After suiting up and finding my size respirator, I opened another set of doors at the back of the room. As the door cracked, I could hear a rush of air, felt a suck against the disposable gown. The negative-pressure system--pressure greater outside than inside, to prevent small particles from being blown into the rest of the hospital--was working. The air would be passed through a filter, then blown outdoors.
I made sure the respirator was fast against my face; then I pushed open the door and walked inside.
Three figures, looking like aliens in their protective getup, were talking in the middle of the hallway. Besides the people, there was nothing here but a crash cart, a large biohazard waste can, and a table with a fax machine, paper, and pens. The crash cart was filled with drugs, paraphernalia for placing a central line, basically anything we'd need if a patient's heart stopped or, in medical parlance, if they "crashed." The fax was directly connected to another machine at the nurses' station outside the biocontainment zone. Notes, orders, and the like would be sent from there to the other fax. It's how we planned to get around carting contaminated medical records back and forth into the hospital. St. Raphe's, like many places, was still in the dark ages of paper records.
Despite their masks, I recognized the female Dr. Madison and Dr. Verlach, who was black. The third man, an older white guy, I didn't recognize. I stepped up to the group, which made sort of an amoeboid shift to accommodate me.
"Antibodies?" Verlach asked, his speech raspy and tinny through the respirator.
"Not yet. Nothing specific," Dr. Madison said. "No idea what it is. . . ."
Finally, the three looked at me. Verlach said, "Dr. McCormick, you know Jean Madison. This is Gary Hammil--" He pointed at the man I didn't know. "He's the new Chief of Infectious Diseases at St. Raphael's."
Ah. The new Chief of ID. St. Raphe's had been casting around for someone for months; they must have netted Dr. Hammil in the past few days. Nice of them to tell me.
I looked at Hammil. "Nothing like diving in headfirst."
"Especially when the pool has no water," he said. We both forced a laugh.
"Dr. McCormick is on loan to us from CDC," Verlach explained.
"Okay, thanks for the introductions," Jean Madison said, annoyed. Then, to me, "Tissue, blood, saliva have all gone to the labs here."
"Here?" I asked.
I I looked at Verlach. He said, "Fastest turnaround. We sent samples to the state lab, too."
Hammil asked, "What do they have at the city labs?"
Verlach looked at the floor. "Um, we don't have much, mostly run-of-the-mill. But state is pretty stocked. Tests for the filoviruses, Marburg and Ebola. I think they have Lassa, Rift Valley, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Q fever. More. They don't have everything, but they have a lot, actually."
"Well, CDC is there if you need us," I said. CDC had resources--modes of analysis, genetic libraries of pathogens--that far outstripped those of Baltimore City or Maryland State. We had, in fact, the largest repository of disease-specific tests in the world at our headquarters in Atlanta. We also had the largest repository of actual bugs. Not a place to take your kids when they're in the oral stage.
Excerpted 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.
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