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
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  • First Published:
    May 2009, 288 pages
    Jul 2010, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry

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About this Book

Print Excerpt

July 29th, 2003

Dear Mom,

I won’t be sending you this letter. Some things, you see, are too difficult to share. And, you worry enough already, I know.

I watch them die every day and feel helpless to stop it. Those around me are partially to blame. Yet how can I fault them? The men, women, and children are lost because of them, it’s true, but also because of me.

I’m over my head – it’s as simple as that. I thought I was prepared, but not for this. How could I have been? It’s just too much and I feel so alone. There is danger around every corner.

“What am I doing here?” I can only ask myself. There is so much suffering and I make so little difference. What should we do amidst so much pain? Give up? Give in? Go home?

I grieve for them and for the loss of innocence. These people deserve more than what the world gives. If I succumb, please judge me by my intentions and pardon me for my failures – those that I myself cannot forgive.

The heart, they say here, is made not of bone. I do so wish that mine was fashioned otherwise.

April 11th, 2004

Reflected sunlight swims along the wall above the bed, as if borne on some hidden current. Masses of plastic tubing, which fill the room like tufts of floating seaweed, slowly drip their infusions into an outstretched arm. In the background, I hear the heart monitor tapping a fading S.O.S.

I can sense, more than see, movement outside the room, barely visible through a window in the door. But inside, it feels surprisingly tranquil. The thermostat is set to a soothing seventy-five degrees. Comforting pastel hues cover the cabinets and walls.

High above, hang six I.V. bags and I watch the dispensing bubble of the nearest one. A stray beam of light highlights its dispensing chamber. Inside the half-filled reservoir, I can see a shimmering bead clinging to an inner silver thread.

Silently, I urge the drop to hold on and arrest the slippage of time, as if freezing this moment will somehow change reality. Yet I know it cannot be so – some things which are lost can never be regained. Even in one of America’s most luxurious and high-tech hospitals, some infirmities defy cure. Medicine, no matter where you are, invariably has its limits. In my heart, I know it truly is the end.


It seems as if I have led a series of starkly different lives, the last having started with that sudden change in health, which completely sapped my strength. I was almost another person then, when I took off my white doctor’s coat, folding it neatly and placing it on the nearby stand, before collapsing onto the awaiting gurney.

A nurse efficiently dressed me in a gown and asked me to take off my shoes. But I pretended not to hear her – it took three times before the point was made. I didn’t want to remove them. I would be leaving soon enough, I thought. That was one of my first attempts, of many, at trying to control the situation.

E.R. personnel, most of whom I recognized, quickly placed monitors over my bared body. As bad as I felt, I helped strap on the blood pressure cuff and stick half of the electrodes onto my own chest. It was mostly habit – I had done the same thousands of times before. Then, I watched the screen as the machines began to register.

With oddly detached interest, I noted that my heart raced at over twice its usual rate and that there was an abnormal beat after each normal one. In a matter of minutes, various people swiftly inserted an I.V., drew a blood sample, and took a chest X-ray. Medical students and doctors walked past, as I waited behind a half-drawn curtain. I heard a friend, a fellow classmate, unknowingly take a medical history from the patient next-door.

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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