Dr Matt Sawyer isn't afraid to break rules. After losing his wife on a field mission, he thinks life is too short for red tape. When there's a suspected outbreak in his ER, the last person he wants brought in is someone like Callie 'By The Book' Turner!Callie is truly in the firing line, but Matt is reluctantly intrigued by the latent beauty under her neat designer suits and sparks are soon flying - in more ways than one - between the buttoned-up investigator and this sexy rebel doctor!
“Okay beautiful, what you got for me?” Sawyer leaned across the reception desk as the clerk glared at him.
Miriam cracked her chewing gum. “You’ve been here too long – you’re getting smart mouthed.”
“I’ve always been smart mouthed.”
“And get a haircut.”
He pushed his shaggy light brown hair from his eyes then tossed his head. “The long-haired look is in. Besides – I’m worth it.”
The clerk rolled her eyes and picked up three charts. “You can have two sick kids with chicken-pox in room six, or a 43 year old female with D & V behind curtain two.” They lifted their heads in unison as the noise of someone retching behind curtain two filled the air.
He shuddered. “Give me the kids.” He grabbed the charts and walked down the corridor. His eyes skimmed the information on the charts. Ben and Jack Keating, aged six and seven, just returned from abroad with chicken-pox.
He pushed open the door. Unusually, the lights were dimmed in the room. The two kids – brothers – lay on the beds with a parent at each bedside. Alison, one of the nurses was taking a temperature. She walked over to him, her bump just starting to emerge from her scrub trousers. “Sickest kids I’ve seen in a while,” she murmured.
He gave her a smile, his natural instinct kicking in. “You safe to be in here?”
She sighed, “After three kids of my own it’s safe to say I’m immune.”
Sawyer crossed the room quickly, leaving the charts at the bottom of the beds. Alison was right. These kids didn’t look good. Chicken-pox could be a lot more serious than a few scratchy spots.
“Hi, I’m Matt Sawyer, one of the docs. I’m going to take a look at Ben and Jack.” He extended his hand towards the mother, then the father taking in their exhausted expressions before turning to the sink, washing his hands and donning some gloves.
He walked over to Ben. In the dim light it was difficult to see his face, but it looked as if it were covered in red bumpy spots. “Hi Ben, I’m just going to have a little look at you.”
The six year old barely acknowledged that he’d spoken. He glanced at the cardiac and BP monitor, noting the increased heart rate and low blood pressure. At first touch he could feel the temperature through his gloves. He pressed gently at the sides of Ben’s neck. Unsurprisingly his glands were swollen. There were a number of spots visible on Ben’s face so he peeled back the cover to reveal only a few angry spots across his chest but a whole host across his forearms.
The first thing that struck him was that all of the spots were at the same stage of development. Not like chicken pox at all - where spots emerged and erupted at different times.
Alarm bells started ringing in his head. Be methodical. He heard the old mantra of his mentor echoing around him.
He moved to the bottom of the bed lifting Ben’s foot.
There. The same uniform spots on the soles of his feet. He stretched over, reaching Ben’s hand and turning his palm over. Red vesicular spots.
He tasted bile in the back of his throat and glanced across the room to where Alison had switched on her telepathic abilities and had already hung some bags of saline and was running through the IV lines.
“Where were you on holiday?”
Ben’s father shook his head. “We weren’t on holiday. I was working. We’ve just come back from three months in Somalia. I work for a commercial water-piping company.”
Somalia. The last known place for a natural outbreak of this disease.
“Were any of the locals you came into contact with sick?” There were a million different questions flying around his head but he didn’t want to bombard the parents.
Mrs Keating nodded. “We were in the highlands. A lot of them were sick. But we didn’t think it was anything too serious. We actually wondered if we’d taken a bug to them – we were the first people they’d come into contact with in years.”
His reaction was pure instinct. “Step outside please Alison.”
“What?” The nurse wrinkled her brow.
He raised his voice, lifting his eyes and fixing them on her, praying she would understand. “Wait outside for me please Alison.”
The atmosphere was electric. She was an experienced nurse and could obviously read the expression on his face. She dropped the IV lines and headed for the door.
“Is something wrong?” Ben’s father started to stand.
Sawyer crossed to the other bed. Jack was lying with his back to him. He wasted no time by pulling the white sheet from across Jack’s chest and tugging gently on his shoulder to pull him round.
Identical. His face was covered. Red, deep-seated round vesicles. All at the same stage of development, a few covering his chest but mainly on his forearms. He opened Jack’s mouth. Inside his oral mucosa and palate were covered. He checked the soles of his feet and his palms of his hands. More identically formed red spots.
