Pandemic

Amateur

The very large, shabbily-dressed man walked up to him and said, “Okay, Doc. Just sign here for me.”

He scrawled his signature on the delivery form and handed it back. “You know, it’s none of my business what you do on your own property, but I ain’t never heard of no one building themselves an underground grain elevator.”

Rather than bother trying to explain it to him, he just said, “I appreciate it, Hank. Thanks for bringing my supplies all the way out here—again.”

“No problem.” He checked the signature block then said, “Folks all you say you’s the smartest guy ever what come through this town, but buildin’ a grain silo underground don’t make a lick of sense.” He shoved the paperwork in his pocket and said, “I know you’re this brain surgeon and ever-thing and I’m just a dumb hick who works for a hardware store, but I’ll take street smarts over books smarts any day.” The heavyset man hiked up his bib overalls and straightened his ball cap. “Okay, then. I reckon that’s it for this week then, right Doc?”

“This should do it for a while, Hank. Thanks again and give my best to Alice, okay?”

“Will do,” he said. He slowly made his way up into the large truck and fired it up. “Oh, Alice said I need to make an appointment with you. She thinks my cholesterol’s too high or somethin’.”

“Just give the office a call, Hank. I’ll be glad to check it out for you.”

Hank waved then fired up the diesel engine before turning the big rig around and heading back to town.

Doctor Micah Christiansen had been back in his hometown of Dalton, Georgia, for a little over a year and bought a farm out near Haig Mill Lake. He’d graduated from high school there some 24 years ago with a 4.0 GPA and also been a star athlete and the school’s quarterback in a town where football was king.

Micah started dating Harper Andrews, the cutest girl in school and head cheerleader, during his junior year. They’d been one another’s first and she was devastated when he’d told her he was going ‘all the way’ to Atlanta to go to college. Harper had no intention of ever leaving Dalton and she never had. Two years later she married Jimmy Edmonds, a classmate and athletic rival of Micah’s who went on to not only join the police force but to become chief of police in the town of some 33,000.

Micah graduated from Georgia State University magna cum laude with a degree in chemistry before going to medical school across town at Emory University. When he left, he began his residency in internal medicine at nearby Emory Hospital. By the time he was finished, he went on to further specialize in infectious diseases eventually taking a job at the Atlanta-based Center for Disease Control—a perfect fit for both Micah and the Center.

He turned thirty a month before starting at the CDC and in just ten years, at the age of 40, found himself the youngest person ever appointed Director. He was highly respected by his peers and had, as they say, earned his spurs. Specifically, he’d done some of the most cutting-edge research ever in identifying the most likely location and strains of flu virus while working his way to the top of the influenza division within the CDC in five years.

To the uninitiated, the flu was nothing but a bad cold. To those like Dr. Micah Christiansen, who knew the truth, it was a deadly killer that claimed almost twice as many lives per year in the US alone than drunk driving. Most were elderly or very young, but it was indeed a killer. But those relatively low numbers applied only to typical years when whatever strain of flu predominated wasn’t overly virulent. What fascinated Micah were those rare years when the flu, or influenza as it is more correctly called, became a deadly killer as it went from being an epidemic to a pandemic. But not just any pandemic, but a highly virulent, highly contagious form of the virus infecting—and killing—human beings on a massive scale at the global level.

An epidemic occurs when an infectious disease rapidly spreads to many people. A pandemic takes place when the epidemic goes global. An virulent epidemic, if confined locally, might be more deadly than a mild pandemic. However, the thing that scared the hell out of Micah Christiansen was a highly virulent strain of influenza that could rapidly spread around the globe killing perhaps several billion people. Thanks to air travel, that was now a very real possibility no matter how unlikely that might be.

There had been very serious, very deadly outbreaks of influenza in the past. The worst recorded case took place in 1918-1919 when a strain known as the Spanish Flu rapidly spread around the global infecting between 20% and 40% of the world’s population. Some fifty million people died worldwide with around 675,000 deaths in the United States. The least deadly pandemic hit in 1968-1969. It originated in Hong Kong and the strain was known by that name. Micah knew the world was long overdue for a killer strain and that was what motivated him to work day and night trying escort gaziantep bayan haberleri to prevent it.

