Dr. Philip Ireland remembers the moment he realized he had Ebola. The 44-year-old emergency medicine resident was in a meeting at his hospital when the headache crept in, followed by fatigue and a racing pulse.
"It was 110 and then 120,” said Ireland, whose heart rate normally hovers around 60 beats per minute. By the time he got to a clinic, he had a fever. "They told me it was malaria," he said. But he knew this was different.
Looking for Hope in a Hot Zone
He went home and sent his wife and five children away for their protection. His mother fashioned her own protective clothing out of things around the house and cared for him, warily washing her hands every time she left his room.
His colleagues came over to offer treatment advice through the window. "Too dangerous to come inside,” he said. For a week he stayed at home treating himself. There was no room at the Ebola treatment center. Then, eight days after his symptoms started, he thought he was going to die.
"I could no longer feel my radial pulse," he said, indicating a spot at his wrist. "My blood pressure was low. I knew I would die if I didn't get fluid." An ambulance rushed him to the Ebola treatment center where, after a long wait, he was admitted. "I told the nurse to give me a large IV with fluid and open it up all the way,” he said. “Then I passed out."
Ireland is one of the lucky ones. After three weeks in the hospital, he recovered. "It was the happiest day of my life,” he said of the day he was released, just one week ago. “I feel that I had walked through the valley of death.”
More than half of the people who infected in this outbreak have died, and many health officials say the stat is an underestimate of Ebola’s true toll. "Early treatment is what makes the difference,” Ireland said. “Fluid and nutrition. Medicine for the fever."
I asked him what he will do when his strength returns. His emergency room is shut down. It’s too dangerous right now, too hard to know whether someone with a fever has malaria, gastroenteritis or Ebola. But he insists he will go back to taking care of patients.
These are my people, he tells me. "This is what I must do."