Rene Steinhauer lives in Honolulu on his 60-foot ketch, the “Witch Doctor.”
Late last year, he spent six weeks setting up an Ebola hospital in Buchanan, Liberia. While there, he came down with fever and other symptoms and was admitted to a Monrovia Medical Unit, a hospital set up to care for foreign healthcare workers providing Ebola healthcare.
While he was being tested for Ebola, he also had to fight off the effects of malaria. “That first night in the hospital, the pain was the worst I’ve had in a decades, really severe pain, shivering, shaking fever” said Steinhauer. “I was what you would call a suspect Ebola case. I was thinking it was time to get a new job.”
Steinhauer is a registered nurse by training, but an adventurer at heart. For the past 20 years, he has either served as a disaster manager or a volunteer, following the earthquake in Haiti, Hurricane Katrina, the Asian tsunami and in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan.
He also spent time as a medic in the military in war zones including Iraq and Afghanistan.
He spent five days in quarantine in Liberia before the tests came back negative for Ebola.
“It was a tough, tough few days,” said Steinhauer. “It is what we do, the risks we take. If you care about what’s going on, and if you care about making a difference in the world, you have to take certain risks and that’s the risk each of the nurses chose to take.”
While he was cleared to come home, the Hawaii State Department of Health again placed him on quarantine as a precaution. Still, he was able to venture out into the public.
For 21 days, Steinhauer was told to stay away from crowds. When he ran into anyone in public, he had to stand at least three feet away from that person and during that time, the only people who knowingly got close to him were state disease specialists checking to see if had have a fever.
“I couldn’t go to any Christmas parties, New Year parties, anything like that,” said Steinhauer. “But I could go for a walk, go to the beach, go for a drive. I just couldn’t go to a mall.”
Steinhauer said he was cleared by the state on Monday. Dr. Sarah Y. Park, state epidemiologist and chief of the Disease Outbreak Division with the state health department, said while every state follows the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each state has its own rules when it comes to keeping watch over someone who was once suspected of coming into contact with Ebola.
Steinhauer said he will take time now to get a job with local hospital and to earn a degree at the University of Hawaii to become a nurse practitioner.