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I thought I'd die from Ebola... I was in a lot of pain, I said 'Let me go, I've had enough' NURSE PAULINE ON HER FIGHT TO SURVIVE.


NURSE Pauline Cafferkey had a bit of a sore head when she shook hands with David Cameron's wife Samantha in Downing Street. It was the day after Pauline was a star of the Daily Mirror Pride of Britain Awards.

She was honoured at the event after she battled back from the brink of death as a result of catching Ebola on a mercy mission in Sierra Leone.

"To get invited to the awards was fantastic," she says. "We had one or two too many to drink that night and we were up at Downing Street the next day. We weren't feeling too good at all."

Days later the Save the Children charity worker was feeling far worse as the unthinkable happened - she was struck down again with Ebola and was fighting for her life once more.

Pauline was also left critically ill from meningitis triggered by the virus in her nervous system.

And now she is telling her story to Julie Etchingham on ITV's Tonight programme this evening... how she begged doctors to drill a hole in her head because of the pain, refused to let her family see her at her worst, but would still do it all again. Pauline contracted Ebola while caring for victims of the epidemic in West Africa in 2014.

She recovered in January 2015 and returned to her job as a public health nurse.

Then in October last year she was giving a talk at a Glasgow school when she was overcome with a terrible headache, which worsened overnight.

She recognised the symptoms but it never occurred to her that the Ebola could be back. Pauline says: "I just thought 'I have all the symptoms of meningitis. I'm sensitive to light, I've got neck pains, severe headache, I have a fever'. There had never been any cases recorded of anyone having a relapse such as that."

She only called an ambulance the following day, when she went to visit her aunt and her condition worsened.

"Apparently, I said 'this is worse than Ebola'," Pauline, 40, says. "I had such a severe headache because of the swelling in my brain. It was horrendous pain.

"It was the worst headache of my life and apparently I said to one of the doctors at the time 'just drill a hole in my head, just relieve the pressure in my head'."

Doctors in Glasgow found the Ebola had returned. The RAF flew Pauline back down y to the Royal Free Hospital, in North West London, where she had been successfully treated before. On the flight she suffered seizures and had to be heavily sedated.

Her family's home was decontaminated and those who had been in contact with her were offered vaccines.

Pauline says: "There was a very, very small risk but it must have been frightening for those who were in contact with me during that time and my auntie who I was staying with."

As medics worked around the clock to save her, Pauline was left terrified in a medical tent in the isolation unit.

"I was crying so much, to the point that I wanted to scream," she says.

"I don't know if I was scared of dying or [if it was the] sheer frustration of being there and wanting out.

"But the nurses were great... I found it very soothing if they stroked my hair. I probably reverted back to childlike bhcorwt behaviour." Even in her hour of need, Pauline could not shake a feeling of guilt that she was receiving top treatment when so many died of the virus in West Africa.

"I had crazy hallucinations," she says. "There were a bunch of Sierra Leoneans and they also had Ebola. But they were outside the tent. I was saying to the nurse 'treat them'... I must have had a degree of guilt like why I got the best of care... and they didn't."

Pauline spent three weeks in the tent before she was able to leave the hospital and has endured a slow recovery since.

She was in hospital for a third time in February. This time for five days for a complication linked to the disease.

Pauline, a nurse for around 20 years, says: "I hope that time will come soon where I'm not that Ebola nurse - I'm just myself again."

Dr Emma Thomson, consultant in infectious diseases, explains the theory about why the Ebola returned. She says: "It's a landmark case. She's the first patient to have a recurrence of an infection 10 months after her initial infection.

"Pauline's infection was very severe. Probably, with that very high viral load, a little bit of virus was able to sneak into the central nervous system and hide and then replicate very y slowly over time."

Pauline was no stranger to volunteering abroad - having already worked in Sudan and Bangladesh - when she joined 29 other British health workers as part of the international relief effort responding to the epidemic in West Africa at the end of 2014.

She assured her family there was only a one in a million chance of anything happening to her. Pauline says: "Emotionally, it was tough to see death... see families die in beds next to each other.

"It is a horrible virus, probably the worst one you can catch." After five weeks in the region, it was only after returning home to Scotland she began to feel ill. Recalling being diagnosed with Ebola, she says: "I was obviously very shocked. I knew I had to stay strong and I couldn't even phone my family to tell them because they would just upset me.

"I was thinking I could die a horrible death within the next few days."

Her fears were still grave after she was airlifted to the Royal Free Hospital that first time.

Pauline says: "The first or second day my mouth was very painful. And then as time went on, I had a horrendous rash.

"I was in a lot of pain and then my body became swollen. I think ab p probably my organs were starting to fail.

"The clinical lead in the Royal Free, he told me 'we're going to put you out as critical now'. I don't remember much after that... Hearing the word critical, that means death is imminent."

Pauline's family looked on from the corridor outside the isolation room.

"I felt horrendous," she says. "I said 'I can't carry on, just let me go. I've had enough'. I said 'I don't want anybody to see me'. So I actually refused to have my family come and visit me, which is quite selfish... I was suffering, and you wouldn't want to see your child or your sister going through that."

Pauline now lives in Cambuslang on the outskirts of Glasgow, and has, in the past few weeks, again returned to work.

The nurse, who is on medication related to side effects from the virus, still wants to encourage people to help those suffering around the world.

"There's nothing more rewarding than giving," she says. "I have no regrets about going out to Sierra Leone and never will.

"It was a privilege to represent the NHS. All of us going out there knew the risks. I just got unlucky.

"I have been negative of Ebola for seven months now and don't believe I will have another relapse."

She added that she is convinced her future will be "full of good things", saying "it can't get any worse than what I have gone through".

Pauline's Story - Living with Ebola is on ITV at 7.30pm tonight.

I said to a doctor 'drill a hole in my head, just relieve the pressure' PAULINE CAFFERKEY RECALLS THE SUFFERING


CRISIS She is airlifted from Glasgow to hospital in London

IRON WILL Pauline Cafferkey is still smiling

SORE HEAD Meeting Samantha Cameron day after Pride of Britain

OPENING UP Talking to Julie Etchingham for ITV programme

CARING On mission in Sierra Leone

STRICKEN She is treated after deadly virus returned
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 19, 2016
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