Doctor's notes: American Ebola survivor is back in Liberia

American Ebola doctor returns to Liberia
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Story highlights

  • Dr. Rick Sacra was treating patients in Liberia when he got sick with Ebola
  • He recovered in the U.S. and went back to continue to help patients
  • Life felt different when he arrived back home, but he is glad to be back helping provide medical care

Dr. Rick Sacra is an American Ebola survivor and doctor who works with SIM, a Christian missionary non-profit that has been bringing medical help to the people of Africa. Dr. Sacra agreed to keep a journal and share it exclusively with CNN to provide a glimpse into life in the heart of what has been the Ebola zone in Liberia.

(CNN)Sunday, January 18, 2014

Wow! Sunday evening, it's 9:30 p.m., and I am beat. Might fall asleep. Guess I will find out how the Patriots did in the AFC playoff tomorrow (the game would have started at 11:40 p.m. local time).
I arrived here in Liberia Friday evening, January 16, after a 26 hour trip (three flights with a long layover in Brussels), with my seven pieces of luggage, filled mostly with donated drugs and supplies for ELWA Hospital, the ministry SIM runs just outside Monrovia.
    I've spent some time catching up with our SIM Liberia country director, Will, who just got back here from the UK about five days ago, and Dr. John, my colleague who has been anchoring the hospital medical staff throughout the Ebola crisis.
    Because I wasn't due to report for work until Monday, we decided to clean the apartment where I had stayed in August, as it had been unoccupied since I left.
    Dr. John and I suited up in gloves and gowns this afternoon to clean out the apartment, bleaching items that were valuable (like my Kindle and my digital camera, which both seem to work), disposing of the rest, washing the dishes in bleach and soap, and mopping all the surfaces with bleach.
    After a few more days of airing out, it will be ready to use. It took over 4 hours in 90 degree heat. We were drenched with sweat -- no wonder I am exhausted!
    This was the last photo Dr. Rick Sacra took before being evacuated to the U.S. for treatment after he caught Ebola treating patients in Africa. He says seeing the photo brings back a flood of memories from that time.
    Later, when I tested my camera to see if it still worked after sitting in the humid, salty air for four months, I looked at the pictures I had taken back in August. The final picture was one taken after I developed a fever: It was of a lovely pineapple upside down cake, baked by a good friend from church who didn't even realize I was sick.
    Her son had brought it to me after Sunday worship service, and I told him he had to just leave it on the step.
    Returning to the apartment, and seeing the picture of the cake, brought me right back to my last weekend there. It sharpened my recollection of my feelings -- waiting anxiously to see if my fever would break, praying earnestly and tearfully, and focusing my thoughts on God's love and care for me, whatever was to come.
    Seeing all my friends and colleagues, both missionaries and Liberians, has been great!
    Dr. Rick Sacra catches up with people in Liberia after being back in the U.S. where he recovered from Ebola.
    It does feel like something is missing from our reunion, since we are not hugging or shaking hands in Liberia at this time. But still -- there have been wonderful smiles as people recognize me and express their thanks to God that my life was spared. Liberians really know how to smile.
    Most people are visibly relieved by the improvement in conditions. The number of cases of Ebola has come down markedly -- the ELWA 2 unit associated with our hospital is now empty.
    There are still scattered cases in isolated pockets around the city, and in the rural areas in western Liberia.
    People seem optimistic but still very vigilant. They remember that there was a significant drop in cases back in May, early in the epidemic, which turned out to be just a lull followed by a huge second wave.
    It also sounds like more people are getting themselves to a treatment unit on time for care, so the survival rate is higher than it was at first.
    A dear friend told me the sad story of her neighbor who died of Ebola in November. He was in denial the entire time, and would not admit that his symptoms might be due to Ebola. He died and unfortunately eight others in his family also got sick and died.
    Many are recognizing this pattern: Those who are quicker to suspect Ebola and get tested do much better themselves, and help protect their family and community. On the other hand, those who remain in denial, end up harming the ones they love.
    On the whole, Liberia has come to grips with the reality of Ebola, and I feel proud of their resilience and determination to beat this virus, with God's help.