Bureaucracy and bioterror
This report is based on a real episode though details are modified to preserve anonymity. One of a series on bio-chemical terror, 2002.
Oct 17, 2001 – At 5:00 p.m., the secretary to a local judge appeared requesting to be seen for an urgent matter. I knew her to be a very capable, no nonsense person, not given to exaggeration, who had always been in good health. Her problem was one I had thought about, but had never expected to face in my own practice. She had opened a suspicious letter and was concerned about anthrax exposure, because she now had a sore throat and general aching.
“What did the letter look like?”
“It was hand addressed to the ‘County Court.’ I opened it and some gray dust fell out.
Inside was a weird note.”
“Weird? You mean threatening?”
“Well, I’m not really sure. I couldn’t say. It made no sense. It was about ten words, written in block letters. It was so strange I just laughed, and showed it to the law clerk, then threw it out. But it wasn’t exactly funny, and I washed my hands after.
That was four weeks ago; I never gave it a thought ’til now, with the anthrax thing.”
She and the clerk couldn’t recall, even after thinking back as hard as they could, what the note said. There had been no other symptoms, no fever, no other people ill at work, or at home.
“There’s one other thing, doctor. I had some Cipro and started it yesterday. It was the prescription they gave dad before he died. I know I shouldn’t have, but I heard that by the time you get symptoms of pulmonary infection it’s too late.”
I’d planned to play poker that night with the good old boys and some bad old girls, but I sat down, resigned to my fate. At this time of day, the local Health Department was in phone tree answering
machine mode. But with this scenario they wouldn’t have done anything at this point
anyway. Nor would the police. I realized that now I, in my myopic way, was also a victim of terror.
Then I remembered the mythic e.net. I excused myself, went to my office, and mounted Browser, my net-horse, settling easily into my Windows saddle for a pixel ride. I would go until I reached a place where a clear decision tree was laid out. I knew that there was some sort of CDC national plan where local police and health departments were terrorism first-responders. But here there was no longer an obvious crime scene, so I urged Browser on expectantly to What Next.