Screening at the Washington Dulles Airport
I am really looking forward to going home especially to see my kitten, Grisela or Gri or Kuchi Kuchi Ku, my nickname for her. She was a little itsy bitsy thing when I got her at the end of May. Ever since then she has been going to places with me, riding on my shoulder for walks in the neighborhood, at habitat in Belmont, vacationing in Cape Cod, going to the beach, hiking in the Blue Hills, visiting Vermont and even paying a visit at NYC. My children have even accused me of loving her more than them, if that is even possible!
Monrovia is still under curfew and we were stopped at two check points and asked for the reason for our traveling. Two drivers from IMC accompanied me. At the entrance the guard refused to let one of them pass and he had to get out of the van even though they were to receive more people from the airport. It really did not make sense to me. It also did not call for so much shouting.
On my return journey at Morocco airport, we were greeted by personnel in PPE, taking our temperature, but none of that in Frankfurt. I rerouted my way home through Dulles in Washington rather than JFK in case of any crazy idea of quarantine in New York.
At the Dulles International Airport, afraid of missing my connecting flight to Boston because of possible long screening process for having been to an Ebola affected country, I elected to spend a night. Upon hearing that I arrived from Liberia, the immigration officer immediately alerted an officer in face shield, mask and gloves to take me in for further questioning. My temperature was taken. He gave me the impression of being somewhat nervous when he learned that I was in contact with Ebola patients and that I had visited a laboratory for Ebola and asked me why. I told him I was volunteering in Liberia.
“Are you a nurse?”
“No, I am a doctor.”
He then asked me to take all my belongings, never offered to help me but fortunately I have always made it a point to pack lightly for my volunteering trips. He took me to an isolation cell, four-walled with no windows, a door with a small glass window which could only be opened from the outside. In the cell were a metal bench, a stainless steel sink and toilet. The room stank. Soon I was joined by a young man, at first I thought he must be also one of the volunteers from Liberia so I asked him whether he just came from Ebola country. He told me he was not an American but was a Norwegian and muttered something about having a small run-in with the law. It dawned on me that I was in a cell with a person who had broken the law. Ironically this person was placed in a closed room with me but not wearing any protective gear like the officer. It had occurred to me that I could really be quarantined and could do nothing about it. After about fifteen minutes, the same officer who always kept his distance from me took me to another room where two officers in plastic gowns, face shield, mask, gloves and booties and a third only in mask questioned me further about any possible exposure to Ebola; taking care of Ebola patients, touching any dead bodies, exposure to blood, attending any burial…My answers to all those had been in the affirmative but I added that I was always in full PPE which was much better than what they were wearing. One of them was somewhat apologetic about the process. The whole thing took about an hour. I probably would have missed my flight to Boston if I had booked to fly out the same evening.
Finally I was given an Ebola package recounting the symptoms of Ebola, a digital thermometer and a sheet to record my temperatures and symptoms twice a day for the next 21 days. Someone from the Massachusetts State Department will contact me. I have elected not to return to work for 21 days to allay anxiety there.
The question of quarantine was raised about a month ago when a returned volunteer contracted the infection. Quarantine was imposed briefly on another returned volunteer in New Jersey despite no display of symptoms and negative Ebola tests. The public is split regarding how the volunteers should be treated: to be hailed as citizens who perform selfless heroic altruistic actions for their fellow humankind or to be quarantined or shunned as pariahs so the general population could be protected from the theoretical possibility of being infected.
In the front lines, everyday many ordinary people put their lives on the line helping the patients sickened with the virus. Clamoring for blanket quarantine of all returned volunteers would only serve to discourage future volunteers to West Africa where confronting the outbreak there will in the long run protect the global population from the infection.