In memoir, Kent Brantly reflects on Ebola care at Emory

Emory Report | July 27, 2015

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Dr. Kent Brantly, the first person with Ebola virus disease in the United States, arrived at Emory University Hospital on Aug. 2, 2014.

Brantly, a medical missionary, treated patients with Ebola in Liberia and contracted the virus there. As the anniversary of his successful treatment at Emory approaches, Brantly has just published a memoir with his wife, Amber, titled "Called for Life: How Loving Our Neighbor Led Us into the Heart of the Ebola Epidemic."

The couple will discuss the book and sign copies at the Decatur Book Festival on Saturday, Sept. 5, at 12:30 p.m. on the First Baptist Decatur Sanctuary Stage.

In this excerpt, Brantly describes leaving isolation in Emory's Serious Communicable Diseases Unit, the close bonds he formed with his health care team, reuniting with his wife, and the hours leading up to the press conference announcing his discharge on Aug. 21, 2014:

Out of Isolation

Amber and I had talked with the doctors about how we would coordinate my release, and we worked out the details of a press conference once my blood test was negative.

They had taken my blood on Sunday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, August 20, I was told I had the two successive negative blood tests I needed. I was Ebola free!

Then everything happened in a whirlwind.

The first order of business was to get me out of the isolation unit. As with everything else in the unit, there were detailed steps that had to be followed.

I gave them my wedding ring to have it decontaminated and took a good shower. One of the nurses gave me a sample-sized bottle of Versace shower gel. “When you come out to meet your woman for the first time,” he told me, “you need to smell good.”

I used the entire bottle.

When I finished my shower, a nurse handed me a clean towel to dry off with. Then I put on clean hospital scrubs. I walked across clean towels that had been placed on the floor, stopped at the doorway, put on clean hospital socks, and cleaned my hands with hand sanitizer. I walked through the door and into the anteroom, where I again cleaned my hands with sanitizer. Amber was waiting for me in the hallway, and when I stepped out of the anteroom, she gave me a big hug. Then we kissed and I was thinking, Are we allowed to do this? The look on Amber’s face told me Amber was wondering the same thing!

Jill, who had been my first nurse at Emory, had stayed after her shift to witness my leaving the unit. She had given my decontaminated wedding ring to Amber, and Amber slid the band back onto my ring finger.

From there I was taken to a regular hospital room for the night. It was the same room that Nancy had stayed in.

Amber left and returned to my room with hair clippers, clothes, and two or three pairs of shoes for me to try on.

I received a call from Liberian vice president Joseph Boakai. Before connecting me with the vice president, his chief of staff said to me, “So tell me, what do the pearly gates look like?” We laughed. Vice President Boakai came on the line and congratulated me on my recovery, and I assured him that I would continue trying to help the people of his country overcome the outbreak.

Then I finished typing up my statement for my discharge press conference and wrote some e-mails.

Tim Viertel’s wife, Jan, had joined him in Atlanta, and they brought Amber and me dinner from Cracker Barrel. The two of us sat beside each other on the bed and ate our first meal together off the little bedside table. We had turned off the main, fluorescent light in the room and ate with dimmed lighting.

After Amber left for the night, two of the nurses came into the room and did squats and push-ups with me. 

***

Word had begun to circulate among the hospital staff that I had been moved out of isolation and that a press conference was scheduled for Thursday morning. The doctors and nurses were going to stand behind Amber and me as I spoke, so the nurses knew they would be on television.

When the hospital staff started showing up in the morning, we noticed that they were wearing matching blue scrubs, some had gotten haircuts, and some were wearing more elaborate makeup than usual.

One of the guys said, “My wife plucked my eyebrows last night. She told me, ‘You are going to be on national TV. You can’t be having those bushy eyebrows.’”

We were able to get to know some great nurses while we were at Emory.

When I came out of my room to walk to the press conference, I was met by the high energy of the doctors, nurses, and lab technicians waiting for me in the hallway.

The doctors who had treated me were at the front of the line, and I embraced each one. I had planned on hugging every member of the team, but when I looked at how many were lined up down the hallway, I commented that it would take forever to get to each one of them.

“How about high-fives?” someone suggested.

So I went into a tunnel of nurses and techs with their hands extended, high-fiving me as I jogged through — finally touching the hands that had cared for me through two pairs of gloves for all those days.  

Excerpted from "Called for Life" by Kent and Amber Brantly. Copyright © 2015 by Kent and Amber Brantly. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Penguin Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.