Contagious diseases that threaten to end civilization as we know it have already affected me personally. (You know, besides the Not Wanting to Die Part. We all share that.)
I wrote the bulk of my horror serial, This Plague of Days, two years ago. I was definitely inspired by The Stand. However, the scariest book I’ve ever read is The Hot Zone by Richard Preston (and it’s non-fiction, by the way). That plays a large part in my story’s inception. The Hot Zone became much more personal when its warnings became real to a family member. My sister-in-law has a very important job in a Toronto hospital. SARS hit Toronto hard and she was in the middle of the crisis in 2003.
SARS made a huge impression on me. Helplessness came first.
Vancouver could have been hit as badly as Toronto. However, one astute nurse averted a worse disaster. She identified the symptoms of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome immediately. She spotted a patient in an ER waiting room and isolated the infected person to avoid an outbreak. You’d hope that best case scenario would happen every time. Toronto wasn’t so lucky.
My sister-in-law and many healthcare workers were in danger. However, they did the job they signed up for and did so bravely. As a result, several of those killed by SARS were health care workers.
Though I’d never worked in a hospital, I was in danger, too.
Through my research, I knew the agency I worked for planned to facilitate the government’s plan to make me and my colleagues in hospitals in the event of an outbreak. The bureaucrats, without consulting the membership they said they served, were ready to give me up, volunteer me and put me and my family in harm’s way. With two young children at home, they weren’t merely ready to put me in danger. Their emergency plans put my kids in danger. (I’d have to go home sometime after being exposed to contagious diseases against my will.)
Those same bureaucrats plan to hide in their homes during an outbreak while sending me and my colleagues into the thick of it. This is especially egregious when you grok this: Where I live, doctors and nurses refused to pledge that they would report for work during a pandemic. The medical experts understand that when the world flu pandemic arrives, isolation from contagion is the surest way to save the most lives. Staying home is the best chance to avoid an ugly death in an overcrowded hospital.
You could say I was annoyed by these policies. One bureaucrat in charge of emergency planning told me “This is the government. They can do what they want.” (I thought the point of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was…oh. Never mind. We live there now.)
And yet the doctors’ and nurses’ unions found a spine, maintained their dignity and refused to sign the government’s proposed pledge because (1) their membership at least got consulted, and (2) many felt the government’s plan was stupid at best.
When humans are in charge, they make mistakes. Some mistakes are deadly.
Were you aware that with budget cuts in many hospitals, the first to be sacrificed are the people who cost the least money? Expensive upper management is rarely cut, but the cleaning staff has to go first? Those are the people who disinfect the elevator buttons and clean computer keyboards. SARS can survive (and wait for you) a long time on an elevator button.
You know those powerful toilets you’ll find in any hospital? They can aerosolize disease really well when flushed. There’s a factoid to keep you up nights.
During SARS, hospital cafeterias were closed. That sounds like a good idea until you realize medical staff have to eat, too. Nurses ate close together in cramped nursing stations.
Respiratory masks are hot and uncomfortable.
For relief, you drink more coffee. It’s not just to deal with the stress and exhaustion. It’s to get a break from the mask. Worse? A properly fitted hospital mask that’s tested and certified will protect you from many pathogens for maybe 20 minutes to half an hour. When it gets wet, and it does simply with respiration, it doesn’t protect you from possible contagion anymore. You read that right. To screw up most masks, all you have to do is breathe. We don’t all get HAZMAT suits.
I had to go to an ER at the height of the SARS crisis for a health issue.
The medical staff all wore masks and took proper preventive measures. However, when they gathered in a tight huddle to consult each other, they pulled their masks aside.
How the truth set me free (of a job)
With all this in mind, I attended a meeting with representatives of that governmental agency I alluded to. They told us we’d be safe with any old mask at all. However, a carpenter’s mask keeps out sawdust, not viruses. A hospital-safe mask is fitted individually and tested with noxious smoke. If you cough during the test, the mask doesn’t fit and has to be refitted. (Bonus points for shortsighted and stupid: This test costs money, so it’s often skimped on or not done at all.)
At the meeting, I stood up and objected to the cavalier policy on masks. I thought I was a helpful and worried hero of the people. Nope! I’d become a problem. Problems are things to get rid of.
The next Monday morning my supervisor called to “discuss my contract.” They told me I’d challenged them in a public meeting. (I challenged them, but the meeting was in no way public.) They said I sounded angry. Um, yeah. With me and my family’s health on the line? I was angry. But there’s a difference between righteous indignation and ranting. I thought I hit the right balance. They didn’t agree. (And not for nothing, the highest ranking officer on the phone sounded more angry than I was. I have the tape.)
They said I was free to hold my opinions, but I couldn’t work for them at the same time and express the truth. They didn’t want to risk any “dual messages” getting out.
They questioned my integrity, but I’d done my job well so I guess they couldn’t fire me. They said if I wanted to continue, closer monitoring would be necessary. (I have no idea what that means, but collars make me itch.) I believe it’s simpler than that. They didn’t like me when I wasn’t nodding my head. I wasn’t happy with them anymore, either. I resigned because I thought that was what integrity looked like.
Now I wonder if they took that as some kind of admission of guilt. Then I get angry again. As far as I know, the government’s emergency preparedness plan has not changed an iota. The danger, and loss of personal choice, is no less real.
When you can’t find your opponent’s brain, stab for the heart.
So I wrote a book about the plague that’s coming to kill us. I write about how society reacts to the threat and how civilizations fail. Then 28 Days Later types of zombies show up. Interesting Latin phrases appear for the word nerds and serious lovers of literature get some existential contemplation between zombie attacks. There’s something for everybody.
In Episode 2 of This Plague of Days, released today, I include a chapter that shows exactly how bureaucrats like my former employers could kill someone like me with the same bad decisions. Will the bureaucrats read my demonstration of the worst-case scenario? I don’t know, but I’m sure they’ll keep an open mind. (I crack myself up.) However, maybe an emotional demonstration will resonate more than a defiant lecture. At least those potentially affected by these policies might get and spread the message so next time I won’t be standing up alone.
If you still think it’s a crazy, paranoid and unlikely scenario, have a look at today’s links to real-life events on MERS in “Related Articles” below. Also consider that epidemiologists are clear: we’re long overdue for another terrible disease outbreak.
Read This Plague of Days. And please, wash your hands frequently.
This Plague of Days, Episode One (99 cents)
This Plague of Days, Episode Two (99 cents)
- #Video: This Plague of Days (thisplagueofdays.com)
- This Plague of Days: The Pitch (thisplagueofdays.com)
- New Middle East virus spread in hospitals (nbcnews.com)
- New Middle East coronavirus MERS a deadly threat in hospitals: Saudi study (endtimebibleprophecy.wordpress.com)
- Specialists: SARS-Like Virus With Extremely High Mortality Rate Plagues Middle East (midnightwatcher.wordpress.com)
- Canadian expert says Saudi coronavirus outbreak ‘complex’ but report pending (vancouversun.com)
- New coronavirus MERS, similar to SARS, but deadlier (voxxi.com)
- Surgical masks for Ramadan? New virus has pandemic potential (salon.com)
- MERS Virus Spread Through Saudi Arabian Hospitals; May Be Deadlier Than SARS Outbreak (medicaldaily.com)
- Outbreak of Deadly New Virus ‘Mers’ ~ (middle East Respiratory Syndrome) (ravens-tree.com)