble when he saw that the people treating him were dressed in full protective suits and hoods.
The American video journalist has been allowed home after recovering from Ebola, which he contracted while working in virus-ravaged Liberia. In an interview with the Associated Press he described the fear he felt when medical workers appeared in the heavy-duty gear needed to prevent the infection’s spread.
“The only thing you can see is their eyes. And they’re dripping with chlorine,” Mr Mukpo said. “You just realise what a bad situation you’re in when your care-givers have to come in with such an incredible amount of protection.”
Mr Mukpo contracted the virus after working for a month as a freelance cameraman for NBC and other media outlets. He recounted his experiences, first with his diagnosis, then his treatment and at last his recovery at his Rhode Island home.
See the Ebola outbreak mapped
See the Ebola outbreak mapped
1/7 25 March 2014
This outbreak of the Ebola virus first emerged in the Guéckédou region of Guinea, at a crossroads with both Liberia and Sierra Leone
2/7 31 March
On 31 March the WHO confirmed the outbreak was now international, spreading first into Liberia's northern-most Lofa region
3/7 27 May
The virus spread to Sierra Leone at the end of May - just as agencies were hoping the worst was over
4/7 27 July
In Sierra Leone the virus boomed, and then it spread to Nigeria when the Liberian diplomat Patrick Sawyer flew from Monrovia to Lagos
5/7 9 August
The Nigeria cases sparked fears around the world, and there have now been deaths in Spain and Saudi Arabia involving people who had travelled to West Africa. The numbers of cases continue to rise
6/7 17-20 September
In mid-September, Senegal confirmed its first case linked to the Ebola outbreak, a development the WHO described as a top priority emergency. Numbers of cases continued to grow exponentially in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, as experts warned they could number one million by January if not contained
7/7 8 October
Two cases of Ebola have now been reported in the US and Europe - the first times the virus has been contracted among health workers outside Africa
The 33-year-old Mr Mukpo recalled taking his own temperature and seeing it hit 38.5C. He said he felt “pure fear”. Being diagnosed with Ebola, Mr Mukpo said, forced him to confront the possibility of his own death and made him understand the terror and isolation many West Africans are going through.
He said he felt as if his body was “at war” with the virus; in pain and weak with fever, he found it hard to walk or eat and lost 6.8kg in a week. Mr Mukpo isn’t sure how he contracted Ebola because, he says, he was careful while filming.
Mr Mukpo was flown to the Nebraska Medical Centre in the United States on 6 October, where he was isolated in a bio-containment unit, given constant fluids and an experimental Ebola drug.
He is only one of a handful of people who have been treated for Ebola in the US. One patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, died after travelling from Liberia to Dallas but other healthcare workers who have been infected have, like Mr Mukpo, made a recovery.
Mr Mukpo said he had no choice but to find strength within himself to fight the infection because there was little room for fear.
“I’m going to make it, I’m not going to give in to fear,” Mr Mukpo said he told himself. “I’m not going to give in to depression, embarrassment, I’m just going to live.”
Receiving a blood transfusion from Ebola survivor Dr Kent Brantly, who was treated in Atlanta, proved a turning point. Mr Mukpo’s eyesight was clearer the next day, his headache and fever had lessened and his body felt more under his own control.
He was released from the medical facility last Wednesday and flew back home to Rhode Island. “I [hope] that people, even in our moment of fear about Ebola in America, would consistently redirect their attention to what’s going on in West Africa,” he said. “These are good people who are getting sick. These are real people who are getting sick and they deserve the benefit of everything we can do to help them.”