Micah’s primary work centered on developing an extremely accurate algorithm for predicting pandemics and his efforts were well-received and highly respected by everyone working within the infectious disease community. His work had been so good he’d been able to pinpoint the precise strains and area of origin for the 2013-2014 flu season. As a result, there were fewer deaths and fewer cases of influenza that year than any year in history. His work had earned him the Nobel Prize in medicine and the tidy sum of $1.25 million, money he was now using to construct his ‘underground grain silo’ when he wasn’t at his private practice in downtown Dalton.

His profession troubles began when he finished a three-year study just before being appointed Director of the CDC. Just two months before his appointment, he’d found something in the data that had rocked him to his core. If the data were correct, the world could expect an unprecedented, virulent outbreak of influenza within a decade. As if that wasn’t frightening enough, his data showed that there was an extremely high likelihood of the two most deadly known strains of flu virus combining into a kind of super strain that had the potential to rapidly kill up to 70% of all human life on earth.

Naturally, he said nothing to anyone else (with one exception) knowing he had to re-run the data several more times to be sure. If anything was wrong during the input phase, then the results would tainted. It was the old idea of GIGO—garbage in, garbage out. Making any claim of this kind, especially as the Director, could induce panic on a global scale and he wasn’t about to throw away his career or his reputation without rock-solid evidence.

He was re-running the data a second time when the president personally asked him to come to Washington DC for a meeting. To say he was surprised to learn he was being asked to head up the CDC was an understatement in the extreme. It was a job he’d never sought out and definitely wasn’t one he even wanted. But sitting in the Oval Office proved to be very intimidating and Micah had said, “Yes, Mr. President,” when he was asked. What he didn’t say was a single word about his new and biggest fear.

After a third re-run confirming what the first two runs had said, Micah broke into a cold sweat. No, this didn’t necessarily mean anyone was in any immediate danger. It didn’t mean the worst-case scenario was going to happen that year or even in the next five years. But there was a 92% probability a pandemic that something very serious would happen within a ten-year window. He thoroughly understood statistics and knew full-well there was a small chance nothing on this scale would happen at all. Ever. However, the 92% figure was absolutely accurate and it clearly meant there was a 92% chance of a pandemic. Most worrisome, it was a 92% chance of massive, global, pandemic with the possibility of dramatically changing civilization as we know it. With just three in ten humans left alive, he shuddered to think what the world would like in the aftermath of this kind of global catastrophe.

Initially, he shared the data with just one other person, a younger doctor on his team named Vanessa Williams. He’d interviewed over two dozen internists with a specialty in infectious diseases since heading up the influenza division, and he’d hired only three of them. Vanessa was without doubt the most qualified of the trio who’d been brought on board. He’d never admit it, but the fact that she was as beautiful and gracious as any woman he’d ever met hadn’t hurt her chances. Even so, he knew he’d have hired her regardless of her external packaging. It was just such a pleasant bonus to have someone that attractive and upbeat working side by side with him six or seven days a week.

Vanessa’s love of medicine and dedication to the control of infectious diseases rivaled his own, and it was that kind of dedication that drew his admiration. She was not only beautiful, she was incredibly intelligent, and doggedly determined. There had been many times where he’d put in a 16-hour day and as he got ready to go home, he’d find Vanessa buried in a microscope or a pile of computer printouts.

“Go home. Get some sleep,” he’d told her around the time he was getting ready to begin work on this potential super pandemic.

