Idle but Peaceful Days of Quarantine
Day 17 of the 21-day quarantine.
A few days ago someone was admitted to MGH for possible Ebola, there was no further identification. At that time I wondered if some people were thinking if that person could be me. Sure enough I received an inquiry if I might be that person I replied that I was well and staying at home.
Friends are curious about what I am doing with all the free time. For the first week, it happened to be Thanksgiving week, I just pampered myself and not pushed too hard to have any kind of schedule or goals but just rested and reveled in the loving folds of my family. However at night I began to wonder anxiously whether I could deal with the sudden quiet and the emptiness of the house after the departure of the children and whether thoughts of my experiences at Suakoko, Bong, would flood my memories. I remember for several months after coming back from volunteering in Libya during the Arab Spring the sound of a helicopter brought back flashbacks of my time there and for several minutes I truly thought I was back there in the midst of war.
During my second week I ran, took walks, enjoyed the Habitat, read, wrote, neatened up clutter in the house, cleaned the yard, and raked the abundant leaves still on the ground. The golden leaves of the old Copper Beech were still clinging on the branches, the ones that had fallen covered the walkways and the garden and path were one and same. While I raked, my constant companion, Grisela, hid in the piles of leaves and waited patiently for a suitable opportunity to sabotage me. Now some Christmas decorating…
In Liberia, we were asked to avoid any body contact. Twice I reached out involuntarily to shake hands only remembering to withdraw in mid-stream. We devised an Ebola hug when we pretended to hug without really hugging. The only persons we could touch were our patients but this only through layers of protective clothing and gloves. So it was a wonderful change to receive a real hug.
A few weeks ago the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the number of new Ebola cases had decreased in Lofa and Montserrado counties in Liberia and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf lifted the state of emergency for the Ebola crisis in Liberia. In Bong ETU we did not see a reprieve right away and the cases of Ebola increased from 21 to 38 per week during my last week there. Another ETU in Margibi, two hours away from Bong opened the day after I left and since we received almost half of our patients from Margibi, we wondered if our census would be down. Indeed my Kenyan roommate confirmed that the numbers are down and last week there were no new cases of Ebola!
Today I went to deliver an art work to the Belmont Gallery of Art and I realized that there is still real fear of contact with me who just returned from Ebola country. Before I left for Liberia I borrowed two books from my local Belmont library asking for a lengthier time than 4 weeks, scarcely daring to breathe a word about my bringing the books to Ebola land lest the librarian barred me from taking them out of the library. Even then I only told a few neighbors whom I met by chance about my going to Liberia afraid to be branded a pariah when I returned.
I had expressed my wish of returning to West Africa a second time to volunteer in an ETU when I accepted my assignment in Liberia, possibly to Sierra Leone, in honor of my son Charles, who spent almost three years there with the Peace Corps. Indeed I received a call two days ago asking me whether I would consider just that. I said I would go sometime in January.
Unfortunately 21 days do go by very quickly and I am now on my 17th day of quarantine. I should learn to treasure these remaining idle but peaceful days.