Josephus Weeks is the nephew of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in America. In late September he found out that Duncan — a Liberian man who was visiting the US for the first time — had been hospitalized in Dallas. On October 8, Thomas Eric Duncan died, leaving behind two sons in America and two daughters in Africa. From his home in North Carolina, Weeks talked about the uncle he loved, how health officials here failed his family, and what it was like to suddenly be in the national spotlight because of the virus.
On the day of my birthday I made a phone call and all hell broke loose. It was September 29, a Monday morning.
Eric was in the hospital in Dallas, and they weren't moving on his blood work. So I called a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hotline. Eric had his blood work sitting at the hospital in Dallas for a whole 48 hours. I had been telling them, "You know he's from Liberia." I don't think they knew what Ebola was before Thomas Eric Duncan came in.
I found out through the news that he had Ebola. That's the same way I found out he died — through the news.
When I found out it was Ebola, I just got scared. I didn't want him to die. Eric had been living in Liberia. This was his first visit to America, and he didn't survive.
He didn't get to see anything here in America. He spent most of his time in hospital. He arrived on the 20th, and by the 24th, he was sick. By 30th, I found out through the news that he had Ebola, and then the hospital called us and told us. That's the same way I found out he died — through the news.
At first, I thought he was sick with something simple. I was calling him from here in North Carolina, saying, "Man you're weak." I thought he had a stomach virus. I just assumed he came from Liberia, and his body was adjusting. That was my thought. So I was just laughing at him. "Man you're weak."
I was going to drive down to Dallas, to pick him up, and do a little road trip. So we could talk and bond. It's been a while since we saw each other, since 1992. The war started, and I left Liberia over 20 years ago.
When he was in the hospital, he asked me, "Josephus, how long does this thing stay in your body?" I said, "Well, based on what I had seen with the other two other patients transported from Liberia, both survived. Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol." I told him, "In three weeks, you'll be okay."
He kept saying he was in pain. He was trembling, he was cold all the time. He had diarrhea. He was nauseated. He was having trouble breathing. But he mostly he complained about the pain.
The bleeding stuff, I didn't hear much about it except for one time while he was in the hospital. I heard they were trying to give him an IV and they missed, and there was blood everywhere.
On that Friday morning before he died, he was on the oxygen mask. Through the phone, I could hear the oxygen tanks hissing. We told him to go to sleep, that we'd call him this afternoon. And we never talked again.
What bothers me has been the lack of attention and lack of humanity about his death. Still today President Obama has not called on my grandmother to say, "my condolences." He sent prayers to Amber Vinson and Nina Pham, the other nurses who got infected. But he never gave prayers to Thomas Eric Duncan's family.
The media attention was painful. Here's my brother on the bed, fighting for his life. Every time I turned around, my grandma had to turn on TV, and see him in that green shirt. I was at the airport trying to take a flight to Chicago and we were standing here, and he came up on the screen big as the Brooklyn Bridge. I wanted to say, "Please stop showing his picture." It was hard for us to deal with.
Still today President Obama has not called on my grandmother to say, "my condolences"
As a family, we are praying people. We just keep praying, and supporting each other.
We don't have his remains. We don't know where they are at. It's a big old mess. The indignity he faced in death is really upsetting to me. We should have had his remains and figured out if we are going to take them to Liberia and find a decent place to bury this man.
He still doesn't have a place to rest. There's a human being out there but you can't give him a burial.
People think Eric came here under malicious intent and that's not the case. I always refer to Dr. Craig Spencer. He was a doctor who knew better but he arrived in New York, went around the city, and then got sick. Eric was a regular old civilian. He came here, he was just living his life. He got sick and it turned out to be Ebola.
—as told to Julia Belluz
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