“Micah. You startled me,” she told him. Her smile had the ability to melt him instantly and Christiansen wasn’t exactly a softy. But it wasn’t just her smile. It was her…everything. She was quite possibly the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. She wore her dark hair shoulder length and basically straight with a slight wave in it. Her soft, shiny hair surrounded an incredibly beautiful, flawless face with almond-shaped eyes, high cheekbones, perfectly clear, smooth skin, and a pair of soft, full lips that framed a gorgeous escort gaziantep hikayeleri smile. And her body was every bit as amazing as her extremely attractive face. Add to that her always-pleasant nature, and it was no wonder he’d found himself thinking about her more often as time went by. Being a very good-looking man himself, very few women had ever intimidated him, but Vanessa Williams was one of them.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to sneak up on you, Vanessa. It’s after midnight. Don’t you at least want to go home and shower and change clothes?” He even loved the way she dressed. She obviously dressed for herself as she and everyone else were too busy to worry about impressing anyone. Her style was elegant and classy but never pretentious. She was professional but also soft and feminine. This day she was wearing a pale-yellow, long-sleeved cashmere sweater and a knee-length, white linen skirt, three-inch heels, and gold jewelry. Micah had never asked but felt sure she could have pursued a career in modeling, but like him, the thing that drove her, the thing that inspired her, was her work.

“I can take a shower here and I have a change of clothes in my locker.” She smiled again and said, “But thank you for looking out for me, Micah. As far as bosses go, you’re about as good as they come.”

He smiled back and told her, “Well, as doctors go, you’re about as good as they come. In case I haven’t told you lately, I’m very proud to have you on our team.”

She sat up and smiled again. This time she turned toward him. “You know, I’ve never once heard you say ‘mine’ or ‘I’. Everything that goes on here is ‘we’ and ‘us’ and ‘the team.’ That’s one of the many thing that makes it such a pleasure working for you.”

“You mean working with me, right?” he said with a smile. He wasn’t sure whether or not it was appropriate but he decided to say it anyway. “So why is it we’ve never had dinner together yet?”

She tilted her head slightly and said, “Well for one, you are my boss. Secondly, we work pretty much all day, every day so I’m not sure when we could fit it in. And perhaps most importantly, you’ve never asked me.” She smiled at him again then said, “Good night, Micah,” before going back to the pile of data in front of her.

Like him, she was a Georgia native and like him, she’d graduated from Emory but seven years behind him. Like him, she’d managed to grow up in the South without developing a thick, southern drawl. He knew from her personnel file she was single and from Georgia, but other than that, knew almost nothing about her personal life. Maybe that was a good thing. Vanessa was right. Both of them were at work almost all the time so what kind of personal life could they possibly have outside of the office?

He decided to table the question for later when he realized that she’d done it to him again. He glanced down silently praying the bulge in his expensive gabardine pants wasn’t visible. Satisfied that his secret was safe, he grabbed his keys, his overcoat, and his briefcase so he could get home and with any luck, grab a hot shower and still get four or five hours of sleep before going back and doing it all over again the next day.

When he got in the next morning, she was still at her desk only now she was wearing a very pretty white blouse and a black skirt and a different pair of heels. He tried not to stare but he couldn’t help but notice the gold jewelry had been replaced with a single strand of white pearls and he was again aware of the effect she was having on him.

“Good morning, Dr. Williams,” he told her as he walked by. He knew she hadn’t seen him and when she flinched he tried not to laugh.

“Micah! You have stop doing that to me,” she said. The smile she flashed at him told him she wasn’t upset.

He sat his briefcase down and pointed to an empty chair. “May I?”

“You’re the boss,” she kidded. “What’s up?”

“Two things. The first involves work.” He explained his concerns about a global pandemic and asked if she’d co-chair the study with him stressing the need for absolute secrecy between them until the study was complete. Of course, the current Director knew what he was doing, but he was solid gold in terms of keeping things confidential and in-house.

“Are you serious?” she said. “Did you really even need to ask? Of course I will.” She was serious for a moment and said, “In fact, I’d be honored.” She looked at him and said, “Okay, so what’s the other thing?”

“I’d like you to have dinner with me—and not professionally.”

She sat there and just looked at him for several seconds and he felt it get very warm. After what seemed like forever she smiled and said, “Why Dr. Christiansen, did you finally decide ask me out?”

He told her that he had and she happily accepted saying with a smile, “What took you so long?”

At five o’clock the following Saturday evening, they just stopped working and went home. He’d escort gaziantep bayan ilanları told her he’d be by at seven and she told him she’d be ready.

When he arrived at her apartment, he was a bit surprised to learn she didn’t live in a detached home but quickly realized how little time she spent there so this probably made a lot more sense. He was also surprised when he saw her. Stunned may have been the better word.

