Fiancee of Dallas Ebola victim releases memoir

Louise Troh speaks during an interview at her home in Dallas. The fiancee of the first Ebola victim in the U.S. hopes her memoir provides some resolution to a story that spanned two decades, from Africa to a Dallas hospital.
Louise Troh speaks during an interview at her home in Dallas. The fiancee of the first Ebola victim in the U.S. hopes her memoir provides some resolution to a story that spanned two decades, from Africa to a Dallas hospital. AP

The memoir of Louise Troh, the Dallas woman whose boyfriend was the first Ebola victim diagnosed in the U.S., was released Tuesday and contains few surprises about what happened from the day Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed Sept. 30 until he died Oct. 8.

But My Spirit Took You In: The Romance That Sparked an Epidemic of Fear, a Memoir of the Life and Death of Thomas Eric Duncan, America’s First Ebola Victim (Weinstein Publishing, available at Amazon.com) describes a woman who tentatively hoped for a new life and love and instead found herself terrified, isolated and homeless. Troh wrote the book with Christine Wicker, who attends her church.

Of the controversy over whether Duncan knew he had Ebola when he came to the U.S., Troh says he did not.

Some people said later that Eric came to America knowing he had Ebola so that he could get Western medicine treatment. That is a lie and makes no sense. If Eric even thought he might have Ebola, he would have said to Presbyterian doctors that day, “Give me treatment. I am afraid.”

Duncan was given medication for a sinus infection and sent home that day, even though his temperature had risen to 103 by the time he left.

Troh also maintains that she told those who were treating Duncan that he had come from Liberia, not just Africa, as the hospital later said. But she adds:

I cannot say the doctor did wrong. Some people are blaming that doctor. I am not. He gave Eric tests. He listened to what Eric said. The only mistake was not seeing that Eric came from Liberia. But we did not suspect. If we did, I would never have been quiet. If they didn’t understand my accent, I would have talked more slowly. I would have talked loudly. I would have stayed in that hospital. But we did not know that Eric had been around Ebola.

She seems haunted by the idea that she could have been more emphatic.

“Liberia, Liberia, Liberia. This man is only six days here from Liberia.” If I said those words, Eric might be alive today.

For Troh, the terror began with a phone call telling her that tests confirmed Duncan had Ebola.

My body was cold with fear. I remembered how cold Eric was before he went to the hospital. I wondered if the cold was the beginning of his sickness. Would he die? Would I die, too? Would my family all die?

And then, after her family was quarantined, the meanness began, even from fellow Liberians, who said:

“Why did you bring that man here?” and “Why did that man come to infect America? He should have stayed in Liberia. Now everyone will hate us.”

She also received more hate on Facebook and by email.

One woman I don’t even know named Carol messaged me on Facebook to call us disgusting. A man named Benjamin said that it was good that my lying, dying boyfriend was dead.

The facts of being quarantined were also ugly.

We couldn’t take the trash out. We couldn’t go outside to go to the dumpster, and if we did, everyone would think our trash was infected. So we lived with it.

Later, Troh writes, the family received money and letters of support.

They said how sorry they were about Eric and how scary it was. And that they hoped good things would happen to me. Sometimes they put checks of $25 or maybe $50 in the letters. … They showed me that the ugly people were not the only people in America.

The relatives watched as a cleaning crew threw away nearly all their belongings, even though she says she had been scrupulously spraying things down with bleach, because of her background in healthcare (Troh worked at a nursing home).

They put the bag of Eric’s clothes into a barrel and started throwing all my clothes into the barrels. They were just dumping things, tearing up everything, slashing the bed and breaking things so that they fit into the barrels. They sawed my fifty-five-inch television in half.

They left with nothing but what they were wearing.

All I ever got back were some documents and my Bible. Everything else was gone forever.

After Duncan died, Troh was homeless again because no one wanted to rent her a place to live. In the end, members of her church, Wilshire Baptist, bought a condo and rented it to her. Women from Dwell With Dignity furnished it. Today, she is trying to get on with her life.

I had many fears and many questions about what happened at Presbyterian Hospital, but I am putting those things away. God alone knows what really happened. Underneath Eric’s picture I put the words that Pastor George and I said so many times during my dark days. “Vengeance belongs to God.” And then, “May your soul rest in peace.”

Judy Wiley, 817-390-7843

Twitter: @judygwiley