Dr. Diallo Thierno Souleymane, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology at Ignace Deen Hospital in Conakry, Guinea. Photo courtesy of WHO/P. Haughton
Dr. Diallo Thierno Souleymane, a doctor in Conakry, Guinea, recalls the day he received a phone call that changed his life. He had tested positive for Ebola. After surviving the disease and emerging from the Ebola treatment center, Souleymane was frightened to return to work and feared being stigmatized. He has since returned and advises other survivors to "have the courage to return to work and support the Ebola response."
Souleymane will never forget the phone call he received on Aug. 26, 2014. A specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology, Souleymane was at work in the wards of the Ignace Deen Hospital in Conakry, Guinea when he got a call informing him that one of his patients had tested positive for Ebola.
"Three days before, I examined her, wearing gloves, after she had suffered a stillbirth," recalls Souleymane. "Then I received the call telling me that she tested positive for Ebola. From that very moment I knew I had become a contact," says Souleymane.
Souleymane’s life changed overnight. Although he had no Ebola symptoms at first, he immediately isolated himself to protect his family. “The first thing I did was call my wife. I was not afraid at all, but I wanted her to take our kids to her mum’s place. They needed to be away from me for 21 days,” he adds.
Souleymane continued to go to work, while carefully monitoring his body temperature every day. A few days later, he started to feel something was wrong. “Suddenly, my body temperature increased to 37.9° C. I did not talk to anybody. I packed my things and took my bags. I told my wife that I was going to an Ebola treatment center.”
When he arrived at the Ebola treatment center, Souleymane was uncomfortable about being there as a patient, not a doctor. A lot of people recognized him. “I told everyone that there was nothing wrong. I waited till they all left to enter. I got examined, and was tested for Ebola the following day,” he says. "Once discharged from the Ebola treatment center, I stayed home for a couple of months. I didn’t want to be stigmatized."
The next day the results came back; Souleymane had tested positive for Ebola.
Once inside the wards of the Ebola treatment center, Souleymane says he made a conscious effort to forget about his children, his wife and his parents.
"Forgetting about my life outside the hospital room helped me to survive. I was able to let go of any stress and focus on surviving," he says. As the symptoms started to worsen, Souleymane began to forget the world around him and his life outside the Ebola treatment centre.
Souleymane says there were moments during his illness when his caretakers and colleagues were convinced he was dead. "I was asthenic, I did not eat. The colleagues in the treatment centre did a lot for me. They came to wash and feed me. There were even students of mine who worked in the center, but they were afraid to tell me who they were. It wasn’t until I started to recover that they came forward."
By the end of September, Souleymane tested negative for Ebola and returned home. However, fear of stigmatization, along with the desire to hide his deteriorated physical state from his friends and colleagues, made Souleymane reluctant to pick up his life again.
"Once discharged from the Ebola treatment center near the end of September, I stayed home for a couple of months. I started to get out of the house only in December. I didn’t want to be stigmatized," says Souleymane.
This was a very difficult time because Souleymane, the family breadwinner did not get paid while he was not working. “While I was recovering, I could not go to work to put food on the table. This was the most difficult time. Fortunately, my family fully supported me,” he says.
Eventually Souleymane did recover fully and is now back at his old place of work. When asked what advice he would give to fellow Ebola survivors, he says, “I would tell them to have the courage to return to work. Ebola kills. But there are many other diseases that kill. I would say they were lucky to have survived Ebola. So continue to work, especially on initiatives which support the Ebola response.”
Source: World Health Organization (WHO)