‘I knew death was imminent’: nurse Pauline Cafferkey on surviving Ebola
Pauline Cafferkey opens her bathroom cabinet and reaches for a tub of tablets.
“So this is where I keep medications,” she explains in a quiet, matter-of-fact voice, before taking me through the roster of drugs she takes daily, to keep epileptic seizures, spinal swelling, nerve pain and generalised body aches at bay.
Considering what Cafferkey has been through, this is nothing – and her tiny flat in Cambuslang, Glasgow feels a million miles from the hell of the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, where she contracted the disease that nearly killed her twice and hospitalised her for a third time just this February.
Cafferkey finds it hard to tell her story – not just because it’s a terrible one, but because she quite simply yearns for anonymity. She decided to speak to me for the first time since her last relapse, for a documentary to be broadcast on ITV’s Tonight Programme this Thursday, in the hope of bringing her tortuous ordeal to a close. To be able to get on with being a nurse again.
She shows us a photo of her time in the Kerry Town treatment centre – clad head to foot in white: the words ‘Nurse Pauline’ scrawled on the front of her protective medical suit in red pen – and talks of the countless patients she treated; and lost.
“As a virus it’s the worst you can get. The patients – you would class them as going through the ‘dry stage’, which is the ‘well’ stage: they had fevers but they were able to eat and drink. They weren’t at the vomiting and diarrhea stage, which we would class as the ‘wet stage’. And then there were the patients you could do nothing for – they were in the final stages of life, so it was just supportive measures, making them comfortable…”
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