On Monday, October 20, medical doctor and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) field worker Silje Lehne Michalsen was discharged from Oslo University Hospital, Ulleval. She was treated for Ebola hemorrhagic fever after having contracted the disease in Sierra Leone in early October.
Michalsen is now fully recovered and no longer contagious.
“We are very happy and relieved that our Norwegian colleague has recovered, but we remain vigilant and focused on the work we have yet to do to put a stop to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa,” says MSF Director of Operations Brice de le Vingne. “There is no such thing as zero risk and MSF remains committed to fighting this unprecedented outbreak.”
Michalsen made a statement upon her release:
My name is Slije Lehne Michalsen. I am an MSF medical doctor and field worker.
On June 2, I went on my first MSF field mission. I travelled to a hospital in the town of Bo in Sierra Leone. There, I was supposed to work with Lassa fever, Ebola’s unknown, forgotten, and slightly less dangerous cousin.
Sierra Leone’s first Ebola case was identified only days after I arrived in the country. Over the next months, the Ebola epidemic spread in Sierra Leone, and my job at the hospital gradually became increasingly Ebola-related. We built a new Ebola center in Bo, and that was where I worked the last two weeks before I fell ill.
On Saturday October 4, I felt unwell when I came home from work. I checked my temperature and discovered that I had a mild fever. I isolated myself in my room and performed a malaria test, which was negative. The next day a blood sample was taken, which tested positive for Ebola.
The next day I was flown to Oslo in an incubator of sorts, which was airtight and infection proof for the staff who accompanied me. I am glad that I was evacuated so quickly and smoothly.
At Ullevål, I was received by a fantastic team of doctors and nurses who have provided me with great treatment, support, and encouragement. I am incredibly grateful for the treatment I have received there.
Today I am healthy and no longer infectious. I feel very lucky, and it really does not feel like I had Ebola. The people who have been and are infected with Ebola in Africa, have had—and still have—a very different experience from mine.
Having Ebola in West Africa means more than experiencing symptoms. It means losing sisters, fathers, and neighbors. Being six years old and in hospital without a familiar face in sight. That your family is stigmatized. Being isolated in hot tents, with hard beds and people dying in their beds around you. But that is only if you are lucky enough to get admitted in the first place.
In total, I spent three months in Bo, Sierra Leone, seeing Ebola coming ever closer to my city, my hospital, and spreading to the rest of the country. I spent three months seeing a total lack of international response. I spent three months growing ever more anxious and frustrated. Every passing day, we fell three steps behind. Every passing day, the number of infected people increased, and each day I thought to myself that stopping the epidemic today has become even harder than it was yesterday.
We all felt the race against time, but the world did not act. Nothing happened and we felt helpless. And the number of infected people kept increasing.
Today, talking is starting to turn toward actions and hands-on response, not just words and money. This is good, but it is also far past time. I wish the world could have acted several months ago; the battle would have been so much easier to win. Many lives and families would have been spared.
The clock is ticking, more people are dying. We have to act, and we have to act now.
I see that many people have volunteered to go to West Africa. That is excellent, and I am very glad that my becoming infected has not scared you. I would like to thank you all so much, and I wish you good luck.
Finally, I would also like to thank my family and friends who have supported me through these weeks. Thank you to MSF for all the help you have provided me and my family. Thank you to Ullevål Hospital for excellent treatment and follow-up.
And thank you to the media for having respected my wish to remain anonymous. I am available today, and I hope you will receive answers to things you want to know. But after this day, I do not wish for more attention, and I hope you will respect that. Instead, I would like to challenge you to turn your focus where it belongs, and spend time and column inches on the real stories and the real problems that actually play out in West Africa, not here in Norway.
My first mission did not turn out quite the way I had expected, but I hope to be able to go to the field again as soon as possible.