"--care for these women."
"I'm not commenting on the in-house expertise," I began.
"Of course you are! You seem to think you're in some backwoods clinic. Surprise, surprise, we have seen our share of sick people, and they do get better."
"I wanted you to know there are resources available to--"
"Thanks for your input, Doctor. We'll take it under advisement." With that, she turned to the door. Before opening it, however, she turned back. "I'm calling a staff meeting, gentlemen, in ten minutes. Dr. McCormick, since you seem to have expertise we don't possess in-house, I'd like you to present your differential for these women."
"But I haven't even seen the--"
She was already out the door.
Another door opened as a nurse, dressed in her moon suit, exited one of the patient's rooms. She said hello to us, then disappeared into another room. A hospital, even an isolation ward, is a place of constant activity. Constant interruption, constant opening and closing of doors. Privacy for patients as well as for their caretakers is an alien concept.
After the nurse was gone, Hammil said, "How old are you, Dr. McCormick?"
"What? I'm thirty-three."
He nodded. "I guess that explains a lot. Grow up." He caught Verlach's eye, turned, and followed Jean Madison into the vestibule. The door closed with a hiss.
Verlach and I were sharing a quiet moment, just the two of us in the
"I think she likes me, Herb."
Verlach said nothing. Even in the best of times, he didn't always know what to make of me.
"Yeah," I said, "you got it. I think she likes me in that way. It just comes across as pure, white-hot hatred."
"Well, things are a little tense here."
Verlach regarded me through the respirator and face shield. "Gary Hammil I don't know. But I've known Jean Madison for years. She's a good doctor--damn good infectious disease doctor--good epidemiologist--"
"And she's still ticked that her surveillance program got slammed by Public Health. She's still annoyed they brought you and me in."
"That might be true."
"It is true. And this new guy, Hammil, says that I need to grow up? I'm an emotional Methuselah compared to her. Jesus."
"Okay, okay, you might be right, but try to see it from her side. She's been here for two decades. At this hospital. She's seen the assaults on its reputation, its finances, its medical staff. But it stays alive. To the point where the mere existence of this place irritates people. Everyone's on the sidelines waiting for a slipup."
"But dealing with this like it's a case of the sniffles is a slipup. Am I wrong here? Isn't hemorrhagic fever on the differential?"
"We don't know."
"Come on, purpuric rash? The bleeding? I haven't even seen these women and I'm thinking--"
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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