Pauline Cafferkey, 39, was discharged from hospital two days ago after making a complete recovery following three weeks in a high level isolation unit (HLIU) at the Royal Free Hospital in London.
In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, she told how her symptoms took time to emerge, but by her lowest point she believed she would die and told her doctors: “That’s it. I’ve had enough. I can’t carry on any more.”
The nurse, from Cambuslang in South Lanarkshire, had volunteered with Save The Children at the Ebola Treatment Centre in Kerry Town, Sierra Leone, before returning to the UK.
“I had a lovely doctor in Glasgow who had the horrible job of breaking the news to me that I had Ebola,” she said.
“I just said, ‘I’ve got a fight on my hands,’ as I knew what potentially could happen to me and did happen to me.”
She added: “I didn’t get steadily worse and I was fine for the first two or three days and couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about, but then I did deteriorate.”
The illness and medication left her semi-conscious, with a painful rash and a sensitivity to contact and needles, and she said she cannot remember a week of her two week treatment.
“There was one point when there were one or two doctors around me and I said, ‘That’s it. I’ve had enough, I can’t carry on anymore,’” she said.
“I thought I was fighting it, but at that point I said ‘I’ve had enough, it’s too much’. Ms Cafferkey was treated with an experimental anti-virus drug, ZMabb and blood plasma from survivors – and said she will donate her own plasma to help others battling the disease in Africa.
Dr Michael Jacobs, head of the infectious diseases team at the Royal Free, who was in charge of Ms Cafferkey’s treatment, said: “In the end it probably comes down to the fact that she had to cure herself. She used her own immune system, which has cleared the virus, but we’re very fortunate here to have specialist facilities.”
Ms Cafferkey kept her spirits up in hospital with Irn-Bru, Sugar Puffs, an iPad playlist including classical music and BBC Radio 4 soap The Archers, she said.
She is “very happy to be alive” and looking forward to a bath, seeing her friends and family, a vegetarian Chinese meal and returning to her day job working with babies under five.
Ms Cafferkey said she will take a break from aid work but has not ruled out returning to it in the future, and said she would love to return to “absolutely stunning” Sierra Leone on holiday.
“I think I’m very fortunate to be a part of the fight against Ebola. I have absolutely no regrets about going over there,” she said.
Ms Cafferkey also dismissed erroneous press reports that she contracted the illness at a Christmas church service and that she has a partner called “Michael”.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Ebola is a terrible disease, and the fact that she has made this recovery is a tremendous tribute to the work of the NHS staff who have been committed to her care over the last few weeks.
“Like all her fellow volunteer health workers she has shown tremendous bravery in going to west Africa to help tackle the Ebola outbreak.”
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Her selflessness and courage are remarkable and she represents the very best of NHS values.”
Save The Children chief executive Justin Forsyth said: “The bravery of Pauline and everyone who has worked to defeat Ebola makes us even more determined to redouble our efforts to beat the disease.”