20 Oct 14 04 Nov 14

Ebola: MSF doctor recovers in Norway

My name is Silje Lehne Michalsen. I am a medical doctor and field worker for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

On 2nd June, I went on my first MSF field mission. I travelled to a hospital in the town of Bo in Sierra Leone. There, I was supposed to work with Lassa fever, Ebola’s unknown, forgotten, and slightly less dangerous cousin.

Sierra Leone’s first Ebola case was identified only days after I arrived in the country. Over the next months, the Ebola epidemic spread in Sierra Leone, and my job at the hospital gradually became increasingly Ebola-related. We built a new Ebola centre in Bo, and that was where I worked the last two weeks before I fell ill.

Testing positive for Ebola

On Saturday 4th October, I felt unwell when I came home from work. I checked my temperature and discovered that I had a mild fever. I isolated myself in my room and performed a malaria test, which was negative. The next day a blood sample was taken, which tested positive for Ebola.

The next day I was flown to Oslo in an incubator of sorts, which was airtight and infection proof for the staff who accompanied me. I am glad that I was evacuated so quickly and smoothly.

At Ullevål, I was received by a fantastic team of doctors and nurses who have provided me with great treatment, support, and encouragement. I am incredibly grateful for the treatment I have received there.

Today I am healthy and no longer infectious. I feel very lucky, and it really does not feel like I have had Ebola. The people who have been and are infected with Ebola in Africa, have had – and still have – a very different experience from mine.

The clock is ticking

Having Ebola in West Africa means more than experiencing symptoms. It means losing sisters, fathers, and neighbors. Being six-years-old and in hospital without a familiar face in sight. That your family is stigmatised.

Being isolated in hot tents, with hard beds and people dying in their beds around you. But that is only if you are lucky enough to get admitted in the first place.

In total, I spent three months in Bo, Sierra Leone, seeing Ebola coming ever closer to my city, my hospital, and spreading to the rest of the country. I spent three months seeing a total lack of international response.

I spent three months growing ever more anxious and frustrated. Every passing day, we fell three steps behind. Every passing day, the number of infected people increased, and each day I thought to myself that today stopping the epidemic has become even harder than it was yesterday.

We all felt the race against time, but the world did not act. Nothing happened and we felt helpless. And the number of infected people kept increasing.

Today, talking is starting to turn toward actions and hands-on response, not just words and money. This is good, but it is also far past time. I wish the world could have acted several months ago; the battle would have been so much easier to win. Many lives and families would have been spared.

The clock is ticking, more people are dying. We have to act, and we have to act now.

Focus on West Africa

I see that many people have volunteered to go to West Africa. That is excellent, and I am very glad that my becoming infected has not scared you. I would like to thank you all so much, and I wish you good luck.

Finally, I would also like to thank my family and friends who have supported me through these weeks. Thank you to MSF for all the help you have provided me and my family. Thank you to Ullevål Hospital for excellent treatment and follow-up.

And thank you to the media for having respected my wish to remain anonymous. I am available today, and I hope you will receive answers to things you want to know.

But after this day, I do not wish for more attention, and I hope you will respect that. Instead, I would like to challenge you to turn your focus where it belongs, and spend time and column inches on the real stories and the real problems that actually play out in West Africa, not here in Norway.

My first mission did not turn out quite the way I had expected, but I hope to be able to go to the field again as soon as possible.

Thank you.

Find out more about MSF's Ebola response