Excerpt of Isolation Ward by Joshua Spanogle
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Me. I'm part of the Special Pathogens Branch, which is in the Division
of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases, which, in turn, is part of the
National Center for Infectious Diseases, one of the Centers in the
Centers for Disease C & P. My knowledge doesn't go too much deeper than
that. Though I could spit out to you molecular biology of the family
Arenaviridae, I couldn't sketch the organizational chart of the CDC. I
leave that to the brilliant bureaucrats and technocrats in Georgia and
Washington. If there was a Nobel for institutional complexity, these
guys would lock it up year after year.
I pulled my car into a no-parking zone near the Emergency Department and
slapped the Baltimore City Health Department placard on the dashboard. I
fished in the glove compartment and found my old CDC placard and put
that out, too. Outbreak or no outbreak, the last thing I wanted to deal
with was a towed car.
I ran through the automatic doors to the Emergency Department, pulling
my ID around my neck as I went. The place was oddly serene; it was,
after all, early morning, July, and a weekday. That was a good thing.
Although Verlach was on edge, it seemed word hadn't filtered out to the
rest of the hospital or, God forbid, the press. The past few years--the
anthrax fiasco, SARS--had taught the public health world the finer
points of a 24/7 media with an insatiable appetite for the new, new
There was a beige phone on the wall behind the nurses' station. I
grabbed it, pounded in the pager number for the hospital epidemiologist,
and waited. Two minutes later, the phone rang. I picked it up before the
first ring ended.
"Dr. Madison, it's Nathaniel McCormick. I'm in the ED," I said.
The voice that came over the phone was faint, muted. "And I'm up on M-2.
What the hell are you doing down there?"
M-2 was a single hallway flanked by double-occupancy rooms. The white
linoleum floor was long ago scuffed to gray, the beige walls streaked
with a grime that never quite vanished, despite the best efforts of
housekeeping. It was the mirror image of M-1, the medicine unit directly
below it, except that the end of M-2 was capped by a set of metal double
A laser-printed sign was taped to the doors: ISOLATION AREA: Contact
Precautions MANDATORY. Authorized Personnel ONLY. Questions? Call Bioterror/Outbreak Preparedness at x 2134. Thank you!
Now, no one's ever accused me of being understated, but I thought
introducing a loaded word like bioterror might be a wee bit
The isolation unit was split into two areas. I was in the first, a small
vestibule with two sinks, a big red biohazard trash bag, and trays of
gowns, goggles, gloves, and shoe covers. Three opened boxes of
half-mask, negative-pressure respirators sat on a rolling cart. The
respirators filtered down to five microns, about the size of, say,
hantavirus. I was glad to see they were sufficiently worried.
This type of arrangement--a small, cordoned section of the hospital--was
a holdover from the bad old days of tuberculosis. Not all hospitals had
them anymore; most places just isolated the sick in private hospital
rooms. But here was a short hallway flanked by four rooms, two on each
side, cut off from the rest of the building, dedicated to keeping the
infectious and infirm from the rest of us. A good little quarantine
from Isolation Ward by Joshua Spanogle Copyright © 2006 by
Joshua Spanogle. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a
division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this
excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing
from the publisher.