Ebola virus disease & Story from patient
Ebola is a rare but deadly virus that causes fever, body aches, and diarrhea, and sometimes bleeding inside and outside the body. As the virus spreads through the body, it damages the immune system and organs. Ultimately, it causes levels of blood-clotting cells to drop. This leads to severe, uncontrollable bleeding.
An Ebola patient treated in the U.S. chose to remain anonymous. Now he’s telling his story.
Gorman describes the next two or three years as a “fugue state,” a time of overwhelming sadness, loneliness, alienation and, above all, bewilderment.
He went home to live with his family outside Dallas, and while he slowly recovered physically, he could not connect with his family, his girlfriend or his friends. He felt utterly alone, battling emotions he didn’t understand. Often, he found himself weeping uncontrollably.
“I was happy to be alive. But I was now instantly confused. It was like my sense of security, stability, everything had just been stripped like overnight,” he said. “Is anyone going to get this?”
His parents said that during the year Gorman lived with them, they tried to help without pressuring him.
“When he was here we didn’t talk a lot about his experience,” said his father, Gene Gorman. “We just allowed him his space. When he wanted to talk, he talked. We knew this was a huge healing process, both physically and emotionally.”
Gorman, in contrast, felt enormous pressure to move on with his life, get married, start working, raise a family.
One friend told him: “Hey, dude. Ebola was last year. You need to get over it,” he said. Others implied that he was not praying enough or sufficiently trusting God.
Overwhelmed with guilt, he broke up with his girlfriend. When he tried to reconcile, she rebuffed him. Eventually, he moved out of his parents’ home and cut himself off from his family.
“What I felt was deep, significant, shame,” he said. “Like a catastrophic level of shame.”
Too focused on their son’s narrow escape from death, “we didn’t know what to do. Everybody in this thing — Preston, me, (his mother) Esther, his brothers — we were in uncharted waters. We didn’t realize the depth and the seriousness that Preston was facing post-Ebola,” Gene Gorman said.
Given Preston Gorman’s history of depression, NIH had recommended that he follow up with a psychiatrist, who prescribed medication. But Gorman didn’t find it much help.
Of the 11 Ebola victims treated in the United States, two — a permanent U.S. resident volunteering in Sierra Leone and a Liberian visitor — arrived with the virus and died. The Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, infected two Dallas nurses, who were quickly treated and survived.
Six, including Gorman, were medical volunteers who contracted the disease in West Africa, and one was an American freelance journalist there. All were treated in specialized hospital units and lived.
Some of the survivors have faced challenges like Gorman’s.
“For the first 18 months, I struggled a lot. It was hard,” said Ashoka Mukpo, the freelance journalist who became infected in Liberia in 2014. He said he fought anxiety and depression, “just generally feeling shellshocked. What the hell just happened to me, and where do I go from here?”
Gorman said the only people who seemed to understand were co-workers who had been in Sierra Leone with him.
“Our phone calls would frequently be two or three hours,” added Larry Geller, a retired pediatric nurse from San Francisco who also worked with Gorman in Port Loko. “He was kind of in a feedback loop where his frustration and inability to move on was feeding his frustration and inability to move on. He was really in a dark place.”
Gorman believes that Partners in Health failed its “moral and ethical duty” to aid his recovery. He said the organization did not offer any help until he and former colleagues contacted officials there to express concern about his condition.
The organization disputes that, saying it stayed in contact with him over the years, occasionally offering to help him find therapy. The nonprofit’s human resources director also worked to help him secure workers’ compensation insurance for his health care bills after Gorman was initially turned down, officials there said.
In late 2016 Gorman went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, though he wasn’t drinking heavily, on the hunch that it was a place where he could air his problems. Someone there referred him to a therapist who specialized in trauma. Gorman began seeing him in late 2016 and still does.
In January 2017, he quit his job and checked himself into a mental health treatment center in Tucson, Arizona, for several weeks. It was there, he said, that he began to understand the difference in the ways trauma affected him and his family.
“The family bonds while it happens, and they all feel close and tight,” he said. “The individual comes back and goes, ‘Well, why am I not a part of this?’ And they feel worse and more alone.” Gorman said he has forgiven his family but is not ready to reconcile. “I would hope that one day we could speak,” he said. “I just don’t know when that’s gonna be.”
Last year, Gorman was befriended by Peter Hubbard, 68, who runs groups where men explore the emotions and expectations that affect their lives. Hubbard has spent many hours talking with Gorman. Other than therapists, he has made the biggest difference in Gorman’s recovery.
Gorman also has started attending a faith-based program that helps people change. He found a job he likes at the University of Texas urgent care clinic, with a supportive boss and time off in the summer. Bit by bit, he is reassembling his life.
Early in 2017, Gorman went back to NIH and handed out copies of “The Body Keeps the Score,” a highly regarded book on recovering from trauma.
“I said, ‘You need to know for your patients, when they come in here, if they have something as serious as I did, this is what can happen. And you’ve got to prepare your patients, and you’ve got to prepare your families for this.’”