After one week in training, four weeks in a treatment centre and three weeks under medical observation, Patrice Gordon is back in the comfort of her Chilcotin home.
Last Wednesday, the Rossland native was cleared to return home after developing flu-like symptoms following two months of fighting the Ebola virus in West Africa.
And even though she is a long way from Sierra Leone, her mind is with those at the treatment centre.
“I am all the way over here in Canada, but I feel so close to those people and feel their pain,” she told the Trail Times on Friday morning.
When she first arrived back in Canada in December, Gordon was required to stay close to the hospital in Kelowna and avoid large groups of people, missing the holidays with her family.
“When you consider that Ebola is transmitted by exchange of bodily fluids, it was about not sharing cups, or eating utensils, that kind of thing,” she said.
“I could go grocery shopping to get food and I spent lots of time going for walks on the beach, but it was way too much time in a town that is not my home. It was over Christmas and New Year’s, so it was tough.”
During her stay in Kelowna, Gordon started feeling ill, with a fever and achy muscles, she didn’t worry that she had caught the disease; her concern was what others would be thinking.
“It was more about the anxiety over what kind of hullabaloo it would cause,” she said. “I had a few intellectual thoughts about if I had Ebola, but I never had any moments of panic or fear. I had so much confidence in how careful I had been in Sierra Leone.”
Gordon was tested for Ebola three times over 21 days, and all tests came back negative.
Once the B.C. Ministry of Health issued a press release about her symptoms and testing, the media frenzy began.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I was shielded by a lot of it by a media person for Red Cross. She was fabulous. She told me I didn’t have to talk to anyone, but I wanted to talk to people.”
The message she wanted to get to the media was how relatable the victims of Ebola are to Canadians at home.
“I wanted to be able to put some faces on the story instead of talking about a virus on the other side of the planet, she said. “I want people to understand that these are happy little children being stricken. There is the 22-year-old university student or the 18-year-old who is working with his father fixing shoes and they are dying.”
Just before speaking with the Trail Times, Gordon had received news that the disease had also killed one of the health care providers she had worked with in Kenema.
“He was the first Red Cross person that has been affected since the mission started in April 2014,” she said. “I am just stunned. It is like one big family there. I am just waiting to hear more and sending my deep sadness and love over to them. He committed the last four months of his life to working six days a week looking after his fellow countrymen and now he has died.”
There is still suffering going on in Sierra Leone, but for Gordon, it is time to heal herself after the emotional roller coaster of the last two months.
“I know that I haven’t processed it yet,” she said. “But, I came home to my partner and two furry, warm puppies that are so happy to see me and that has been the greatest therapy a person can have.”
She doesn’t have much time for that therapy, though. Gordon is heading right back to work, taking care of her patients in the Chilcotin.
“I have been away from my patients for two months and I miss everyone,” she said. “Being back and working with patients in the community that is familiar to me, those things are also healing.”
Despite the hard work, the loss, being away from family and a media frenzy, she says that she is already planning a trip to go back.
“I am looking at April or May to head back over there,” she said. “I have been thinking about it every day since I got back, bit I am really starting to think about the impact on my family, friends, patients and everyone else. It is a lot to balance, but I can’t imagine not going back.”