He could feel the chills sweeping his body. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t be. This disease had been eradicated in the seventies. No-one had seen this disease since then.
Then a little light bulb went off in his head. Wasn’t there a suspected outbreak a few years ago that turned out to be chicken-pox? The very thing that this was presumed to be? He ran the list of other possibilities in his head. He knew them off by heart. Anyone who’d ever worked in the CDC did.
But the more he stared at the spots the more convinced he became that it was none of the alternatives.
“How long since the spots appeared?”
The mother and father exchanged glances. “A few days? They had a rash at first, then the spots developed. They’ve got much worse in the last day. But the boys had been feeling unwell before that, headaches, backaches, vomiting. We just thought they’d picked up a bug.”
Sawyer felt as if he were in a bad movie. Why him? Why did this have to happen while he was on duty?
Would someone else recognise this? Realise the potential risks? Or would they just chalk it up to a bad dose of chicken pox and discover the consequences later? He’d put all this behind him. He’d walked away and vowed never to be involved in any of this again. He was in the middle of Chicago – not in some far-off country. Things like this didn’t happen here. Or they shouldn’t happen here.
And right now that was he wanted to do again. To walk out that front door and forget he’d ever seen any of this.
He looked at the long inviting corridor outside. He wasn’t a coward. But he didn’t want this. He didn’t want any of this. The kind of thing that sucked you in until it squeezed all the breath from you.
A shadow moved outside the door.
But there was the killer. A pregnant nurse standing outside that door. A nurse that had been working with him and had contact with these children. Could he walk away from her?
He glanced upwards. It was almost as if someone had put her here so hecouldn’t walk away. His conscious would never allow him.
If only he didn’t know she was pregnant. If only that little bump just hadn’t started to emerge above her scrub trousers. That would make this a whole lot easier.
Then he could walk away.
He took a deep breath and steeled himself. He was a doctor. He had a duty of care. Not just to his colleagues, but to these kids.
These very sick kids.
He looked back at the parents. “I need you to think very carefully – this is very important. Did you fly home?”
They both nodded.
“When, exactly, did you first notice the rash on the boys? Before or after you were on the plane?”
The parents looked at each other, screwing up their foreheads and trying to work it out.
A detailed history could wait. He knew enough already. He wasn’t part of the CDC anymore. This was their job not his. The notification part he could handle – setting the wheels in motion so the processes could take over.
Isolation. Containment. Diagnosis. Lab tests. Media furore.
In the meantime he had two sick kids to take care of and staff members to worry about. Let the CDC do their job and he could do his.
He pulled his smart phone from his pocket and took a picture of first Jack’s spots, and then Ben’s. “Wait here.”
Alison jumped as he flung the door open. “What on earth’s going on?” She matched his steps as he strode down the corridor to the reception. “Don’t you think you can get away with speaking to me like that. I want to know what you think is wrong.” He watched her as subconsciously her hands went to her stomach. This day was just about to get a whole lot worse.
“Did you touch them?”
“What?” She wrinkled her nose.
“The spots. Did you touch the kid’s spots?”
She must have read the fear he was trying to hide behind his eyes. “I think I did.” She looked as if she might burst into tears. Then realisation dawned. “I think I had gloves on.” Her voice grew more determined. “No, I’m sure I had gloves on.”
“And when you took them off, did you touch any other part of your skin?”
Her face crumpled. “I don’t think so. But I can’t be sure.”
His hands landed on her shoulders and he steered her into the nearest free room. He knocked the water on with his elbows and pulled the hand scrub over, opening up a scrub brush for her. “Scrub as if you were going to theatre and don’t stop until I tell you.”
She looked pale, as if she could keel over. But her reactions were automatic, pumping the scrub, covering her hands, wrists and forehands and moving them methodically under the running water.
He watched the clock. One minute. Two minutes. Three minutes. Four.
He nodded. “You can stop now.”
“Do you know what it is? She was drying her hands now.
“I think I do, I’m just praying that I’m wrong. Come with me.”
They reached the desk. Miriam had her back to them and was chatting loudly on the phone.
Sawyer leaned across the desk and cut the call.
She spun around. “What are you doing?”
“What?” Several heads in the surrounding area turned.
“You don’t have any authority-
“I do. Get me Dr Simpson, the Chief of Staff on the phone.” He turned to face the rest of the staff. “Listen up folks. As of now, we have a public health emergency. The department needs to close – right now.” He pointed at Miriam. “Let dispatch know not to send us any more patients.”
He turned to one of the security staff. “Lock the front doors.”
The noise level around him erupted.
He put his hand on Alison’s arm, pulling her to one side. “I’m sorry honey, but that ain’t chicken-pox. I think it’s smallpox. And we need to contact the CDC.”
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