Vanessa was wearing a gorgeous black dress made of a slinky knit material. It was low cut but not so low as to be inappropriate but low enough so that he could definitely see sufficient cleavage to get his attention. It fell to about four inches above her knees and hugged every beautiful curve of her body just right. She typically wore only a small amount of makeup at work and always looked amazing. Tonight, she’d done her eyes in such a way as to take his breath away. Christiansen wasn’t a big fan of makeup, but even he was taken aback by her glamorous, sexy look. The gold earrings and necklace she wore just added to her beauty as did the spiked heels that made her long, shapely legs seem endless. He’d also never seen her wear lipstick, but he was entranced by the glossy, deep-red color of her lips and the nails which matched them.

“Hi, Micah. Please come in,” she offered.

“Wow. To say you look beautiful doesn’t do you justice.”

“Thank you,” she told him. “You look very dapper yourself.” Micah was wearing his best suit which was a very dark blue with a bright-blue, silk tie and matching pocket square. He’d been told his best features were his bright-blue eyes which was the reason he’d chosen the particular tie and square he was wearing. A close second was his thick, dark hair which still had no gray in it. He wore it short allowing it to just touch his ears. Personally, he felt his best feature was his body which he worked on regularly taking half and hour nearly every day to stay on top of it no matter how busy he was.

“Actually, we should probably be going. This place is a challenge getting into and if we’re late…”

“Say no more,” she said agreeably. He helped her with her coat and then into his car after she locked the apartment door behind them.

“Nice car,” she told him admiring the Cadillac ATS coupe.

“Thanks. I wish I had the chance to drive it once in a while,” he told her as they backed out.

“No you don’t,” she said with her ever-present smile.

“I don’t?”

“No. Of course you don’t. That would mean taking time away from your research and we both know what your priority is, right?”

He dropped the car in gear and as he stepped on the gas looked over at her and said, “Oh, my. This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.”

Vanessa laughed politely and said, “Okay. You got me. Guilty as charged. But you’ll never hear me saying I wish I could do something else more than work.” Micah laughed politely but wondered if that were really true. His experience with her told it was and as much as he hated to admit it, that was probably very true indeed.

As the pulled up to the restaurant Vanessa said, “You got reservations at Tomo? Very nice, Dr. Christiansen.”

“And I was able to get two orders of omakase,” he said in an overly ostentatious manner. Omakase was Japanese for ‘leave it up to the chef.’

“I hear they only make five a night,” she added.

“That’s true. I had to pull some strings. I hope you like sushi.”

“It just happens to be my favorite, so well done, Micah. How did you know?”

He smiled and said, “I’d love to say something clever about having found out but that wouldn’t be true. What is the truth is you’re quite the enigma, Vanessa. I was totally shooting in the dark here and if I hit the bullseye, it was purely by chance.”

During dinner it was no surprise that work dominated the conversation. “This study we’re doing fascinates me,” she said. “I understand exactly why we’re doing this and I share your unspoken concerns.” What also wasn’t a surprise is that this talented, young doctor needed no explanation as to the potential danger of a virulent, worldwide flu outbreak. “We haven’t had a really serious pandemic in a hundred years and statistically speaking, we’re long overdue.”

Like so many other things, statistics wasn’t quite an exact science like chemistry or even physics. It could only yield probabilities and the um, problem with probabilities was that things that were probable didn’t always happen in an expected timeframe while things that were very unlikely often happened. After all, someone would eventually win every Power Ball lottery no matter how staggering the odds were against it. The Yellowstone Park caldera would erupt again. It wasn’t a matter of if, only a matter of when. The last time had been some 640,000 years ago and there was roughly a 1 in 10 chance it would erupt within the next 300 years. It had been a very long time since the earth suffered a catastrophic asteroid strike, but that would also happen again one day unless the world could build a defense against it.

So too, with regard to a super pandemic. It would happen. But if medicine, if the CDC could get out far enough ahead of it, it just might be able to reduce the devastation to something ‘as small’ as the Spanish Flu outbreak from 1919. Compared to billions, a few hundred million deaths would indeed be relatively few.

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