The Story of Ebola in America (Book Review: My Spirit Took You In by Louise Troh)

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The other day, when I went to the library, I stumbled upon a brand new book.  I hadn’t heard of it before, but it was the story of Eric Duncan, the man who brought Ebola from Liberia to America.  The media had so much to say about him, mostly horrible things about how he had supposedly done this on purpose.  I was eager to hear another version of what really happened… and “My Spirit Took You In” definitely did not disappoint!

Spoiler Alert: I do discuss the beginning, middle, and end of the book.  However, since this was a news story, I’m assuming you already know how it ends!

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In 2014, when Liberia was suffering from a horrible Ebola epidemic, Eric Duncan finally received a visa to come live in the United States with his son and the love of his life, Louise.  Earlier that week he had aided a pregnant woman who died.  However, he did not know she died of Ebola (in fact, Liberia has one of the worst incidence rates of women dying in childbirth) and nobody else in his neighbourhood had any symptoms of Ebola before he left.  He was checked at airports, and went to the doctor a few days after he arrived in Dallas – they sent him home with some Tylenol.

Being a bit sick is normal after long travel, they figured.  Especially when coming to a new country, with new surroundings, people, and food around.  Eventually he was taken back to the hospital, and they suspected it might be Ebola this time.  It took 2 days to find out for sure, and I wouldn’t want to be the one waiting to hear that news.

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Eventually Eric was diagnosed with Ebola, and put in isolation.  Meanwhile, his family was put in quarantine in their house.  I can’t imagine having to deal with that.  Living for 21 days in your apartment… surrounded by the media and not allowed to even grocery shop.  Unable to even hug those in the house with you, for fear of more contagions spreading.  Thankfully a local pastor and judge treated them well and made sure they had what they needed.

During their stay, almost nobody would come near the house.  Eventually a hazmat team was sent in to make sure the place was sanitary and was not holding any germs.  Unfortunately this was done in a very brutal way.  The virus will not survive on any dry surfaces for more than a few hours, yet all of their possessions were destroyed. TVs were demolished, rooms were ripped apart, and even jewelry was thrown into the bins which were being removed (and later incinerated).  They no longer had anything, but thankfully some kind people took care of them and made sure they had what they needed for the remainder of their stay (and afterwards).

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Towards the end of his stay, the hospital called to ask how they would be paying his bills, which already totaled over $1 million.  They later agreed to not charge anything, and instead the hospital agreed to pay the family of Eric for their initial mistake in not diagnosing him with Ebola.  However, Louise Troh was not included in this payment since she was not a “direct relative”.

Eric died in the hospital, and thankfully none of the family who were in contact with him got sick.  They grieved in their quarantine house, and they grieved again properly when they were allowed to leave after the 21 days were up.  Although they had gone through so much turmoil, Louise always maintained her faith.  Some believe he was originally sent away because of his race, and because he had no healthcare.  Louise and her family were barely even able to find a new house after this occurred, because all the landlords feared her “diseased” family.  However, she chose not to press any charges against the hospital for sending Eric away, even though he had Ebola and could have been treated much earlier (and many in the community were urging them to do so).

Instead, she chose to tell her story in her own words, and I would urge you to listen to that alternative version of events, which she paints so vividly in this book.

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They say a picture is worth 1,000 words… but what does this picture say?  Two of the nurses who treated him were also later diagnosed with Ebola, and they were not treated the same way.  Their possessions were not destroyed, and they were portrayed as victims.  The images seem to say:

“Eric Duncan = Africa = Ebola”

“Pretty nurse = American saviour, innocent victim”

There was no room in the narrative for Eric Duncan to also be a victim of a terrible disease; in isolation by himself, slowly ravaged by terrible symptoms, away from everyone he knows and loves.  America was afraid, and therefore they needed a villain – and that was him.

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 08: People hold candles during a prayer vigil and memorial at Wilshire Baptist Church for Thomas Eric Duncan after he passed away from the Ebola virus on October 8, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. Mr. Duncan passed away in the morning. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

This is not a simple story about one thing…

It’s about love, and hatred

It’s about hope, and fear

It’s about life, and death

But most of all it’s about our common humanity, and if you feel the same way that I did when I finished the book, I think you feel that this book has answered some questions.  You will start to rethink some of the biases that you might not have even known you had.  You might learn something new about life in a different country, the life of a refugee, or the life of an immigrant.

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This book was written by the “fiancée” of Eric, Louise Troh (pictured above), who still lives with her family in Dallas.  I would highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to understand what it’s like to go through these experiences, what it’s like to have someone you love be so sick, and what it is like to immigrate from Africa to North America.  It’s a great chance to walk in the shoes of someone who comes from a very different world, and try to understand their perspective.  Even if you come into the book with preconceived thoughts, ideas, and biases, I hope that this book will challenge your assumptions and offer a different lens on the events that unfolded just a year ago.

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About Amanda

Hi, I’m Amanda! Originally from Ottawa, Canada, I am currently living with my partner (Steve) in Sucre, Bolivia for the next year. I work in the unique space between industrial design and international development – but what does that even mean? I’m passionate about working WITH marginalized communities in a way that utilizes design to improve the lives of different types of people around the world. I have worked, studied, traveled, and researched on every continent (except Antarctica), and most recently I lived in Ghana, Bangladesh and Nepal. I love exploring new cultures and learning more about myself along the way.
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