In one of her first interviews, Amber Vinson, one of two nurses who contracted the Ebola virus after treating Thomas Eric Duncan, spoke to People about her entire ordeal. She shared what it was like to care for Duncan, how she reacted when she found out that she had the virus, why she decided to fly to Cleveland knowing she had worked directly with someone with the virus, and how she’s moving on now that she’s Ebola-free.
The 29-year-old admitted that she was “very nervous” when she found out that Duncan was going to be treated at her healthcare center, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.
“I couldn’t sleep the night before they diagnosed him with Ebola. I really thought, ‘Is the first patient in America really going to be our patient?'”
He was, and Vinson, who worked the night shift alongside Nina Pham (who also ended up with the virus) was given a crash course by the hospital on how to take care of Duncan, what to wear, and how to take it off. She told People that she was always very worried about catching the virus, and she thought she was taking more than the proper precautions.
“I would go to sleep but dream about work and about him and what I had done the night before. The entire time I was checking my temperature and hoping I didn’t have a fever or any symptoms.”
When Duncan passed on Oct. 8, soon after, Vinson went on a trip to Cleveland that she had planned for months. She was hoping to see her mother and her man, and shop for bridesmaids gowns with her good friends in order to prepare for her wedding to fiancé Derrick Markray next year. She said that she had been cautious, taking her temperature twice a day, every day that led up to the trip. Plus, the Centers for Disease Control said that she could go on the trip. She felt great before she left, and she felt great when she landed in Cleveland. But when Vinson found out that her colleague, Nina Pham, had been diagnosed with the Ebola virus, she started to worry. The day she was supposed to leave to return to Dallas, she says that she took her temperature five different times before flying and was feeling fine. But when she landed, she wasn’t. Her temperature was at 100.3. Though she hoped it was the flu, once she realized she was having gastrointestinal issues, she knew what was really going on. She went to the hospital and a doctor confirmed it.
“I cried, and right then and there I knew I had Ebola. Even when he told me I had it, it’s like I didn’t hear it. Because you don’t want to hear that you have Ebola.”
Vinson was transported to an isolation unit at Emory University Medical Center in Atlanta (on Oct. 15), and she prepared for the worst.
“I don’t remember much from the days I felt awful. I didn’t know if I would survive. Whenever I had those feelings, I would think of my family and pray.”
Everything worked out for the best, and Vinson was released from the hospital, Ebola-free, on Oct, 28. She still says that she gets tired easily from the effects the virus had on her system, but she’s slowly but surely getting back to 100 percent. One thing about the whole ordeal that she wanted to address though, is the criticism she received for that trip to Cleveland.
“It has been very frustrating – people saying I shouldn’t have set foot on the plane and that I put everyone at risk. It’s hurtful. I didn’t have any symptoms. If these people really knew me, they wouldn’t say those things.”
She shared a similar sentiment with Matt Lauer on the “Today” show this morning.
“I’m an [Intensive Care Unit] nurse; I embrace protocol and guidelines and structure, because in my day-to-day nursing, it is a matter of life and death, and I respect that fact. I would never go outside of guidelines or boundaries or something directly from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] telling me I can’t go [or] I can’t fly. I wouldn’t do it.
I talked to my ICU management team. I actually called in [that] Monday to verify that I was permitted to travel, and then again I was at work again on Tuesday or Wednesday, and I talked to management in person and they said the CDC said it was OK to go.”
You can check out her chat with Lauer below, and read her full interview with People for more on her story.