After spending 21 days in hospital, agonizing over whether they might have caught Ebola from infected nursing assistant Teresa Romero, hairdressers Miriam Díaz and Isabel Peláez reopened their salon on Tuesday after a two-month hiatus.
Romero, the first person to conctract the deadly virus outside West Africa, had been to Studio 84 in the Madrid dormitory town of Alcorcón a few days before being admitted to the Carlos III Hospital with the disease.
Even though she was already running a fever, the nursing assistant – who had been in direct contact with stricken patients and likely caught Ebola from one of them – went there to get her hair dyed, her eyebrows plucked, and upper lip waxed.
What I can’t figure out is how Madrid emergency services could tell us to go about our business, considering the risk we’d been exposed to” Miriam Díaz, hairdresser
After Romero was officially diagnosed with Ebola, the two hairdressers became among the 50 or so people who were isolated at Carlos III for three weeks because of their direct contact with the virus.
Isabel Peláez is indignant. “After everything we’ve been through, Teresa never even apologized for what she did,” she says.
Miriam Díaz, the owner of Studio 84, adds: “My only priority at the time was reopening the hair salon. Now I will decide with my lawyers whether to start legal action.”
Peláez and Díaz’s troubles began on October 2. Teresa Romero had made an appointment two days earlier, but postponed it to see whether her fever got better with the medication she had been prescribed at her local health center. Romero’s primary care physician, who was also kept in isolation, says the nursing assistant likewise never informed her of her contact with Ebola patients. She is now suing Romero.
On October 2, Díaz dyed Romero’s hair and began plucking her eyebrows, but had to leave for a dentist’s appointment. Peláez took over.
“She’s been a client of ours from the beginning, since we opened eight years ago,” explains Díaz.
The trouble began four days later, when Romero was taken by ambulance to the emergency room at Alcorcón Hospital, where tests confirmed she had Ebola. Medics began to retrace her steps, and it emerged she had been to the hair salon.
“The world came crashing down on us,” recalls Díaz. “We phoned her up and she said yes, that she was the woman in the hospital.”
Although the hair salon remained open all Tuesday and Wednesday morning, Díaz finally decided to close.
“I was very worried and kept thinking what would happen if I had contracted the disease and I passed it on to my clients. I called up Isabel and told her we couldn’t keep going.”
They phoned the Madrid emergency services, but were told to go about their business, and to let them know if they noticed anything unusual. Unhappy with the recommendation, Díaz insisted and managed to get the two of them admitted into Carlos III for observation.
“What I can’t figure out is how they could possibly tell us to go about our business, considering the risk we’d been exposed to,” complains Díaz.
“The night before our admission I had an anxiety attack at 5am and threw up until we left for the hospital. When I called Miriam I thought I was already sick,” recalls Peláez.
The hair salon remained closed the whole time they were in quarantine. A sign on the storefront window explained it was due to “personal issues.”
Both women walked out of the hospital on October 23 with a clean bill of health. But when the welcome home party was over, they found themselves with a closed business and nobody to disinfect the premises. After finally finding someone who would, Díaz decided to carry out refurbishments.
“I’ve spent my time putting the business back together again, because this is how I make my living. It’s been really hard,” says Díaz.
Not only that, but she has lost a subsidized apartment that the Alcorcón Housing Department had awarded her, since she is now not sure she will be able to make the down payment of €42,000. Díaz’s daughter was unable to go to school for three weeks.
Díaz and Peláez say that they are angry at Romero. “She hasn’t apologized to any of the people who were [in observation]. She was only worried about herself. She didn’t even bother asking us how we were doing,” complains Peláez. “Honestly, I expected more from her. And don’t tell me she’s had a really hard time of it – we were also under a lot of strain, thinking we might have a deadly disease like Ebola.”
Both women have hired lawyers to see whether they should sue the regional government or even Romero herself. They have lost two months of work, they've had to refurbish their business, and they may have lost customers.
“If she’d said sorry, maybe we wouldn’t be considering legal action now, but we had a really hard time too, and nobody has said sorry to us,” says Peláez.