Excerpt from The Lassa Ward by Dr. Ross Donaldson MD, MPH, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Lassa Ward

One Man’s Fight Against One of the World’s Deadliest Diseases

by Dr. Ross Donaldson MD, MPH

The Lassa Ward by Dr. Ross Donaldson MD, MPH
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  • First Published:
    May 2009, 288 pages
    Jul 2010, 288 pages

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Jo Perry

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Print Excerpt


It was several days before my mom got to California – I know I kept the news from her, and others, for too long. But it took some time before I began to understand what was going on and I hesitated at having to explain that I didn’t know what ailed me. I was, after all, supposed to almost be a doctor. Word got out eventually, however, after I failed to make my own return party. It was fairly uncharacteristic of me to miss such an event, especially since it was thrown in my honor, and my friends soon began to suspect the seriousness of my sudden infirmity. It’s hard for me to say for sure, since I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard it was pretty fun.

By the point my mother’s plane touched down in L.A., I had already interacted with countless doctors, many of whom had been former acquaintances and professors of mine. Despite having held numerous medical jobs and having gone through much of the long schooling, it was a side of medicine with which I had little experience. Everything was the reverse of what I was used to. Now I was at the other end of the stethoscope, wearing the chilly gown that was impossible to tie in the back. Now it was my turn to accept that which I had already begun to suspect: I was really in control of very little.

One of the nurses relayed the message to me that my mother was on her way and, from the hospital bed, I pictured her anxious journey to see me. In my mind’s eye, my mom wore a look of concern that I had never before seen on her familiar face. But it was an expression that I recognized only too well from distant lands – by then, I had seen similar ones, worn by worried parents, more times than I would have wished. I wondered what my mom would be thinking as she fought her way through traffic. Despite being a grown man, I am not ashamed of what a relief it was to know that she was near. I had never before suffered from more than the common cold, except for a bout of mononucleosis in college that was cured by ice-cream and the hand of time. This, most obviously, was very different.

My mom would rightly want to know what had happened, I thought to myself, as I lay there staring off into the ceiling tiles. I recognized then how much I had kept from her, from the rest of my family, and from my friends. How much I had hidden away – to protect them, I had told myself, but to safeguard me as well, I now realized. But the past can never be changed. I only hoped that I would have enough time, and enough courage, to tell her.

June 30th, 2003

Unrestrained cargo lurched precariously behind my head, but I did my best to ignore it. Instead, I clutched at the frayed seatbelt in my lap and focused my eyes out the helicopter window, past streaks of frenzied raindrops, towards a growing brightness in the distance. There’s no point in looking back, I told myself – the only option is forward.

The cabin, filled with the whine of the antique turbines, shuddered violently when we flew over dry land. The lumbering transport bucked in stubborn protest, as a lone light drew us down into flickering shadows. As the aircraft finally struck the ground with a jarring thud, we tilted dangerously to one side for a few nerve-racking seconds, before settling.

After quickly gathering my few belongings, I filed out the cramped doorway to sway briefly under the downdraft of the chopper and the weight of my backpack. For a moment, I searched for a familiar face in the surrounding undergrowth, but I knew there was none to find.

Out of the dim jungle, a bear of a man steadily plodded towards me. “Merlin?” he yelled over the slowing chopper blades, naming the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that was providing my logistics. I nodded my head in what I hoped was confident affirmation. “Ross,” I shouted back, as I shook his meaty hand.

Excerpted from The Lassa Ward by Dr. Ross Donaldson. Copyright © 2009 by Dr. Ross Donaldson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher

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